Critics Banned from Reviewing Wooster Group's Pinter Production

News   Critics Banned from Reviewing Wooster Group's Pinter Production
Samuel French, Inc., representing the wishes of the Harold Pinter estate, has placed a restriction on all press reviews for The Wooster Group's Los Angeles production of The Room, scheduled to run Feb. 4-14 at Redcat. The Pinter work made its New York debut in October last year without the restrictions.

Earlier this month, the publishing company instructed the Wooster Group that all promotion and reviews of the Los Angeles production would be forbidden. The Group appealed the decision, and Samuel French lifted the restriction on promoting the production, but maintained that the restriction on reviews would remain in place. The Group was also informed that it did not have permission for a planned return engagement in New York or subsequent Paris run.

The company told Playbill that they first obtained a license agreement to perform the piece in New York in October and later entered into discussions with Redcat about an L.A. engagement. At this point they did not know the L.A. performance dates, ticket prices and other specifics that Samuel French requires for license agreements.

"We understand that Samuel French was surprised when the announcement appeared in the press, and we immediately started working with them on October 16, 2015 — before our New York performances began — on a license agreement for Los Angeles performances. Three months later, on January 11, 2016, Samuel French sent us a license agreement that contained a restriction on publicity, promotions, and press reviews. At no point in those three months were we made aware that this restriction was a possibility or that the rights to perform in Los Angeles were potentially unavailable," reads a press statement from Wooster Group.

Mark Murphy, executive director of Redcat, called the restrictions "highly unusual and puzzling…This attempt to restrict critical discussion of such an important production in print and online is deeply troubling, with the potential for severe financial impact," he said in press statement.

David Kimple, Samuel French licensing manager, issued the following response: "Mr. Pinter’s catalogue is, as you know, world famous; to keep this catalogue afloat, there are many moving pieces and the work of the estate is not limited to any one single person. There is an entire team of professionals who have committed to strategically planning and curating productions in a way that will help to carry this great work even further during today’s constantly changing theatrical landscape. We are elated and honored to have your company investing in a show like this but, unfortunately, outside circumstances require us to maintain this restriction." In addition, Bruce Lazarus, executive director of Samuel French commented with the following: "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."

Prior to premiering at Redcat, The Wooster Group presented The Room in sold-out, advanced showings at The Performing Garage in New York, Oct. 28-Nov. 21, 2015. The production is helmed by Wooster's director Elizabeth LeCompte. Billed as a "comedy of menace," it is the first play by the playwright, penned when he was just 27 years old.

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