Tam Lin rides again

The IPKat has received this intriguing piece from his New York friend Miri Frankel, from the New York Times. It begins:

"Fairyland was in turmoil. During a tech rehearsal for the October 2004 Off Broadway production of "Tam Lin" — a play about a clash between mortal and immortal worlds — a real-life clash threatened to derail the show. Exactly what happened has become, literally, a federal case, and the sides agree on very few details. Did the playwright, Nancy McClernan, insist that the director's staging was incompetent? Did the director, Edward Einhorn, refuse to alter it? Did the producer, Jonathan X. Flagg, smash some furniture on the set? One thing's clear: the morning after the tech rehearsal, after two months of unpaid work, Mr Einhorn was fired.

... Ms McClernan and Mr Flagg figured the show must go on. With the help of an assistant (who eventually received the program credit for direction), they supervised the remaining rehearsals, either largely restaging the play or retaining most of Mr Einhorn's contributions, depending on whose side you believe. In any case, "Tam Lin" opened, ran for its scheduled 10 performances and closed. But the drama was not over. Soon playwright and producer were embroiled in a lawsuit ....

The main interest of that suit, ... scheduled for trial in April, is not whether an artist deserves to be paid for work his employers deem unsatisfactory. What's really at stake is something much larger, because Mr Einhorn claims in his complaint that his staging contributions to "Tam Lin" — contributions that his former collaborators say they excised — constitute a copyrighted work of intellectual property, owned by him, and that the defendants must therefore pay for infringing the copyright. When the lawsuit was filed in October 2005, a new run of the play was already in rehearsal, this time directed by Ms McClernan herself, who had always intended to make "Tam Lin" an annual Halloween event. Because Mr Einhorn says that even these new performances represented unauthorized use of his work, the potential tab, based on the maximum allowable statutory damage of $150,000 per infringement, is now up around $3 million, not including several other remedies he is requesting — along with his original $1,000 director's fee.

Under the circumstances, it seems questionable whether "Tam Lin" ... will return in 2006. But many playwrights, including Ms McClernan, feel that a more dangerous threat is lurking in Mr Einhorn's copyright claim: the kidnapping of their plays. As a result, the famously collaborative process of theater-making is now shadowed by questions. Are directors engaged in anything akin to the kind of authorship protected by copyright laws? If so, what's to stop them from demanding payment whenever a play they once directed is revived? And what would that mean to the free flow of ideas in an art form that borrows heavily from all available sources?".
The article ends:

"The real drama, though, is the one being played out between playwrights, who according to tradition were kings in the theater, and directors, whose job didn't exist as such until semi-cultic figures like Stanislavski advanced the role. Since then, playwrights have looked on in horror as people who used to be glorified actors gradually usurped their power. The usurpers have long since conquered Hollywood, where writers are positioned so far below directors on the totem pole, they're basically underground. Now they are threatening the playwrights' ancestral home, claiming, with some anxiety of their own, not just power but also paternity. Mr. Einhorn put it this way: "A director gives physical and visual life to a text. In many ways, it is similar to that of an illustrator. I work with illustrators on my books" — he is the author of two "Wizard of Oz" sequels — "and I have had people comment, 'The book is half what you've written and half the beautiful pictures.' They are separate but interconnected. And even more so onstage, one could not exist without the other."

... The "Tam Lin" lawsuit may not decide the matter, but it will probably inflame passions further. Mr. Shechtman is champing at the bit. "If it's truly a collaborative art form, then why is it only the author who participates in the subsidiary rights that flow from a successful New York production?" he asked. "The appropriate resolution is to give fair credit to all the artists' contributions. One day, it may end up that the author gets 80 percent, the director 10 percent, the original cast X and the designers Z. Because, at bottom, this is all about money."

No wonder playwrights are worried. Even the usually unflappable Paul Rudnick is rethinking his options. "From now on," he said, "I'm only going to have my plays directed by lawyers".
The IPKat watches with excitement, not only because of the legal and socio-cultural dimensions to this dispute but because he is a bit of a Tam Lin enthusiast himself. Merpel says, why shouldn't stage contributions be protected? Under UK law, are they not potentially protected as "dramatic works" under s.3 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988?

More on the legal dispute here
More on the Tam Lin legend here, here and here
Robert Burns' version of "Tam Lin" here
Classic rendition of "Tam Lin" by folk-rock band Fairport Convention and spine-tingling vocalist Sandy Denny here (scroll down to 'Listen to Samples', item 7)
TAM LIN GOES TO COURT TAM LIN GOES TO COURT Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, January 31, 2006 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. The answer to Merpel's question is yes: see Arnold, Performers' Rights (3rd ed) paras 9.02 to 9.31.


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