Thursday, June 9, 2016

SHOW BIZ | Producer-Playwright Contract (Updated June 16)

Poster for the Meadowmount pageant
in Lewis, N.Y., 1924. The portrait
(artist unknown) is owned by the Sewall-
Belmont House in Washington.

June 9, 2016 (Updated June 16)–I wrote a play built around Inez Milholland, a suffragette (as she described herself) leader from New York who shocked her friends by getting married.

Especially surprised was her Presbyterian father, who first learned from the front page in The New York Times that she was marrying a free-thinking Dutchman, Eugen Boissevain (my mother's uncle).

Geva Theater, Rochester, 1998

The play was produced as a staged reading at the Geva Theater in Rochester in 1998 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, which Hillary Rodham Clinton referred to yesterday in celebrating her status as the first woman to be the presumptive presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party.

It was a good production (thank you, Rochester, including the Mayor himself, and thank you to all the many other people who participated), complete with the AKOMA gospel choir. The 550-seat theater was filled and at the end of the play the audience was on its feet. I heard calls for "Author, author!"– but I was videotaping the show and I didn't leave the camera. I would today make a different decision.

Afterwards I got releases for the resulting video from all but one of the participants. It was a one-hour show that I edited down to half an hour. The agent for one of the actors wanted a percentage of the revenues. This raised bookkeeping and other issues and chilled the project. I never offered the video for sale, which I am sorry about. The copyrighted script of the video is here.

Five More Shows

From there I rewrote the play three more times and there were five more staged readings – in East Hampton, N.Y. twice; at City Hall, N.Y. twice, under the auspices of the New York City Comptroller (in the Blue Room, which Mayor Bloomberg later took over for his open office); and at the church where Inez is buried, in Lewis, N.Y.

I lost money on every production, but made up for it with the large number of shows (joke).

With the primary elections having put Hillary Clinton over the top as the likely Democratic nominee for President of the United States, there is new interest in the history of votes for women and the rights of women and my play is being looked at again.

Looking for a Production Contract

So I am revising the script, which has been tested with multiple and diverse audiences. I am working harder this time round on the business side, to generate some money for a worthy cause and also not leave me out of pocket at the end. I was employed most of my life as an economist, so I am comfortable working on the business side of the stage.

First I tried to find a production contract on Google. The Dramatists Guild of America announces on its colorful web site that it has several, but they are stored behind a membership pay wall. So I
  • Sent an email to the Guild to join (I used them 20 years ago to file copies of my scripts), and 
  • Sent another email to beg for a copy of the producer-playwright contract.
For several days, there was no word back from the Guild. [Update June 14–I have received my membership packet in the mail. Update June 16–I have heard back about my request for a contract and I have provided details about the proposed production. It seems that my best bet is a Showcase Production Contract.] After several days of not having heard back from the Dramatists Guild, I found a contract  through Grandma Google, the ALAP (Alliance for Los Angeles Playwrights) contract between a Playwright and a Theatre. I amended it, using a global FIND for Theatre and REPLACE with Producer, and similarly changing the governing law from California to New York. I used that to stake out an initial agreement with a producer, pending word from the Dramatists Guild.

Then I went over to the Drama Book Shop at 250 West 40th Street near the New York Times, thinking  they might have a book of contracts with which to evaluate the ALAP contract and maybe provide a better one. No such luck. The best that the highly knowledgable staff (Bravi!) at the bookstore could find for me was Stage Writers Handbook: A Complete Business Guide for Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Librettists, by Dana Singer. It was published in 1997, nearly 20 years ago, and my copy was from the fourth printing (2007). It is published by Theatre Communications Group, was supported by the NY State Council on the Arts and seems from the reviews on Amazon to be the best book available on the subject.

Now I seem to be cooking with gas, as some relatives who have passed on used to say. After a term- sheet agreement with a producer, I am immersed in fine-tuning the ALAP contract with the producer and I am familiarizing myself with the parts of the stage business with which I am unfamiliar. [Meanwhile, I am looking at the concept of the Showcase Production.]

Business-Related Topics for a Playwright

Here are the chapter headings of the Stage Writers Handbook, to give neophytes an idea of the business aspects of putting on a serious stage production:
  1. Copyright
  2. Collaboration
  3. Underlying Rights
  4. Marketing and Self-Promotion
  5. Production
  6. Representation: Agents and Lawyers
  7. Publishers
  8. Developing Areas (including Electronic Rights).
(More to come.