NY Musical Theatre Fest Blinks, Capitulates to Dramatists Guild

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More than two weeks ago, the Dramatists Guild issued a long, dramatic advisory to its members, suggesting that they not sign contracts with the popular New York Musical Theatre Festival this year.

In often painstaking detail, the DG, communicating with its membership of playwrights, book writers, lyricists, composers and the like, accused NYMF of seeking to “minimize the risk and cost to them of presenting your self-produced production in their festival while maximizing their control and revenue,” and, more ominous, of adopting “a philosophy in taking for itself financial terms that are more appropriate for a LORT or commercial Off-Broadway producer actually paying to produce your play.”

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Now, no one to my knowledge had decided not to participate in NYMF this year as a result of the Guild’s advisory, but their air of uncertainty couldn’t have been thicker.

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Now, according to the same anonymous blogger who earlier contacted The Clyde Fitch Report about the situation, it seems that NYMF has basically blinked:

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The Guild is happy to announce that the New York Musical Theatre Festival (“NYMF”) has agreed to remove paragraph 5(E) from its contract, which would have required Authors to pay subsidiary rights to NYMF.

The newsletter from the DG provides “the following pertinent text from the final exchange of emails between the Guild and NYMF Executive Director Isaac Robert Hurwitz”:

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Dear Isaac,

Before we can get into the number crunching and start negotiating how much of an author’s subsidiary rights NYMF is entitled to, after how much of a “windfall”, and from which sources of revenue, which territories, for how long, etc., the underlying issues implicit in this arrangement still need to be adequately addressed.

As we have already discussed with you at length, the preliminary question is this: WHY should the author be giving up ANY portion of his/her sub rights to a presenting entity (a co-producer, at best, with no liability for the production itself, yet retaining control over venue, ticket prices, marketing, etc, while collecting significant fees and the lion’s share of the box office receipts), where either the author and/or the producing “applicant” (who is often the author, as a self-producing entity) is paying substantial monies to produce the show, and especially when such troubling circumstances are exacerbated by the fact that the authors are guaranteed no more than six performances and are not actually guaranteed a fee or royalty of any kind?

Your answer, as I understand it, is because the festival is spending a great deal of money that benefits the author, and NYMF has no endowment, so additional funds are needed to reduce production costs for subsequent authors in the festival, if the festival is to survive at all.

Our response: NYMF was organized as a tax exempt non-profit entity to raise and spend money for that very purpose, and if it has been unsuccessful in raising revenues to sustain itself, then that is an administrative issue for your organization to address. The answer to this problem, as we have seen in our analysis of other groups facing similar circumstances over the years, is not in taxing the very group you have been given charitable status to support and nurture, but in becoming a more effective fundraising entity. Non-profits do not sustain themselves on the grocery money of writers; all that such encumbrances accomplish is to make it harder for playwrights and songwriters to keep doing what they do, thus earning for such organizations the enmity of the community of writers, while generally failing to generate enough revenue to make all the ill will worthwhile.

A much more effective strategy is found in aligning with writers so that when, upon the rare occasion a show evolves that becomes successful, the artists involved, and the community as a whole, are more likely to support, rally around and sustain the organization. This is how universities, for example, succeed in their fundraising activities; they do not just tax all their alumni.

And so we must reiterate our condemnation of your new direction in assessing a subsidiary rights obligation from authors in your festival. If you wish to negotiate a participation with the “Applicant” / producing entity, to the extent such an entity is a 3rd party that has a license from the authors to produce the show in the festival, then that is between you and the Applicant, in terms of how you each share costs and profits as co-producers. Bear in mind, however, that the Guild’s model AEA Showcase contract recommends that, when a producer presents a Guild member’s work for no less than sixteen paid public performances in a showcase (including an official press opening), for which author has received a royalty or other compensation, such a producer might obtain up to a 3%/2-year sub rights participation (which does NOT include participation in revenues from foreign territories). The fact that you are demanding 2% (after the first $20k) for 10 years from ALL territories, for guaranteeing no more than six performances in your festival and with no authorial royalty guaranteed at all, simply indicates the disproportionate compensation being sought by NYMF.

That being said, the lack of “proportionality”, while disturbing, is not the central issue here; it’s the demand for such a participation from the authors AT ALL, under these circumstances, that we find so troubling. Your proposal regarding the use of the funds or any other continuing discussion to modify the sub rights clause fails to address this fundamental problem.

With regard to whatever agreement you may come to with the “Applicant”/producing entity, it should impose no greater obligation on authors than the authors’ deal with the applicant already provides. Nor should it impose any obligation directly on the authors or their work when the authors are themselves funding (or raising funds for) their show’s presentation in a contest or festival .

Now, whether NYMF continues to insist on contract terms that violate this standard, or chooses, instead, to delete the authorial sub rights clause, please be assured that we will continue to advise our members accordingly.

Sincerely,

Ralph Sevush
DG

Dear Ralph,

The mission of NYMF is to support theatre artists, not to argue with them. We therefore withdraw our request to share in the subsidiary rights of authors participating in the 2010 Festival and will remove that section (Paragraph 5(E)) from our contract. Given the challenges of moving new musicals from the page to the stage and on to further productions, NYMF wants first and foremost to ensure that the shows in the Festival have the unified support of the community.

Sincerely,

Isaac Robert Hurwitz
Executive Director & Producer
New York Musical Theatre Festival

And now, presumably, NYMF can announce its invited musical selections for 2010 without the Dramatists Guild not-so-subtly (if understandably) threatening to make a lot of problems.

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The following press release is courtesy of publicist Scott Klein…

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The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF)
announces
2010 Invited Musical Selections

Including New Works from Anthony Rapp; Chip Zien, Deborah Abramson and Amanda Yesnowitz; Richard Seff; Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann; and many others

Festival will run September 27 – October 17

The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) today announces the 11 musicals that have been invited by NYMF to be presented with the 12 previously announced Next Link Project productions. NYMF will also announce the festival’s Developmental Reading Series and other special events in the upcoming weeks. This year’s festival will be presented September 27 – October 17 at venues around Manhattan. A complete list of shows and their writers are below.

Titles for 2010’s Invited Work Series include: Bloodties, Fingers and Toes, The History of War, Nighttime Traffic, Pandora’s Box, Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical, Show Choir! The Musical, Trails, Trav’lin, Vote for Me: A Musical Debate, and Without You.

….A complete list of the 2010 Invited Musicals follows….

Bloodties
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Ned Massey
He was dubbed “the next Dylan, the next Springsteen” by the man who discovered both of them. So why have you never heard of Ned Massey? After a troubled childhood and an unfulfilled shot at fame, a musician questions destiny, faith and forgiveness when he finds himself at rock bottom. With raw honesty and dark wit, Bloodties charts the meteoric trajectory of a life unwillingly propelled by divine messages and the ties that bind.

Fingers and Toes
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Logan Medland
Tap virtuoso and chronic womanizer “Toes” Macgrath and relationship-tormented pianist “Fingers” St. Claire have less than two weeks to create a song and dance show about Love for a big audition with a Broadway producer. But when triple-threat Molly Molloy joins them to play their ingénue, their plans spiral out of control as real romantic entanglements turn the creative process upside down. It’s a modern day Singin’ in the Rain!

The History of War
Book by Chip Zien, Music by Deborah Abramson, Lyrics by Amanda Yesnowitz
The History Of War is spun from the imagination of a 12 year old boy – a megalomaniac in training. As he struggles with homework assignments and peculiar visions, he conjures up seven of the most famous tyrants of all time. They did horrible things. He wants to do horrible things. His parents are worried. …and everybody sings! … well, almost everybody. Reality and pathology neatly converge in this terrifyingly subversive new musical.

Nighttime Traffic
Book, Music and Lyrics by Alex Wyse
When Max and his boyfriend Calder find themselves in a hospital awaiting Calder’s heart transplant, the nurse supplies them with a mind-altering pill that slows time, turning one minute into one hour. Fueled by a sweeping contemporary score, Nighttime Traffic follows three characters through a world of thumping music, altered perceptions, and unanticipated inspiration as they spin minutes into moments and search for solace in unsettling times.

Pandora’s Box
Book by Maria S. Schlatter, Music and Lyrics by Glen Roven
Based on the film Gazon Maudit
Pandora, a suburban housewife, and her serial-philanderer husband, Oliver, have their love and lives turned upside down the day that Mona, a Lesbian-American handywoman, walks through their door. In this raucous, contemporary sex farce, Mona and Oliver face off in a fight to win the greatest prize of all, the love of the beautiful Pandora.

Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical
Book by Richard Seff, Music by Roger Dean Anderson, Lyrics by Lee Goldsmith
Lower Manhattan, 1876. Join Dick as he rises from penniless bootblack to budding entrepreneur with a little bit of luck, a little bit of charm, and a whole lot of hard work. Based on Horatio Alger’s beloved tale, Dick’s adventures bring him face to face with scheming ex-convicts, vicious comic villains, kind benefactors, and a host of colorful characters in this rags-to-riches romp for the whole family.

Show Choir! – The Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by Donald Garverick and Mark McDaniels
International pop phenomenon The Symphonic Sensations rose from small town high school show choir to big time show biz success with an explosion of tight harmonies and jazz hands. As the music bio TV documentary “Beyond the Fa√ßade” follows their thrilling path to fame and adoration by millions, the highs and lows of celebrity are exposed in this musical comedy exploration of America’s favorite extracurricular activity.

Trails
Book by Christy Hall, Music by Jeff Thomson, Lyrics by Jordan Mann
Adrift in their lives, two friends reconnect after ten years and set out to fulfill a childhood promise: to hike the Appalachian Trail together from beginning to end. Over the six month, 2000 mile journey, past and present intertwine as the two face both the elements and the ghosts that haunt their memories. As they sift through the ashes of their tumultuous history, a bond of brotherhood struggles to be reborn.

Trav’lin
Book by Allan Shapiro and Gary Holmes, Music and Lyrics by J.C. Johnson and friends
George, unofficial mayor of 137th Street and a self-proclaimed expert on love, believes it should never be taken seriously. He finally meets his match when he befriends a down-on-her-luck stranger who is not what she seems. A funny and heart-warming look at the romantic travails of three couples learning about love in 1930’s Harlem, this musical features a tuneful and jazzy period score by Harlem Renaissance songwriter J.C. Johnson, a colleague of artists such as Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Billie Holiday.

Vote for Me: A Musical Debate
Book, Music and Lyrics by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola
Tea Parties, oil spills, death panels…and that’s just the opening statements. In this musicalized Presidential debate where you pick the winner, the candidates dance and sing their way through the three-ring circus of American politics, campaign trails, and family life in the spotlight. Hum along and cast your vote to determine the outcome of the show–and the future of America! The writers of College The Musical (NYMF 2008) return to the festival with this hysterical world-premiere political spoof.

Without You
By Anthony Rapp, featuring Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Anthony Rapp presents his turbulent journey through the convergence of two life-changing events: the early days of Rent – including the untimely passing of Jonathan Larson – and the illness and death of his own mother. Based on his New York Times best-selling memoir, Rapp uses a mix of original music and songs by R.E.M. and Larson in a stunning one-man show about grief, hope, and triumph.