What Does “Your Pen. Our Sword.” Mean To You? by Matthew Lombardo
On October 15, 2016, I received an early Christmas present from Dr. Seuss Enterprises. What I wanted was a 27-inch Fox in Socks Soft Plushy Toy. What I got, however, was a USPS Certified packet, which I tragically knew from experience, that unless it was my birthday (and clearly it was not), the contents inside this mysterious packet would assuredly not be good news.
I suppose there are worse things in life for a playwright than getting a Cease and Desist letter containing accusations of copyright infringement on one of Dr. Seuss’s most beloved and best-selling books, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. There are perhaps more humiliating experiences for a theatre professional than walking down West 49th Street, only to see your marquee being ripped down a week after it was actually put up AND a week before rehearsals were to commence. Yes, I assume that there are crueler and more degrading events a writer can endure. But for this writer during that time? The world had suddenly come to an apocalyptic end!
After a 72-hour mind-altering “retreat” from the living that even Tennessee Williams would have been impressed with, I stumbled to the window and pulled the cord on my black-out blinds (the greatest invention ever) to let the sunshine pour into my light-starved apartment. While doing so, I accidentally knocked over a stack of mail on the floor. Letters flying everywhere. But as I began to pick up the pieces (and yes, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere) I noticed a letter from the Dramatists Guild, which of course had its prominently placed mantra in full view: Your Pen. Our Sword.
Look, I’m not going to pretend I gave a rat’s ass about that catch-phrase in the past. But now? In my 72nd hour of need? It suddenly meant something. This four-worded slogan instantly inflated into a life preserver, igniting a flicker of hope which gave me surprising newfound strength. So, I abruptly ended my binge with a whimper and attempted to pull myself together. (I mean, if Christ could rise from the dead in three days, I could at least do the same and put on a clean Polo shirt).
The very next day, I went to the Guild and sat on a couch opposite Ralph Sevush and David Faux from the Business Affairs Department and the Guild’s non-profit legal defense fund (the DLDF). Within minutes, both had made it abundantly clear that not only was my play unquestionably a parody, but it was indeed fair use and Dr. Seuss Enterprises had no right attempting to silence my lamb of free speech.
There was just one minor detail. I had to be the one to file a complaint against Dr. Seuss in federal court so that a judge could formally rule that my play could be produced without further interference. And through the Guild’s guidance and support, I acquired the strength and the confidence to do just that.
In all honesty, there is no way I could have gone through 2017 without the mighty sword of the Guild, protecting and defending my right to write. Not only did the Guild stand by me every step of the way during that very visible and controversial case, but the DLDF’s formal submission of an amicus brief supporting my position solidified and bolstered a very decisive victory for this very grateful playwright.
As long as I keep writing, I know the DG will keep fighting.
Thank you, Dramatists Guild.
MATTHEW LOMBARDO (Playwright) Broadway: High with Kathleen Turner and Looped starring Valerie Harper. Off-Broadway: Who’s Holiday! (w/ Lesli Margherita) Tea at Five (w/ Kate Mulgrew); Mother and Child (w/ Ann Wedgeworth); End of the World Party (director) and Guilty Innocence at The Actors’ Playhouse.