Career Advice

Recently, the Guild made a statement about cancellations of two different high school productions of two different shows in two different locales, with both school boards citing the same reason, at least in part: inappropriate content not suitable for minors.

However, what these schools failed to recognize (or chose to ignore) was the fact that most theatrical licensing companies have author-approved, edited versions of shows intended for student actors and/or family audiences. These “school editions” not only offer shortened versions, some with new musical arrangements to accommodate younger voices, they may also remove profanity and, in some cases, entire songs or scenes from shows containing what some may deem “mature content,” or even references to such content.

Even when an author has not permitted an edited version of their show to be made available for licensing, they may still have provided the licensing company with a list of pre-approved changes that can be made upon request. When there is neither an author-approved school edition nor a set of pre-approved changes available, a group can still ask a licensing house for permission from the author to make certain changes, for whatever reason. Such a request, however, should be made prior to obtaining the license to produce the show, so, if the author says “no,” the group can make the choice to produce the work as written or select another work which they feel may be better suited to their circumstances.

However, once a group does license a show, if they then run into objections to the material during the production process, they should determine what changes could be made to address the objections and then submit those requested changes to the licensing house for consideration by the author. But remember, if the author ultimately disapproves, then the text must be performed as is. In that case, the producing organization should explore other ways of responding to any objections (like offering talkbacks or other public forums, or creating materials for distribution, in order to contextualize the work for the community), rather than taking the drastic step of cancelling the production, which can have costly and unanticipated consequences for all concerned, like empowering those who seek to suppress free expression in theatre.

If you have a show that you would like to license to groups who use young actors and/or perform for young audiences (such as the “TYA,” “amateur,” and “educational” markets) or would like to see your work be produced by religious groups, or particularly sensitive community theatres, or even some professional theatres, you may want to consider creating and making available an edited version, or a list of pre-approved changes, to respond to the (whatever you deem reasonable) concerns those groups may have with your show.

If your work is represented by a theatrical publisher/licensor, you can reach out to them to see if they can prepare and license such editions, or make available your pre-approve changes, or at least let them know that they should contact you about such requests. You may also ask that you be notified anytime a group requests to use such pre-approved changes or edited versions.

If you do not want such a revised edition of your work to be made available, or don’t want to have a set list of pre-approved changes, then you are under no obligation to allow it. If you do, however, then such a grant of rights should be included in your publication contract, or a subsequent addendum, and you should have the option to decide whether you want to create the revised edition or have someone else create it with your sole approval over the final draft. You can also decide what groups may be permitted to use it. (For instance, middle and high schools, camps, and religious organizations may be permitted to use it, but not universities, community theatres or professional theatres).

This is a potentially lucrative market for many dramatists, but it is not for everyone.  Your work may simply be inappropriate for this market and editing it would eviscerate its meaning. So, you need to consider carefully whether you want to create or permit a publisher to license such edited versions of your work, or whether you even want to consider ever authorizing any changes at all. Whatever you decide, work with your licensor to implement your decision. If you are going to require that groups get permission from you for any change in each circumstance, you need to make sure you are responding to such requests in a timely way (and that your publisher is, too). Every right comes with a responsibility, so if you require them to ask, then you are required to respond.

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