ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Rights

Ask Playbill.com   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Rights Exploring the issues of rights involved with producing Broadway musicals around the country.

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Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

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This question comes from M. Gonzales of Albuquerque, NM.

Question: What determines when a show's rights are released? Do touring shows also have an effect on a regional/community/educational theatre's chance to perform a specific show? And if a show is revived, are the rights revoked for the time it plays? Answer: For this question, Playbill.com spoke with Bert Fink, a spokesperson for the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. The organization does many things, but one of its divisions, R&H Theatricals, licenses the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, plus those of other writers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, to professional and amateur companies worldwide.

After a new hit musical opens on Broadway or Off-Broadway, at some point, the rights holders of a musical — typically the writers, or their estate, and possibly the creators of the source material — will make a deal with a licensing company such as R&H Theatricals or Music Theatre International to allow the company to administer the process of licensing the rights to professional and amateur companies who want to produce the musical.

The rights holders and the producers of that Broadway or Off-Broadway production will later make the decision as to when and where they want the licensing company to allow what kinds of productions.

Some producers wait longer than others. For example, the Altar Boyz producers have already allowed R&H to license the show for various productions, even though its original Off-Broadway production is still running. The show was licensed to a Budapest production last year, for instance.

But some producers choose to wait, so that licensed productions don't compete with the original New York production and its tour. R&H Theatricals acquired the rights to The Light in the Piazza during the show's Broadway run. After Broadway, the show went on a national tour. Only after the tour ended was R&H Theatricals given the go-ahead to license professional productions. R&H still can't license amateur productions, in order to protect the professional market, Fink says.

When a musical is revived on Broadway, productions of that show are typically restricted — in the New York area to protect the Broadway show, and potentially nationwide to protect a planned tour, Fink says.

If a producer puts on a major Broadway revival of a big Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "restrictions can in theory be on national level," Fink says. "It's not unusual that professional theatres don't have access to that title for a couple of seasons."

While Fink doesn't know the exact details of the arrangement for Lincoln Center Theater's upcoming production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, for instance, he can say that "my assumption is that we are not licensing professional productions of South Pacific in a certain radius of Lincoln Center. That's standard policy."

Fink says R&H Theatricals tries whenever it can to convince the producers of major professional productions to still allow nearby high school productions, since, he argues, they don't take away audiences from the professional production, and instead encourage students and their families to see the show. Fink says R&H asked Lincoln Center Theater to allow New York area high school productions of South Pacific, and they obliged. "Lincoln Center Theater understood the value of encouraging high school students to do South Pacific in the New York area," Fink says.

A licensing house also deals with day-to-day problems, such as two professional theatres in the same city wanting to put on the same show. Fink says, "We want to protect them from each other."

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