The first installment in the blogs from the StoneCrab Gobstoppers can be read here
The second
installment in the blogs from the StoneCrab Gobstoppers can be read here
The third installment in the blogs from the StoneCrab Gobstoppers can be read here

The fourth installment in the blogs from the StoneCrab Gobstoppers can be read here

By Young Director Matthew Iliffe


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One of the most basic, yet least discussed, elements of pre-production is getting the performance rights for the piece you want to do. Using experiences from the Gobstoppers Young Directors Festival and from previous applications, here’s my response to some FAQs on the, often frustrating, subject of copyright.

Why are performance rights important?

Just like any other artist working in theatre, a playwright needs to be paid for their work – it’s as simple as that. You like money, don’t you? So do they. That’s also important because if you fail to secure them prior to moving ahead with your production, you’re vulnerable to hefty fines and possibly legal action from the agent who represents the writer and title in question.

Where do I find them?

Within the first few pages of any play-text you’ll find information on how to obtain performance rights. Often the publisher of the script will be able to issue licences for a production, but these are usually for the amateur rights – designed for students, amateur dramatics or any production, which isn’t paying actors and creatives for their time working on the show. To get your hands on the professional rights, you’ll usually have to approach the agent representing the writer – who’ll also be listed. If they’re not listed, a quick Google search of the playwright followed by the word ‘agent’ usually clears things up.

What information do I need to submit?

Both the agent or a publisher/licensing company will want to know the following: Dates, Performance Venue, Ticket Prices, Seating Capacity and a company profile. Professional rights often require the CVs of members of a Creative Team already attached to the project and potentially either an Artistic or Business Proposal – or both. Once they’ve received this information, they can make a judgment on whether to issue you a licence and the terms of the contract.

So, this contract – what are the conditions?

Your contract will specify the dates and times you’re permitted to perform a work, the credits/billing for playwright, agent and potentially the original director or producing company of the piece (font sizes for such billing are also common). You may be asked to sell copies of the play-text at the venue or to keep a certain number of House Seats free for the agent or writer.

Restrictions will apply too, such as not being able to record the production or not being able to make revisions/changes to the text without first consulting the agent. If you’ve opted for the, admittedly easier to obtain, amateur rights you’ll have to state that it’s an amateur production on all of your marketing material.

Failure to comply with these conditions will result in the contract being broken and your licence revoked. Worse still, fines and legal action are also possible – though unlikely. Beware.

May they be declined? Is this common?

Yes, and yes – especially by playwrights who’re prolific or in vogue – so always have a Plan B. There are multiple reasons for this, and you’re not likely to be told flat out why the rights haven’t been granted (eugh). However, over-exposure of a particularly popular writer is common – with too many productions happening, which depreciates the ‘value’ of the work. If another producer has the rights, either tied up or for an upcoming production, you wont get them – nor if an adaptation is happening or sometimes a major production overseas. Sondheim’s work was recently restricted in London, and I’ve had rights for a Simon Stephens play declined due to his over-exposure in the last couple of years.

It’s worth noting that outside of the M25 rights are generally easier to obtain, fewer regional productions happen and fewer people are likely to see your production – giving it less commercial importance.

What will it cost me?

A singular performance of a play can cost anywhere between £50 and £100, plus VAT. A longer run will probably work out cheaper in the long run, taking a percentage of the Box Office, with a basic fee if your revenue falls below a certain threshold. For one-off, amateur and scratch performances you’ll be invoiced at the time of signing a contract, whilst for professional productions (or often productions of musicals) which work on the Box Office takings, you’ll settle up after the show has completed its run.

Can I negotiate?

Yes. Every single line on a theatrical contract is negotiable; it just depends on how far the agent is willing to do so. A producer with an established history of quality work on large-medium scale productions will obviously have more clout than a young producer or director working on the fringe, but it’s always worth asking. Agents may seem scary and isolated in an office away from the theatre – but they work in it too! As such, they know how tight budgets can be and would much rather reduce the cost to see a production go ahead than receive no fee at all.

I hope that these guidance points will be of some use to other directors out there. Stay calm and learn to bounce, even in the toughest times and know that the agents are there in the best interests of the playwright whose work you admire.

Matthew is the youngest of the Gobstoppers, having only just left school. He proves he his wise beyond his years and next year will be leaving to study Drama at Bristol. He will be directing Precious Little Talent by Ella Hickson.

StoneCrab Gobstoppers Young Director’s Festival is Wed 18 February – Sat 21 February
To find out more go to the Gobstoppers’ website or The Albany’s website, or @gobstopper2015