To the editors:
While reading David Isaacson’s diatribe in your November 6 issue about the placement of an item about Theater Oobleck’s most recent show in the Heileman Brewing “ExCalendar” advertorial and thinking once again “Why don’t they just take the free publicity and run with it?” (like I did in the 1988 incident involving the same parties), something else came to mind.
It should be noted that the Oobleck show in question was Embrace the Serpent by Marilyn Quayle and Her Sister and Theater Oobleck–an undoubtedly unauthorized version of the potboiler purportedly penned by the soon-to-be-ex-Second Lady. Now while unauthorized versions of pop culture material have become regular presences from the Generation X theater companies in Chicago in recent years, the most noteworthy being the Annoyance (oh boy, Oobleck’s gonna love being lumped in the same boat with them) with their Real Live Brady Bunch (until Paramount Pictures threatened a lawsuit and Brady creator Sherwood Schwartz intervened) and their Yuletide adaptations of television animated specials (which would have been bears to get permission because they involved musical scores–especially How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, since it probably has a real convoluted ownership path), there is still something very fraudulent about doing that–and here’s why.
Now it just happens that Chicago Plays, the local play publisher-performance rights clearer, includes in its catalog at least two Oobleck plays (and at least one Annoyance play and a collection of monologues from Annoyance shows). I would think that Oobleck would be very unhappy if it found out that, say, a college group in Madison was doing a production of Ugly’s First World without arranging for rights with Chicago Plays, thereby depriving the author and the company of royalties for their copyrighted work. And Oobleck would be even more annoyed if the theater department at, say, Bob Jones University, decided that a lot of scenes from The Slow Painful Death of Sam Shepard–forgive me if that’s not the right title, I’m doing this from memory–would be a perfect example of liberal commie secular humanist garbage and presented them without payment to the rightful owners.
The point I’m getting to is this–once you’re sending out press releases and photos, putting up posters and charging admission to what you’re doing (even if you don’t really check if people are actually paying–I didn’t pay to see Oobleck’s The Spy Threw His Voice, and I sure wasn’t broke the night I saw it), you are in a sense offering commodities–just as Cameron Mackintosh or Mick Leavitt or Steppenwolf or the Goodman–or the Annoyance or the Neo-Futurists or Torso or Curious Theatre Branch, for that matter. By putting these materials out into the world, whether you want to or not, you are competing with the 100-some other theaters doing shows on any given weekend in Chicago. The law sees you just the same as the other guys. Now I’ll be just as happy to see Bush and Quayle go as a lot of other people who read the Reader (although I have a feeling that Isaacson and his fellow Oobleckers wouldn’t want Clinton, or Perot, or Andre Marrau, or Lenora Fulani, or “Bo” Gritz, or anyone else up there–the “A” inside the circle is their guiding logo), but just because you don’t agree with the Quayles doesn’t mean that you can just rip off a piece of literature (in the broad sense) written by them without permission. If Embrace the Serpent’s publisher wanted to sue Oobleck’s ass after seeing a clipping of Larry Bommer’s Tribune column plugging the opening, I wouldn’t blame them in the slightest.
And when you’re out in the open as a commodity of sorts, you are fair game. You may be able to pick your press mailing list, but once it’s out in the open, it’s public information. If the people at Heileman’s ad agency get info about your show and think it would be a good thing to put in their twice-a-month Reader ad, you can’t do a damn thing about it–unless you copyrighted the press release (and that wouldn’t hold unless it was printed verbatim). And if you really think that the ads construe an endorsement of Heileman’s products by your company, you’re dumber than I thought. The average reader will only see it as editorial copy with a sponsor’s logo on top.
So, David and friends, if you don’t want the bad ol’ corporate world encroaching on your pure and pristine (and self-indulgent, overly obscure, and excessive) theater company, just send out invitations to your shows to your mailing list and kissy-assy critics like Tony Adler (be sure to tell ’em not to review until the show’s closed), only send notices to fanzines and Xerox-copied publications, for God’s sake don’t put a sign outside the space and pass the hat after the show. However, if you want to continue to get recognition from the rest of the theatrical community, you better be prepared to accept the consequences. College is over. You’re not in Ann Arbor anymore. Welcome to the real world.