Thursday, January 12, 2017

Just The FAQs

In another life, I was a playwright.

Went to a fancy school. Learned stuff. Got a shiny degree. The whole nine.

And while I ultimately didn't end up carving out a life for myself in the theater, when all was said and done I did have the good fortune to see a couple of my short plays published. A pair of ten-minute pieces titled Guys and Slop-Culture appear in a handful of compendiums (compendia?) including a couple of "acting editions" published by the Samuel French company (linked here).

Improbably, a few times a year those plays actually get produced in colleges and high schools and community theaters across the country.

While the proceeds from performance rights to a pair of ten-minute plays don't exactly add up to a Scrooge McDuckian treasure hoard (it's maybe good for a couple hundred bucks a year, tops) it's pretty cool that those plays are still out there in the world just doing their thing.

From time to time folks involved in some of those productions will even contact me with questions. Most often they're students who are either directing or acting in them.

Now, generally speaking, if someone takes the time and trouble to ask a question, I usually try to take the time to answer.

Sometimes the questions are about characters, sometimes they're about production logistics, sometimes they're about my background. But they tend to fall into a couple of broad categories.

(I mean, let's face it, these aren't thematically dense "works" that require a lot of probing analysis. They're pretty straight-forward comedic sketches. You dig too deeply into these, you're gonna fall out the bottom.)

In any event, I thought it might be helpful to post some of the more frequently asked questions here with my standard responses. So if you've found this blog because you're looking for information on these plays, hopefully this will save you a bit of time and hassle.

(I'll break these up into a couple of separate posts so they don't get too long and unwieldy. I'll do three: one for each play and one for more general questions. I'll also permalink them in the "Pages" section of the sidebar under "PLAYS" for easy access.)

All right, let's start with some GENERAL QUESTIONS. (Play-specific posts to follow on a bit later.)

Here goes:

Your play features a lot of pop culture references. But they're a little dated. Can you update your play with more current references?

There are two answers to this question - a legal one and a creative one. And unfortunately, they're both no.

First the legal answer:

When you pay for performance rights through Samuel French, you're paying for the right to perform the play as published. That's the agreement you're signing. That's the contract you're entering into. That's what you're paying for -- the right to perform that specific text. And that agreement is between you and Sam French. I'm not party to it.

Asking me to do rewrites (whether paid or unpaid) is a violation of that contract. And that's just not something I want to mess with.

Now the artistic/creative answer:

As far as I'm concerned, these plays are finished.

A play -- or any creative endeavor really -- is essentially a time capsule. It's a snapshot of the thoughts and feelings of the writer at the moment of its creation. And as far as I'm concerned that's exactly how it should stay. These plays were written at a very specific time in a very specific place and about very specific ideas.

Moreover, they were written by a very specific writer ... a writer who doesn't really exist anymore.

As a writer and as a human being I've changed a lot in the years since these pieces were published. The person I was at 26 is very different than the one I am at 46. I've learned, I've grown, I've matured. I'm not the same me that I used to be. Hopefully none of us are.

Does that mean I think these plays are perfect? Oh, good god no! But they are what they were intended to be. For better or worse. And I'm happy to let them be.

Because even if I was amenable to changing some of the references -- which again, let me stress for the record, I am not -- believe me, you wouldn't want me to. I'm not going to get your generation's touchstones right. I'm a middle-aged man who isn't even on Facebook. Do you really want my updated hot takes about the Macarena or According to Jim?

(You don't. You really, really don't.)

But if you really believe that the references in my work will leave your audience confused or disconnected from the characters ... that's a totally valid consideration.

So may I suggest ... and I mean this with all sincerity and respect ... that perhaps my play may not be the right one for you.

PLEASE don't read that as me being snippy and nasty! Every play has it's audience. They're like puzzle pieces, some fit with their audience and some don't. There's nothing wrong with that.

Here's what I know: If mine doesn't work for you, I am one million percent certain there are better, fresher, funnier plays out there that your audience will lap up like thirsty hounds.

I guarantee, that with a little more digging, you'll find the piece that works for you. There are tons of fantastic plays in the world, written by far more talented writers. Somewhere out there is the one for you and your audience. Somewhere out there is your puzzle piece.

It's a terrific opportunity explore and discover!  Have fun!

We call them "plays" for a reason, after all.

Okay, if you won't do it, can I update your play with more current references?

Again. No.

Reeeeally no.

As I said above, the play is the play. As far as I'm concerned, it is finished. It's in its final form. As its creator, I said everything I wanted to say with it.

It's done.

I understand when people ask this question that it comes from a genuine place.

I understand that you only want to show your audience the best possible time. I understand that the question isn't meant to be offensive ...

... Buuut it kind of is.

Okay, it's more than "kind of."

It's really not a cool thing to ask a writer.

So let's not even go there, okay?

Can I adapt your play into a short film?

I'm sorry this list seems to have gotten so negative, but I have to say again, no.

Unfortunately, those rights are not available.

Your contract with Samuel French covers only theatrical presentation, meaning a live performance in front of an audience. It does not cover the rights to adapt the play as a film. (Or YouTube video, or Vine, or virtual holographic intra-neural brain chip, or whatever the next shiny thing happens to be that Silicon Valley throws at us.)

You can record your live performance, of course. There's nothing wrong with taping the show. And I don't mind if you post that recording online. Provided you credit everyone properly (including me).

But if you want to film it like a movie ... that's a BIG no. That goes for any play, not just mine. If you take a play and make it into a movie without the proper rights and permissions you are violating U.S. copyright law. If you are not the holder of the copyright for that material, you can totally get sued. Even if you're just throwing it up on YouTube for fun and aren't making any money off of it.

So just be safe and don't do it.

Okay, that's enough negativity for now! As I said, I'll put up a couple of play-specific posts in the coming weeks that I promise will be much more positive!

Till next we meet ...