Hard Times for a Hardbody.

A scandal and an outrage has been brewin’ out of town over the last few days ’bout a show from last season that didn’t last too long on the boards.

I’m talkin’ about Hands on a Hardbodywhich, since it shuttered shortly after opening back in the spring of 2013, has been making its way around the regionals (proof that even shows that don’t make it here can still make it there – which generates revenue for the Authors and spits back money to the mother company as well, which goes straight back to the investors – win, win, win).

One of those regional productions of Hardbody was supposed to be happening right at this very moment, at Texas’s own, Theatre Under The Stars.

But the production was canceled.

Because someone was a bad, bad boy.

See, the Director of the production, Bruce Lumpkin (who I actually worked with back in the early 90s at Maine State Music Theatre), decided to make a few changes to the show.

But he didn’t ask for the Author’s permission.

And that’s a no, no, no!

The story was first broken by Howard Sherman, who has been patrolling the web like the Art Police as of late (so much so that I’ve started referring to him as Sheriff Sherman).  But in this case, he was totally justified in sounding the alarm and calling for backup.

And that backup came a-running, in the form of the Dramatists Guild and eventually Samuel French issuing a cease and desist, and TUTS canceling the production.

The rules are simple.  Shows can’t be changed, unless the Authors approve.  As a writer myself (with a few titles with Samuel French) and as a Producer of several original shows, I promise you . . . if we wanted the show done a certain way, we would have written it that way in the first place.

I can see the temptation to revise, especially when working on shows whose initial incarnation wasn’t successful (I was desperate to get my hands on Carrie when I was in college).  And the cool thing about the theater, as opposed to film, or the printed word, is that it is possible to change it up and see how it works.

But you can’t do that unless the Authors approve.  Cuz see, they wrote it.  So it’s theirs.

The problem with this specific case is that the real losers aren’t Mr. Lumpkin or the Authors of Hardbody.  Nope, the people who lost the most are the bunch of actors and technicians and TUTS employees who lost their gig, as well as the TUTS audience members who are probably all at home right now watching Netflix instead of seeing a show.

What I love about working with theater folk is that they are always looking to improve.  Actors can continue to find new nuances eight times a week.  Authors can change lines to make them more timely.  Choreographers can change a step to accommodate a different dancer.

But that desire for perfection, that desire for change, still requires collaboration, and a deference to those who created the work.  All of that seemed to be sorely lacking here.

So look, if you’ve got ideas on how to present material in a different way, ask before you proceed.  I’ve personally pulled the plug on a production that made changes to one of my shows, and also granted another production the right to make significant changes, all because the Director asked in advance, and because her ideas were actually good!

But if you don’t get permission, or if you don’t hear back, don’t do it anyway.  Simply put, if you don’t like the script the way it came, then just do another script.

Or do Shakespeare.  He doesn’t care what the eff you do with his stuff.

What do you think about what happened in Texas?  Comment below!

 

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Comments
  • Zach says:

    I was so shocked when I first heard about this last week. Like what did Bruce Lumpkin think would happen?! Hope he learned his lesson! And to invite Amanda Green and Jen Costello and say to their faces, “you have to admit it’s better this way”…like what?! I agree, I feel bad for the cast and crew. At the very least they can say they were part of this controversial mess!

  • It’s been all the buzz in the Bayou City since the word got out last Friday. The amazing thing to me is the number of people here in Houston who are actually defending what Lumpkin did. Some who saw the show in New York then saw the TUTS production said how much better it was. Some directors in town (some whom I’ve worked with) saying that if it made it better then who cares and that the authors and publishers are getting their money, so why make a fuss. A major Houston theater critic came to TUTS’ defense over the whole thing.
    I just can’t see defending such a blatant contract violation. I agree with Ken- either do it as written, get permission or don’t do it.

    • David Rigano says:

      I can’t speak to Lumpkin’s artistic decisions, as I didn’t even see HARDBODY the first go-round. And maybe there was some merit to his ideas that could indeed have improved the show that didn’t work in NYC. But there’s no way to defend how he went about it. And, chances are, if he’d gotten permission and the authors were aware of what he was doing, it could have been even better as he would have been in a dialogue with the creators. But it seems he fancies himself a creator, or show-doctor at the least, and thinks he knows better. Apparently he’s done this before (no examples have been given that I’ve read, just that he has) and was going to again with his upcoming WHOREHOUSE production.

      (I want to add that, as a writer, awesome creative producers and directors have been a huge help in forming shows that I’ve written. And as a director, I like having a hand in the new shows I’m developing. But since I do both, I also know where the line is drawn.)

  • Glenn says:

    I’m curious what the changes were that forced the entire production to close? Just a few days ago the same thing happened in Milwaukee (http://www.playbill.com/news/article/192694-Alchemists-Oleanna-Receives-Cease-and-Desist-Over-Gender-Bending-Casting).

    I can appreciate the writer wanting to maintain the integrity of their work, but most of the time you’ll see local productions trim dialogue or replace swearing or offensive words for the sake of the audience. I know many times there are already pre-approved alternate dialogue. I think this case is more significant than maybe adding a song from the movie Grease into its staged musical version, or trimming songs/scenes to fit a venue’s concept of show length “Vegas-ifying”.

    After reading a detailed article, (http://www.hesherman.com/2014/06/20/rebuilding-hardbody-at-a-houston-chop-shop/), I can completely agree with the decision. It appears the director had no regard for the work and even flaunted what he thought was a better rendition than the original……to the writers no less. The argument of the Director doesn’t hold water. If he invited the writers to opening night, he had every opportunity to communicate his desired changes.

  • David Rigano says:

    I like that you brought up CARRIE. Especially since we’ve gotten this terrific revival just a couple of years ago. That revival was a full-on rewrite. There was so much new material, especially in the dialogue, that, aside from a few key numbers and the overall structure, it could be practically unrecognizable from the original Broadway/Stratford version. No amount of wiggling and re-ordering the original material (even if you’d gotten your hands on the material presented in the original workshops) that could have made that show work. It required the authors themselves to come in and retool it, rewrite dialogue, write new songs, and make it the show they knew it could be when they first started.

    It irks me especially when directors decide to do shows and “fix” them, in particular when the entire reason for doing a show is to “fix” it. Do a show because you love it, not because you see potential for it to be something else.

  • Alex says:

    If you don’t want people making “changes” to your work, perhaps you should work in a non-collaborative medium. Write a book or something and self-publish it. In my book, collaboration does not mean that the author gets a veto on all words spoken. Shutting down the production is an extremely heavy-handed response.

    • Michael Gilboe says:

      If that is how you feel, then get a lobby together and change the law. Because it is not a matter of opinion. It is the law that gives final approval to the writer, and in addition the licensors have the theater sign a contract that they will not change it. Do so so without permission is a flagrant violation of both. Theater offers crap for money in compensation, but our big reason to do so is that the work is our own. Unlike film and TV.

    • Another Alex says:

      In order to collaborate, one must be invite to the collaboration, which it appears Green and Anastasio were not. This has nothing to do with the writer “vetoing” anything – it’s a breach of contract. If the writers were approached with Mr. Lumpkin’s intentions, they would have either agreed to a collaboration, or TUTS would have produced something else.

      Shutting down the production was essentially their only recourse. It’s interesting that Ms. Green attended the opening… someone must have known she was coming. I would be pretty flummoxed if I went to see a production of something I had written and discovered it had been altered without my awareness, let alone approval.

      Collaboration is great, and many writers discover all sorts of worthwhile changes through discoveries with the directors, cast and designers. But the writer’s name is attached to it and ultimately has their reputation to protect. Consider this: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/scriptfker-dont-bet-on-it-miscellany/Content?oid=916786

    • Jim Johnson says:

      or maybe Alex, you should write your own version of the story that this musical is based on. You can’t own the rights to an actual news/historical event, but you certainly retain the right to say “no” to a new interpretation that you’ve penned. That is, if you’re asked in the first place. Or maybe you aren’t familiar with intellectual property?

    • Chris says:

      Whatever YOU may think of it, it is a part of standard licensing agreements that making unapproved changes to the material is grounds for cessation of the agreement. It’s not a dialogue; it’s a contract.

      Yes, the creation of a new piece of theatre is a collaboration; yes, the production of an extant piece of theatre is a collaboration. But they are not the same thing, and should not be mistaken for each other.

      • Jared says:

        Ding ding ding. Jackpot. Whenever you sign the licensing agreement for a show, it specifically states that you cannot change one word without permission from the original authors, and that if you do you will lose the right to produce the show. Lumpkin/TUTS signed this agreement, so shutting down the production is 100% the right thing to do.

        The thing is, you never know until you ask. There was a production of “Pippin” in England in the early 2000s that asked the authors’ permission to change the ending. Rather than have Pippin and Catherine end the show with Pippin and Catherine, the director wanted to have the young boy come on and reprise “Corner of the Sky” before being escorted offstage by the Players, implying the whole cycle would start over. Stephen Schwartz loved the change so much that he’s incorporated it into the script, and that is the way the current Broadway revival ends.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    it is not collaboration when a director changes something and then the writer finds out later. When a director explains to me a problem they may be having, I try to make it work for the better of the show. If a writer doesnt want to change something and he i ultimately wrong, he will get the critical blame far more than the director will

  • Margie says:

    YAY to the Author’s Guild for protecting our precious words. I wish magazine editors were beholden to a similar guild — they change our words, our context, even our quotes without our permission, often so badly we are humiliated our name was put on it. I am THRILLED to hear that at least on Broadway they protect an author’s rights.

  • George Rady says:

    VERY Interesting…

    On the one hand – I am pretty darn sure I would NOT want my work “intepreted” by some hack “director” – who doesn’t really understand the play in the first place and proceeds to de-construct the work to suit his/her own worm’s eye view of Life (or, more likely, personal philodophical and/or political agenda…)

    Just curious – is there a stage version of “Holiday Inn” – do they take – out – the Blackface Number? I’ll bet THAT could be done and the owner of the work would not raise a finger to text their lawyer… because that would come back on them for “supporting the Minstral Shows”

    On the otherhand – I was looking over La Cage a couple of years ago – thinking of producing it in North Carolina (just in time for the Gay Marriage Amendment…) and I was shocked to see EXTENSIVE detail about the Set and Setting of the work… seriously? If I did not build the set (rather than produce the work in more of a Caberet style) that would prompt a Cease and Desist???

    Not sure.

    btw – I have a feeling that one of the reasons that show like La Cage are NOT produced in locals below the Bible Belt is that there is enough anti-Christian material in the work to offend (even moderate) Christians… as many portrayal of “sterotype” gays… and I was wondering if they owners of that work would go for soften up that material… or “No we want to show Christians as bigoted ignoramouses” and I just tossed the idea to the “Too Complicated” pile…

    Maybe “authors” should take a step back and realize… in a 100 years… people will be able to interpret their work “Any Which Way They Wouldst Want To!” and chill a bit… that their work will – as Shakespeare – be open to wide interprtation and the audience will accept or reject the premise…

  • Jaysen says:

    I’m sorry, Alex. Collaboration ends in agreed-upon changes. The author absolutely gets a veto. What this guy did was not collaborative. It was the opposite.

  • Ashlyn Smith says:

    As a long time TUTS patron, I was a little shocked and saddened by the entire thing (while also finding it slightly funny). I do not think there is anything wrong with trying something new, but as long as you have permission. People can be really protective of their work. Gender bending is quite popular with Shakespearean shows, but as seen with Oleanna this weekend, alive playwrights may not always appreciate it. After reading about this, and also hearing of the plans to alter “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (a really funny show to watch with a Houston audience because they get all of the little jokes), I am beginning to wonder what was changed in productions that I have seen from TUTS.

    Side Note: Not many people have pointed this out (so I thought I would throw it out there) – the President/CEO of TUTS was a producer on “Bring it On” with Amanda Green. But then again, I’m not sure how many producers were on that show after the processionals during last year’s Tonys.

  • George Rady says:

    btw – I am a bit surprised to see the legalese being brought to bear over copyright law… I did hear much when Obama simply set aside Contract Law and set aside Corporate Bond holders right to 1st collection… when he (re)created Government Motors… or his repeated re-writes of his own Health Care law… by fiat. The man is setting a legal precident that simply set aside laws and contracts on the vaguest of notions… and that does have a trickle down effect of opening up “rights” to reinterpretation… for the Greater Good.. of course….

  • George Rady says:

    btw – I believe that Shakespeare is going to sue every producer of his work for have “women” playing roles in his plays… clearly the “law” of his time… and it puts so many young somewhat feminine boys out of work….

  • George Rady says:

    Hmmm… reading further.

    “When Lumpkin was asked about his changes to the show, he responded: “I didn’t change lyrics, I didn’t change songs, I didn’t change dialogue. I only changed their order”

    Sooo… if there are “cuts” under this letter-of-the-law that too could prompt a C&D, right? Half the productions I have seen have – cut – musical numbers and scenes… so one has to wonder if switching a sequence of songs is the breaking point… because I have seen that too…

    But “If a Tree Falls in the Forest”

  • Donald Jordan says:

    While I co,pletely agree that the authors were within their legal rights to force the cancellation of the play, I also feel there is ego and self-importance going on here. After all, if the play had gone on, audiences in Houston would have seen it, jobs would have been preserved, a nonprofit theatre would not have been economically damaged and what, exaqctly, would have been the harm? If the production was bad, it could be blamed on the experimentation…if it was hailed as a reconceived triumph to be taken back to Broadway, the material would have been looked upon more favorably than it was in its actual commercial run. Who would have been hurt? So while yes “I Wrote it and I’m going to take my ball and go home if we don’t do what I want” is the legal defense, in the greater scheme of art, perhaps a little more forebearance would have been prudent. As you pointed out, Shakespeare continues to be explored and reimagined, and his plays seem to survive the challenge.
    I realize that after all the effort, and this case some disappointment, that went into the shows orgination, the authors can develop into the ultimate stage heliocopter parents, why not just let the play run for two weeks in Houston…somehow I think the theatre would have survived….

  • Joanne says:

    What a shame, as this is a show that should NEVER have had such a short run on Broadway! It was an interesting evening of good theater, and some really fine music with a slew of talent, I still don’t understand what the critics were complaining about? A shame that not it cannot have a life in a decent regional theater. All because they altered the order of songs? Better not to play at all? Makes no sense. Musicals are constantly rethought, reworked….not always by the originators…perhaps we need some more info as to what exactly happened here?
    Houston seems like an ideal locale for this particular, southern flavored work.

    • Nikki says:

      Joanne- the difference here is that the director decided to just change parts of the show and the actual strytelling by moving around the songs or giving different characters different lines to sing. Unfortunately TUTS signed an agreement to do the show they licensed and making those changes was not allowed without the authors approval.
      “reworking” a show as you state is a different type of deal altogether. It would require a contract stating that the show was going to be reworked and most times the original authors who created the material would be involved in that. The show Bare is a perfect example of that. Years ago it was produced as Bare:A Pop Opera and had a storyline and a set of characters and music. Last year it was reworked with new creators (the original lyricist had died I believe) and was titled simply Bare. A lot of people who saw the original thought this was a revival but it was in fact a reworking with new songs, new dialogue, a switch to several characters and new plot elements based on the original piece.
      Another example would be the Jersey Boys movie that just came out. It is based on the musical but differs greatly which is why the movie is not called Jersey Boys The Musical.
      What Bruce did was wrong and anyone who works in the theatre can see why (and to go along with another poster, friends who worked with him in the past say he has been doing things like this for 15 years or so and just now got caught). However Bruce is not the only person out there doing this by any means and actors have little recourse when they show up to work and are told the show is different even though they know it is not legit either.
      I was in a show where my song got cut for an added dance sequence that was not in the script. I also saw a production of Spelling Bee where a volunteer speller slot was cut because the director didn’t know how it functioned in the set up of the show.
      This production stepped over the line and tried to tell a different story using the original authors words and music and lyrics.

  • Calvin R says:

    I could not believe this when I read it a week ago, and I am still incredulous now. I am an SDC member (the Director’s union) and we just had an issue of our organization’s news magazine that dealt with the respectful relationship between directors and writers. This kind of behavior is strictly forbidden by both SDC and the Dramatists Guild, so not only did Mr. Lumpkin show his lack of respect for the authors of HANDS ON A HARDBODY, he blatantly ignored the rules of his own union!! (if in fact he is an SDC member, which I am virtually certain that he must have been) On top of that he, and by tacet agreement, the producers, violated the contract for the rights to produce this play. I think I know why he didn’t ask for permission to tinker….he didn’t want to be told no. But the unmitigated gaul to then invite the authors to then come see it, and proclaim his work better than theirs is difficult to comprehend. It makes authors fearful of ALL directors work, and I, for one, say….shut it down!!! There was no other choice to be made.
    Mr. Lumpkin may have just committed career suicide.

  • George Rady says:

    Or – from the perspective of NOT being in any union – Mr Lumpkin may have put his name on the map… the re-arraignment of songs is a criminal offense?

  • Phyllis Buchalter says:

    That’s why we have Copyright laws!!

  • Randy Lake says:

    I’m very torn on this issue…. and while I certainly feel that what Mr. Lumpkin did was foolish (did he not expect SOME kind of legal action against his tinkering…? Especially since the contracts signed to license a show are VERY hard-nosed about ANY changes.) – I also wonder about the “rabidness” of those on this thread who spout Copyright Laws. Guess I tend to agree with Steve Sondheim on this matter: he has made mention that he is open to new interpretations of his work – since a new version does not diminish or eliminate the original version of his art. As a writer myself, I understand the frustration of having a director or performer arbitrarily change one of my lyrics because they thought their contribution was “better” – but, as a director, I’ve also cut dance music and adapted the material to suit the talents and skills of the cast I’m working with. While I know “legally” I’m not allowed to make ANY cuts or changes to a piece I’ve licensed – I have to think that the authors understand that material is not set in stone and needs to remain malleable to be presented with different performers or groups. If a director needed to check with the licensing company for approval on every change….that would prohibit any group outside of a major metropolitan area from ever producing shows! Again, I think Mr. Lumpkin was foolish for thinking TUTS would go unnoticed for his transgressions – but perhaps the authors & licensing company could have chosen to discuss the issue rather than issuing a C&D order just because it was within their legal rights. Either way, it’s a tough call.

  • Wow, a lot of strong opinions here on this!

    When someone writes a piece of theater, they are dictating what is to be done onstage to the extent their text can determine; use your directorial powers to change what your vision demands within the confines of cutting material, character motivations, staging and design. If that is not enough for you, write your own script.

  • George Rady says:

    You know that last point was very interesting…

    You produce a show in a venue like this hoping that the “title” and the pre-publicity and “broadway” run (regardless of how long) will attract an audience… the “quality” is unknown and unknowable for most attending (in the Provinces) so there IS something to be said for choosing a “franchise” label… rather than opening up “Mister Lumpkin’s Play” which risks Subscribers… UN-subscribing…

    But What IF Mister Lumpkin re-worked the show as…

    “Hard-bottys”

    And did all the re-writing and reworking he wanted to realize his Vision…

    Setting aside using the actual songs…

    Wouldn’t the “authors” – then – turn around and SUE for stealing their work… in hypocritical rationale that it was (essentially) their work… even if Mister Lumpkin changed the sequence of only one… arrangement and retitled the work….

    But they say that a single re-arrangement “no longer made it the show that they had written”

    Not to be a sophist about this… but our litigious society has really worked its way into a corner where only those with deep pockets for lawyers and afford to steal…

    And to think at one time the simple Dramatic Std of telling a story with the Unity of Time, Location and Action was thought “too confining”

    g

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