As a voting theater critic (for both the LADCC and Stage Raw) awards here in Los Angeles, it can be a bit of a shock when you’re told you are forbidden to review a show.
Yep, that’s right — the publishers of a play granted the rights to its performance but decided to issue an ban on reviewing.
Okay – just to let you know, under certain circumstances, this does happen sometimes. There are times when a theater company wants to show an unfinished piece to an invited audience. For a “work-in-progress,” naturally I respect their request that I hold off on reviewing.
L.A. theater critics, however, are presently facing a completely different situation. Late last week a press release went out from REDCAT, regarding The Wooster Group’s upcoming production of Harold Pinter’s The Room, alerting us that “…reviews of the production would be forbidden.”
Here’s the language from the press release:
REDCAT and The Wooster Group announce that Samuel French, Inc., which manages the United States rights for Harold Pinter’s work, restricts critics from reviewing the world premiere of the Group’s production of The Room at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) February 4 to 14, 2016.
On January 11, 2016, Samuel French instructed the Group that all promotion and reviews of the production would be forbidden. The Group appealed this decision, and Samuel French subsequently lifted the restriction on promoting the production, but informed the Group that the restriction on reviews will remain in place. Samuel French’s licensing agreement states that “There may be absolutely No reviews of this production; e.g. newspaper, website posts etc.” The Group was also informed that they could not currently receive permission for future performances of the production being planned in New York City and Paris.
In an email to the Group, Samuel French Licensing Manager David Kimple did not give a specific reason for the sudden restrictions, only citing “outside circumstances.”
No real reason given, beyond the nebulous “outside circumstances.”
The Wooster Group’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Room is not a “work-in-progress.”
Incidentally, the production that opens this Thursday at REDCAT is not even the “world premier” as a (presumably) early incarnation of the show was staged in NYC last October as a preview, prior to its its Los Angeles debut.
The Wooster Group presented the piece in sold-out advance showings at The Performing Garage, the Group’s home theater in New York City. These performances, which took place October 28 – November 21, were authorized by Samuel French without imposing any limits on press access.
Now the production is opening at REDCAT. Clearly the show is ready for the public viewing and critical appraisal.
Described as a “comedy of menace,” The Room is the renowned British playwright’s first play, written when Pinter was 27 years of age. This production is the first of three Pinter productions the Off-Broadway company is developing, though it remains to be seen if Samuel French grants approval to The Wooster Group.
Following the L.A. debut at REDCAT this month, the show is scheduled to return to New York for Wooster’s next season. But that may not eventuate…
Firstly, this decree reeks of unconstitutional language. Criticism is free speech and cannot, by law, be muted. Right?!?
Secondly, this absurd gag order appears impractical and unenforceable. Neither Samuel French nor the Pinter Estate have any legal right to enforce a gag order against audience members or professional critics. The only thing they can do is deny performance rights for future productions.
On Sunday at midnight The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) The American Theatre Critics association published their reaction here, rejecting the notion that a publishing house had the right to forbid reviews from happening.
“The American Theatre Critics Association strongly reaffirms our bedrock tenet that arts criticism is journalism,” stated Wm. F. Hirschman, chair, ATCA executive committee.
“Therefore, the decision to review a production to which the public is invited with admission charged is at the discretion and judgment of journalists and their editors.”
But there is a timeline to consider.
According to reporting in the L.A. Times, REDCAT advertised the L.A. production in August 2015, but Wooster/REDCAT didn’t ask for the rights until Oct 2015.
Future performances of The Room in New York and Paris appear to be in jeopardy after The Wooster Group failed to obtain the necessary permission from Samuel French, the licensing company.
Officials at REDCAT said in a release this week that Samuel French instructed the New York-based Wooster Group that all promotion and reviews of the production would be forbidden.
The Wooster Group subsequently appealed this decision, and Samuel French later lifted the restriction on promoting the production, but told the theater company that the blackout on reviews will remain in place.
As reported by David Ng in the L.A.Times:
A London representative for the Pinter estate said via email that The Wooster Group’s application came to Samuel French after the theater company had already announced its production plans.
“The fact is that it was very late in the day last year when we heard they were planning to present the play in Los Angeles and unfortunately, the rights were not available when they applied for them,” said Judy Daish, the representative for the writer’s estate.
“We proceeded with allowing the production with limitations out of courtesy to them.”
Both The Wooster Group and REDCAT disputed her assertion about the timing of the application.
They said that The Wooster Group first applied and received approval for the license for the New York run in July 2014, when it was applying for funding.
The Wooster Group then contacted Kimple at Samuel French to request a license for the L.A. “extension” on Oct. 16, 2015 — prior to the Oct. 28, 2015 start of performances in New York.
They said The Wooster Group followed up by email on Dec. 9 because it hadn’t received a licensing agreement yet, and were told on Dec. 20 that final confirmation would be received soon.
Per Bruce Lazarus, Executive Director of Samuel French, Inc. “Samuel French is licensing agent representing the wishes of the Harold Pinter estate. The Wooster Group announced the Los Angeles production of Pinter’s “The Room” before securing the rights. Had The Wooster Group attempted to secure the rights to the play prior to announcing the production, the estate would have withheld the rights. Holding The Wooster Group in great esteem, the Pinter Estate decided to accommodate the company in their post-announcement request to present the play, with the provision that the production could not be promoted or reviewed. The Wooster Group appealed this decision. As a further courtesy, the Pinter Estate accommodated by allowing The Wooster Group to promote the production, but maintained their provision for no reviews of the production. As the licensing agent, Samuel French stands by the decisions of the Pinter estate and continues to advocate for authors’ rights to control their property as they see fit.”
Basically it boils down to this:
Wooster had the rights for the “preview” they staged in NYC last Oct. They applied for and received those rights in July, so there was no ban on the NYC performances. Word around the traps is that Wooster actually had not obtained the rights for the L.A. production before it was announced last Aug.
Wooster apparently only applied for the rights to stage it in L.A. in October, just before the NYC preview season. The Pinter Estate apparently wanted to deny the rights for L.A., but since Wooster/REDCAT had already promoted it, they felt limited the scope of it.
At present, Wooster currently does not have rights to mount the full production in NY or Paris.
Wooster maintains theirs wasn’t a last minute request for rights, but they don’t dispute that they made the request in Oct while the first advertisements for the L.A. production went out in Aug. It’s possible this was REDCAT’s error. Maybe REDCAT didn’t realize that the rights hadn’t actually been secured when they announced their season. The estate could have shut the whole production down, but they didn’t.
Imposing ridiculous restrictions not only sounds petty and punitive but pointless.
So, dear readers, I will be attending opening night and I will most likely post a review on Friday. Stay tuned!
REDCAT, CalArts’ downtown center for contemporary arts, presents the World Premiere of The Wooster Group’s production of The Room Thursday February 4 to Sunday February 14, 2016.
The Wooster Group’s production of The Room
631 West 2nd Street,
Los Angeles CA 90012
Runs from Thursday February 4 to Sunday February 14, 2016.
Thurs Feb 4 – Sat Feb 6 at 8:30 pm
Sun Feb 7 at 3 pm
Tues Feb 9 – Sat Feb 13 at 8:30 pm
Sun Feb 14 at 3 pm
$50-$55 (members $40-45)
For more information and to purchase tickets, go here.
Produced in 1957, Harold Pinter’s The Room is the first play by one of the most important playwrights of a generation. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, this theatrical experience builds on the Group’s goal to create “a theater that encompasses all forms of the arts and has an architecture that isn’t located in a naturalistic place: a theater which integrates music, dance and text into the final art form without privileging one over the other.” They approach Pinter’s 1957 play through a range of comedic forms, including American vaudeville and comic routines (duos like Abbott and Costello or the Smothers Brothers), and the ancient form “cross talk” or xiansheng, a two-person comedy style popular in China since the Qing Dynasty.
The cast includes Group members and associates Kate Valk, Suzzy Roche, Ari Fliakos, Philip Moore and Scott Renderer. Lighting: Jennifer Tipton with Ryan Seelig; original music tracks: Omar Zubair; sound: Max Bernstein and Eric Sluyter; sound consultant: Bobby McElver; video and projections: Robert Wuss and Max Bernstein; assistant director and costume supervisor: Enver Chakartash; stage manager: Erin Mullin; production manager: Bona Lee; and technical fellow/sound assistant: Gareth Hobbs.
A NOTE FROM THE WOOSTER GROUP:
Over the past forty years, we have experimented with many forms of theater-making. Our interest is in a theater that encompasses all forms of the arts and has an architecture that isn’t located in a naturalistic place: a theater which integrates music, dance and text into the final art form without privileging one over the other.
We approached Harold Pinter’s THE ROOM through a range of comedic forms. Some are familiar from American popular culture tracing back to vaudeville (duos like Abbott and Costello or the Smothers Brothers); and some come from other traditions. Among those is xiansheng or “cross talk,” a two-person comedic form that we encountered on a recent research tour to China supported by the Asian Cultural Council. “Cross talk” originated in the Qing Dynasty and remains extremely popular worldwide with an entire television channel devoted to it. Unlike American TV comedy duos, “cross talk” develops its comedy over time through an extended narrative, allowing more nuance in its storytelling style.
We are always trying to find new ways to tell stories, and putting these comedic forms into conversation with Pinter’s text takes our work in a new direction.
ABOUT THE WOOSTER GROUP:
Founded in 1975, The Wooster Group has made more than 40 works for theater, dance, film, and video under the direction of Elizabeth LeCompte. These works include RUMSTICK ROAD (1977), L.S.D. (…JUST THE HIGH POINTS…) (1984), FRANK DELL’S THE TEMPTATION OF ST. ANTONY (1988), BRACE UP! (1991), THE EMPEROR JONES (1993), HOUSE/LIGHTS (1999), TO YOU, THE BIRDIE! (Phèdre) (2002), HAMLET (2007), THERE IS STILL TIME..BROTHER (2007), LA DIDONE (2009), VIEUX CARRÉ (2011), CRY, TROJANS! (Troilus & Cressida) (2014), and EARLY SHAKER SPIRITUALS: A RECORD ALBUM INTERPRETATION (2014). Based at The Performing Garage at 33 Wooster Street in lower Manhattan, the company regularly tours worldwide, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The Performing Garage is part of the Grand Street Artists Co-op, a 1960s project of the Fluxus art movement. More information can be found here.
Development of THE ROOM is supported by: the National Endowment for the Arts Art Works program; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the New York State Council on the Arts; the Asian Cultural Council; the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; Distracted Globe Foundation; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/New York Theater Program; the Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation; The Shubert Foundation; and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.
ABOUT REDCAT | THE ROY AND EDNA DISNEY/CALARTS THEATER:
REDCAT, CalArts’ downtown center for contemporary arts, presents a dynamic and international mix of innovative visual, performing and media arts year round. Located inside the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall complex in downtown Los Angeles, REDCAT houses a theater, a gallery space and a lounge. Through performances, exhibitions, screenings, and literary events, REDCAT introduces diverse audiences, students and artists to the most influential developments in the arts from around the world, and gives artists in this region the creative support they need to achieve national and international stature. REDCAT continues the tradition of the California Institute of the Arts, its parent organization, by encouraging experimentation, discovery and lively civic discourse.
For current program and exhibition information call 213-237-2800 or visit the official site here.
Street Address: 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles CA 90012
REDCAT is located in downtown Los Angeles inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex with a separate entrance at the corner of West 2nd and Hope Streets. Parking is available in the Walt Disney Concert Hall parking structure. $9 event rate or $5 for vehicles entering after 8:00 pm on weekdays.
THE CAFÉ LOUNGE | Open to the public six days a week, the Lounge is a great place to spend an afternoon or grab a drink pre- and post-performance. Hours: Tuesdays– Fridays from 9am until 8 pm or post-show; Saturdays from noon until 8 pm or post- show; Sundays from noon until 6pm or post-show.
THE GALLERY | REDCAT’s Gallery presents five major exhibitions each year, and publishes artist books and catalogues. Admission to the Gallery is FREE. Gallery Hours: Tuesdays–Sundays from noon until 6 pm and through intermission
THE THEATER | Tickets for programs held in the theater are available through the REDCAT Box Office, by phone 213-237-2800 or online here. Group, member, student and CalArts faculty/staff discounts available. Box Office Hours: Tuesdays–Saturday from noon until 6 pm or two hours prior to curtain.