Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Blue (Rumpus) Room

Lots of local hubbub over the sudden closing of The Blue Room at the BCA before it opened.

Larry Stark's Theatermirror has the coverage. See here. It is best to start with Naeemah White-Peppers' first letter to Larry, so you'll have to scroll down.

The basic rundown is that an actress auditions for and is cast in David Hare's The Blue Room. She leaves the production, directed by Chris Cavalier. She contacts Samuel French because the director has made some major changes to the script. Samuel French closes the show down.

Those are the facts as we know them, and seem to be the things that are undisputed on both sides.

So far, other parties have written letters defending the director, saying that the actress was unprofessional and had no problems with the script changes until she was left. Naeemah White-Peppers' original letter seems to portray the actress as protesting script changes from the beginning and heroically taking her departure on a stand of integrity.

More than likely, both sides are exaggerating. Though she may be lionizing this actress a little, as far as the facts of the case are concerned, Ms. White-Peppers is dead on: The actress didn't close the show, the director's actions in illegally changing the script eventually closed the show. No other way around it.

I have heard of these types of things happening before, and it always boggles my mind. (Perhaps because I am a playwright.) I mean, if you are going to make that many substantial changes to the script, ...hell, just make and write your own show from scratch. (Oddly enough David Hare's The Blue Room is, itself, "freely adapted" from Arthur Shnitzler's La Ronde.) It it doesn't take plagiarism either, although it is apparent that you can still have a theatrical career doing that. (Just ask Bryony Lavery.)

Actually, maybe Schnitzler's writing just lends itself to free adaptation. After all, his novella Traumnovelle was contorted, unrecognizably, into the Stanley Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut. Perhaps somebody should start an Arthur Shnitzler Free Adaptation Festival.

As for the letter writers defending the Mr. Cavalier; I feel for them, but even they admit that the script was altered without permission from Mr. Hare or Samuel French. Game. Set. Match. Let's all learn and move forward.

Adding to Ms. White-Peppers, I would only say that the REAL important question is why a new young company would want to do The Blue Room in the first place. Which should lead you all to the discussions going on at Scott Walters Theatre Ideas and Jack Clancy's site as well.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why would a young company want to do the Blue Room? Because it's an elegant, spare adaptation of a classic text by one of the best playwrights working. David Hare may never have the following he does in the UK in America, but he's a dramatist of the first rank.

Or, at least it's an elegant spare text until a director-who-shall-remain-nameless decides he can go Hare one better and rewrite parts that "don't work." Funny about that.

AA

YS said...

Thanks for writing AA

I never cared for the Blue Room, and actually felt it too spare and not really that elegant. The production I saw was thankfully free from the Nicole Kidman hoopla.

Perhaps I misunderstood the relationship of director and theatre company in this case. I admit that I am not directly involved in the Blue Room situation at Theater 4. You seem to know more.

My comment at the end of my post was predicated on the assumption that the director was also a member of the organization, and that they chose the play. Most of my question was inspired by the thought of a director choosing a play that he thinks "doesn't work."

Also, the Blue Room was done at the BCA just a few short years ago. Not that there is anything wrong with repeating a show, but I always felt that the Blue Room is one of those shows, like Burn This and some others, that seem to get done again and again and again, and in my opinion undeservedley.

If you read my Blog, you will see that my main bias is for new work. Sorry, I plead guilty.

As a side note: Personally I believe David Hare's reputation is just fine in the US. He doesn't lack productions, publicity, or rave reviews. And, generally, his new plays open right into a Broadway house. (Or at least into a significant Off- Broadway house, in the case of the current Stuff Happens.)

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty much one for new work also- but I do think the Blue Room is a script which bears re-investigation. Like I said, it's a classic work which has been reinvented in Hare's hands. There's something distinctly British about the script- or European as opposed to a lot of adaptations of Schnitzler, which are translations to begin with and then adaptations on top of that.

To the best of my knowledge the director chose the play- but then again I don't know a lot about the whole situation, just what's come down to me from others. But what he was doing was ridiculous and utterly unprofessional.

An interesting discussion, I think could actually be had about directors reworking/rewriting scripts. I sometimes think it's a dirty little secret of production and it amazes me who I've seen do it before- both good and bad.

By the way- I don't think it's fair to single out Bryony Lavery for plagiarism. While the fair use question is a tricky one, Malcolm Gladwell decided in the end that it really wasn't right too call her appropriation of his work that at all. There's an excellent article that he wrote on it at:

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?041122fa_fact

AA

YS said...

I am very well aware of the Bryony Lavery/Gladwell article.

I have posted about it before. My take on it is that Gladwell basically forgave her, but fully believed that Lavery knowingly copied.

I agree tha sharing of ideas is an interesting concept. I was actually thinking of writing a play called "Bryony Lavery Has A Forgiving Heart" The play would take the same form as Lavery's Frozen, but it would use the text of Gladwell's article and Lavery's play liberally. I want to do it and charge admission and see if I hear from Lavery's agents.

What do you think?

I shouldn't really put out my ideas on the Internet, but I think it is an interesting argument.

Anonymous said...

Your play idea is very clever, and were there a fringe festival in town it would probably get some attention. But this is Boston- try NYC. You've got a good title, and that's a great start.

I still think you're being to harsh with Lavery. Plagiarism to me implies the knowing, willing theft of ideas. (For Example: I'll pass off the lyrics to Dylan's "Idiot Wind" as my own and hand it in for Freshman English") By her own account, she thought she was just documenting something that was out there. It's interesting that in film, "Life Rights" are such an issue, but in the Theatre, it seems to come up much less often.

Yes, yes, I know that "Not knowing about a law is no excuse for breaking it." But I still think that there needs to be some consideration of the circumstances here, and given all the factors I think they are mitigating in her favor. Maybe I just want to believe her, or maybe it's Gladwells argument (I think he's one of the most brilliant writers working now) but I just can't get behind the plagiarism bandwagon.

- AA

YS said...

Mmmm. I don't know AA, but if I may be too harsh on Lavery, I think you may be too lenient.

The article you referenced is pretty clear that Lavery lifted passages almost exactly from the Gladwell article. Gladwell himself doesn't seem to buy the half'-hearted Kaayva Viswanathan defense that Lavery puts up.

Now, I would have no problem if, at the time of composition, Lavery had put something in the program that said, "For the descriptions of_______ and ____________, I relied on the article by Malcolm Gladwell, etc." I know novel writers do that all of the time.

It is tempting to buy Gladwell's argument, especially if you are an artist. But remember, if this was a case where Gladwell was a struggling young writer, without the luxury of already being an established success, would he have been so forgiving.

Anonymous said...

Maybe. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I mean, if you want to purely look at it from a probable cause viewpoint, I don't see any real motivation for her to willingly steal from either writer. I mean, here's a decorated playwright (and in the UK, she's been a big name for years- stateside of course she's only just begun to be known) who has worked with living writers and adapted work (and cleared the rights to do it on said projects)before. So why the malfeasance this time? There's no pattern of abuse or explotation at all, at least that I'm aware of. The error seems to have come in what she assumed she could borrow.

She was guilty of taking words and ideas, yes, that much is clear. But it's the intention I'm fuzzier on. I think the sin was one of omission. Lavery should have been clearer about her sources, and made some real errors in how she went about attributing where she got her work, but in the end, like Gladwell I can't get too worked up about the whole thing.

The Guardian ran an interesting piece on her a few months back, that's here:

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/feature/0,,1747956,00.html

-AA