Wednesday, June 8, 2005
Those who write for motion pictures labor at the lowest levels of the business, but those who write for the stage are gods. The sanctity of the playwright’s work is an article of faith in the theater biz—and an article of contract, too.
Two small theater companies in Philadelphia are learning that the hard way. The two, which planned to put on an all-female version of the musical Grease (set in an all-girl high school), have received a cease-and-desist letter from Samuel French, the company that controls the rights to the show. The contract to license the show specifies that male roles must be played by males, and vice versa.
This is not an uncommon provision, and authors have not been reluctant to enforce it. Edward Albee reportedly shut down an all-male version of his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett’s estate prohibited a female version of his Waiting for Godot.
The Philadelphia groups have responded by switching to a revue they call Grease and Desist.