Sunday, December 10, 2006

Is That Your URINE or My URINE?

Since I first posted about the big URINETOWN brouhaha (Plagiarism & Plagiarism 2: Electric Boogaloo), Chris Jones wrote a great article in the Trib about the scan-dahl, there was another article in Playbill.com about it and a couple of people left comments for me basically defending the Chicago production for its originality.

I have a lot to talk about.

First off, I will admit that I did not see the production. My ex-boyfriend was in it and as he apparently says to people when asked why we don't associate anymore, "we don't bring out the best in each other." If only he had been that rational, honest, sane and sober IN the relationship, perhaps I could attend a production when he is a member of the cast. Since he was not, I don't.

So, me having not seen the production at The Mercury Theatre will surely make those who think that the Broadway director and designers are simply trying to "get money" from the poor, innocent Chicago artists involved shout at me and say "You don't have a dog in this fight," but actually I do.

To me, this is a debate that needs to happen. The work of a director and a design team is crucial to the success or failure of a new work and those artists should be fairly compensated for their work in future productions. Period.

Everyone says to me that direction and design elements are "gray areas" and I just don't see it. I always bring up UGLY BABY as an example. In the first act of our production, all four actors walk out in a line, turn to the audience and are seated in four chairs upstage, flipping through magazines as if we're in a hospital waiting room. This element of the show is nowhere to be found in Philiip Dawkins' script. Also, the baby that Jaya's character brings out is a shown-to-the-audience sock monkey. That is not specified in the script either. Our director Eric Reda brought these elements to our production.

So, if our show becomes so successful that other theatres around the country choose to produce it and they include those elements, Eric should be compensated for the use of those elements.

As Chris Jones' discusses, the Chicago URINETOWN was set "in the same midcentury period as the Broadway production" but that detail is not mentioned in the script. Jones goes on to say that "you could argue that URINETOWN demands to be set in that era." And then Tom Mullen, the producing director of the Chicago production, chimes in with, "What was I going to do? Set it on the moon?"

No, Mr. Sarcasm McSmartyPants, but you could have easily set it in another time period - - or at least not one so extremely similar to the Broadway production. Being "original" doesn't mean that it has to go from Kurt Weill to SPACE:1999. It means original.

Its taking MY FAIR LADY and doing it with only 9 actors and two pianos. Its doing a film of CHICAGO and honoring the past productions by Bob Fosse and Ann Reinking, but framing the movie so that all of the musical numbers are fantasies inside the mind of Roxie Hart. Its being first and foremost an artist - -
not a Xerox machine.

All this talk about "the art suffering" or "the industry suffering" from this lawsuit is ridiculous to me. If this case DOES change everything and suddenly regional theatres have to pay the directors and the designers as well as the writer and composer and lyricist when they want to take a Broadway show and put 90% of the original production onto their stage, then perhaps they will choose NOT to do those Broadway shows. Perhaps it will push them to look for artists in their own city who have new plays and new musicals and absolutely NO venue to bring them to life.

Yes, there are theatres that specialize in new work, but if all of these major regional houses were driven by the Mighty Dollar to seek out and nurture young playwrights and young composers, I believe our industry would come into a period of growth and artisitic achievement that
we haven't seen in the theatre in this country in decades.

And as for the cast member from the Chicago production who commented on this blog and decided to remain anonymous after saying my "
statements are false and unfair" and also saying that:

"...your attack clearly means to me as an actor that I copied everything as well which is bull shit and a mean statement on your fellow Chicago acting company"

First of all, "bullshit" is one word, not two. See? Like this..

Second, I have no idea what you mean by "fellow Chicago acting company." Do you mean my "fellow Chicago actors?" Or is there some big "Chicago Acting Company" that I, as a Chicago actor, don't know about and need to join? How much are the dues? Do they serve cheese at the meetings?

Third, if you're going to call it an "attack" and say that my words are "bullshit" (sp) and "mean," then at least give me your first name. If you're a guy and single, maybe we should date. One rousing debate like this and the make-up sex would be INCREDIBLE!

Fourth and finally, I know several people who were in that production and (other than my ex-boyfriend) this is by no means an attack on them or their work. I believe you when you say that you worked very hard to make what you did different from the Broadway production. But let's face it - - actors do not have control over the full asthetic of a producution. They are told where to stand, what to wear, what to say and how to say it. Try all you want as an actor to change it up, but it is the director and designers who create the full picture of what an audience sees.

And that's why, when I saw URINETOWN Chicago perform RUN FREEDOM, RUN at the Jeff Awards, it bothered me. I watched that number performed on the Tony Awards by the Broadway company years ago and I've seen the videotape of it over and over again at Sidetrack. The Chicago version of that song was nearly, if not completely identical to the Broadway original.

In my opinion, if I wanted to see the original again, I'd much rather watch it on tape at Sidetrack with slushy in my hand than see it copied live and in person.

There is so much to say about this issue and that's the point - - this needs to be talked about and discussed and debated. Talking about this will not harm artists, it will push them forward into the next new thing.

To borrow a few lines from a few different places in Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE:

"Now, its just more and more about less and less."

"Give us more to see."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Stephen:

I would venture to say, that you do sound pretty cute even though there are no photos of you on your blog!!!

But since I'm of the opposite sex, my guess is that you won't be into me. Anyway, yes, a debate is always important.

As a cast member, the number in question that you are speaking of is Run Freedom Run. The approx four minute number was cut to down to two minutes for the award show.

About 90% of the dance steps are directly lifted wholesale from Guys and Dolls, SIT DOWN YOUR ROCKING THE BOAT this is a fact that people seem to forget or just not know.

It was made clear to me and others that the number was created by the Fringe Festival Director and four members of his company. Jen Cody who assisted Caraffa later on as dance captain cleaned the number up but left it intact exactly for the Off-Broadway production.

I do apologize for mouthing off to you and spelling BS wrong...but I will say that in know way during our rehearsal process were we asked to copy or recreate anything from the NY shows. The creative team gave us many opportunities to try new things and to experiment.

I'm very proud of this show and I know from the wonderful messages that we recieved from the authors after our opening that they were as well.

I do feel bad the the creative team on the Broadway show did not get compensated for thier efforts.

But I think it must be said that many, many people contributed to the success of this show and for two guys to claim that all this was his and his is crazy.

Again, I'm sorry for being so lippy that was not the correct way to respond to you.

Happy Blogging!

Stephen said...

Thank you so much for your comment! And you are kind to apologize, but trust me - - I wasn't offended at all by your previous comment. I really admire people who have opinions and passionately defend them when debating an issue. No apology is necessary.

And your points about RUN FREEDOM, RUN bring even more light into this debate and helped me see the other side a little clearer than before. Now that you mention it, I do recognize SIT DOWN YOU'RE ROCKING THE BOAT in RUN FREEDOM, RUN.

In the words of that high-kicking singer, the first husband of Liza Minnelli, the man who only Hugh Jackman could fill his lame trousers (Mr. Peter Allen)...

"Everything old is new again."

Sounds like the theme song for Cher's face, doesn't it? :)

Thank you again for your comments! Hope to hear from you again soon.