Hard Times for a Hardbody.
A scandal and an outrage has been brewin’ out of town over the last few days ’bout a show from last season that didn’t last too long on the boards.
I’m talkin’ about Hands on a Hardbody, which, since it shuttered shortly after opening back in the spring of 2013, has been making its way around the regionals (proof that even shows that don’t make it here can still make it there – which generates revenue for the Authors and spits back money to the mother company as well, which goes straight back to the investors – win, win, win).
One of those regional productions of Hardbody was supposed to be happening right at this very moment, at Texas’s own, Theatre Under The Stars.
But the production was canceled.
Because someone was a bad, bad boy.
See, the Director of the production, Bruce Lumpkin (who I actually worked with back in the early 90s at Maine State Music Theatre), decided to make a few changes to the show.
But he didn’t ask for the Author’s permission.
And that’s a no, no, no!
The story was first broken by Howard Sherman, who has been patrolling the web like the Art Police as of late (so much so that I’ve started referring to him as Sheriff Sherman). But in this case, he was totally justified in sounding the alarm and calling for backup.
And that backup came a-running, in the form of the Dramatists Guild and eventually Samuel French issuing a cease and desist, and TUTS canceling the production.
The rules are simple. Shows can’t be changed, unless the Authors approve. As a writer myself (with a few titles with Samuel French) and as a Producer of several original shows, I promise you . . . if we wanted the show done a certain way, we would have written it that way in the first place.
I can see the temptation to revise, especially when working on shows whose initial incarnation wasn’t successful (I was desperate to get my hands on Carrie when I was in college). And the cool thing about the theater, as opposed to film, or the printed word, is that it is possible to change it up and see how it works.
But you can’t do that unless the Authors approve. Cuz see, they wrote it. So it’s theirs.
The problem with this specific case is that the real losers aren’t Mr. Lumpkin or the Authors of Hardbody. Nope, the people who lost the most are the bunch of actors and technicians and TUTS employees who lost their gig, as well as the TUTS audience members who are probably all at home right now watching Netflix instead of seeing a show.
What I love about working with theater folk is that they are always looking to improve. Actors can continue to find new nuances eight times a week. Authors can change lines to make them more timely. Choreographers can change a step to accommodate a different dancer.
But that desire for perfection, that desire for change, still requires collaboration, and a deference to those who created the work. All of that seemed to be sorely lacking here.
So look, if you’ve got ideas on how to present material in a different way, ask before you proceed. I’ve personally pulled the plug on a production that made changes to one of my shows, and also granted another production the right to make significant changes, all because the Director asked in advance, and because her ideas were actually good!
But if you don’t get permission, or if you don’t hear back, don’t do it anyway. Simply put, if you don’t like the script the way it came, then just do another script.
Or do Shakespeare. He doesn’t care what the eff you do with his stuff.
What do you think about what happened in Texas? Comment below!
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