“Community Theaters Kill ‘Mockingbird’ Productions After Lawsuit Threat”

Atticus Grinch: “From Massachusetts to Utah, small community theater productions of To Kill a Mockingbird are being shut down under threat of a lawsuit by the producer of the new Broadway production.

“It doesn’t matter that the new version, penned by Aaron Sorkin, is completely different from the Christopher Sergel play that’s been performed by high school students and community theater actors for decades. Nor does it matter that the community theaters paid a licensing fee of at least $100 per performance to the Dramatic Publishing Company, which owns the rights to the earlier version of the play.

“What matters, lawyers for Broadway producer Scott Rudin say, is that according to the contract between Dramatic and the Harper Lee estate, most amateur performances can’t proceed now that a new version of the story is on Broadway.” [Matthew S. Schwartz, NPR]

4 Comments

  • You just wish, sometimes, that someone being bullied like this would tell people like that to go to hell and that whatever judge the lawsuit was assigned would (a) sanction the ever living hell out of the lawyers and (b) figure out a way to hold one of the lawyers in contempt and put him in the pokey.

  • This sort of thing isn’t unheard of in other genres, particularly superheroes.
    The reason that the Human Torch wasn’t in the original Fantastic Four cartoon was because Marvel were in talks with Universal for a live action HT series.
    Even today Marvel doesn’t own the film rights to some of its most popular IP (FF is a good example here too). They only just got Spider-man back in the last few years.

  • Congress should subpoena Harper Lee’s will

    and send investigators to see if there were any earlier versions, also any papers of her sister Alice Lee (lifelong companion and manager) casting light on Harper’s posthumous intentions for her work.

    The questionable doings in Harper Lee’s final years (2007-2016) are covered in her Wikipedia article.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harper_Lee#2015:_Go_Set_a_Watchman

    For many decades, Harper “Nelle” Lee relied on her older sister Alice Lee, an attorney. Alice shielded Harper’s privacy while maintaining a respectful relationship with their community and the “Mockingbird” fan base, allowing “Mockingbird” to ripen into a deeply beloved national treasure. Unfortunately, Harper had a stroke in 2007 and Alice became incapacitated in 2011.

    A new lawyer took charge of Harper’s affairs and started filing lawsuits. (She would retain control of the estate after Harper’s death in 2016.) It was this new lawyer’s decision to market an inferior first draft of “Mockingbird” as a supposed sequel “Go Set a Watchman” (2015). It brought in money (not really needed), but at cost to Harper Lee’s literary reputation. In 2016, the estate would block further printing of an economical “mass market” paperback of the book, which had made it an attractive choice for cash-strapped school systems and classes.

    It would be an appealing morality tale (like “Mockingbird” itself?) if proper investigation and legal action could restore “Mockingbird” to the millions who have loved it.

  • The dozens of community and nonprofit theaters across the U.S. forced to abandon productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird” under legal threat have been offered an olive branch in the form of Aaron Sorkin’s script for the Broadway version.

    Scott Rudin, producer of the New York adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, had cited an agreement with Lee’s estate in demanding that what he called improperly licensed productions be shut down. Following a backlash in recent days, Rudin said the theater companies could perform the Sorkin play as long as they use his adaptation.

    The offer is intended to “ameliorate the hurt caused here,” Rudin said in a statement provided Saturday to the Associated Press. “For these theaters, this is the version that can be offered to them, in concert with our agreement with Harper Lee. We hope they will choose to avail themselves of the opportunity.”

    Maybe, maybe not, said the artistic executive director of one of the affected theaters.

    “We are interested in the offer and intrigued,” said Seth Miller of the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City. But Rudin has yet to respond to questions that would need to be answered first, including how long the offer is good for, Miller said Saturday.

    Later, in the same article:

    Rudin had defended his original position in a recent statement: “We hate to ask anybody to cancel any production of a play anywhere, but the productions in question as licensed by DPC infringe on rights licensed to us by Harper Lee directly,” he said. “The Sergel play can contractually continue to be performed under set guidelines as described in detail in its own agreement with Harper Lee — and as long as those guidelines are adhered to, we have no issue with the play having a long life.”

    That sparked an online revolt with the rallying cry of #BoycottRudinplays. Chris Peterson, founder of the OnStage Blog, asked ticket buyers to avoid all current and coming Rudin productions on Broadway, including “Hillary and Clinton,” ”Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” ”King Lear,” ”The Ferryman” and “The Book of Mormon.”

    Follow the money.

    more at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/03/02/to-kill-a-mockingbird-compromise-offered-to-small-theaters

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