It's one of the more famous phrases in stage comedy and comes from a scene in Joseph Stein's play of the same title. An inexperienced actor auditions for a part and ends up reading the stage direction, "enter laughing," as a line of dialogue.
That poor fellow might have been spared his subsequent embarrassment if the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers have their way. On March 28 they reportedly sent a letter to several key players in the play publishing industry, asking them to refrain from including "stage directions, ground plans, choreography, costume, sound and light plots" when printing play texts. In other words, Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service, Music Theatre International, Tams Witmark, and the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization (all joint recipients of the letter) have the right to publish a playwright or lyricist's words, but not the physical trappings or movement of a particular production.
"Although the practice of using the "production" script rather than the playscript for publication and license may have been the norm, we are hereby asserting our property rights and demand that this practice be discontinued immediately," reads the letter, which is signed by SSDC executive director Barbara Hauptman and United Scenic Artists National Business Representative, Paul Moore.
An SSDC press release explains, "the playwright licenses the work to the publisher, but the published script often includes materials created by the director, choreographer and designers." Said SSDC president Julianne Boyd, "We simply want our work acknowledged as ours and not replicated by others without approval." In response, Samuel French president Charles Van Nostrand told the New York Times, "We've been publishing plays for 167 years, and we certainly don't intentionally use anything not the property of the author. We end up with a play after the fact. How it's created is something we're not in on." Reached Friday afternoon, April 4, Van Nostrand was not ready to offer further comment to Playbill On-Line but promised to follow up the following week.
SSDC has gotten quite serious about the issue of directors' rights; their lawsuit against the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton, FL, for "duplicating" Joe Mantello's Off-Broadway/Broadway direction of Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!, is still pending.
And no one's laughing.
--By David Lefkowitz