Thursday, June 10, 2010


An interesting debate if forming between the Dramatists Guild of America and the New York Music Theatre Festival. In the new contracts the NYMF is now entitled to "2 percent of the applicant and author's gross on all income received from the play in excess of $20,000 over 10 years." The question is why?

Most of these plays are essentially self-produced under the umbrella of the festival so the producers and playwrights are wondering why they have to share revenue with a organization that is requiring them to spend money to put the play up for them. On the other hand the NYMF is saying that they not only provide lots of resources, but their brand too lends credibility to the author's work and can help lead to future success.

I would like to use this debate as a jumping off point for a more Chicago-centric discussion. I have worked on the various theater festivals. I was lucky enough for one of them to be the New York International Fringe Festival - and they provide you with paperwork (oh so much paperwork) and contracts outlining what the festival will and won't provide and their rules and regulations over copyright and intellectual property. I will admit that I really didn't have a complete sense of what I was signing, but I will guarantee you that if an issue did arise after the festival, that it would have been meticulously covered in the paperwork.

However, there are getting to be dozens of festivals in Chicago as well. Sketchbook, Abby Hoffman, LeapFest, RhinoFest, Director's Festival, Art of Adaptation, Seven Plays in Seven Days, and countless others. The are quite in vogue in these hard economic times - all the producing company has to do is pay for the space to host it. You don't have to pay the actors. You don't have to pay for and tech or design as that becomes the producer/playwright/director's responsibility. Heck, you don't even have to pay for the marketing because at five, ten, twenty shows or whatever it is you are sponsoring, you are sure to have large number of artists involved who will want all their friends to see it. It's a pretty simple and risk-free model to make some quick money for your company.

But what are these artist getting themselves into? Is there a contract about intellectual property - or remounts or further productions? In a lot of these festivals there aren't. And to be fair, many of these companies are smaller and in the end don't really care. But there is so much going on and so little framework let along infrastructure to support some of these endeavors I caution artists to really figure out what they are in for before committing to work on pieces like this. And I also ask the host companies to really think if this city needs another festival before posting a call for submissions on PerformInk.

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