Oz Legit Presses For U.S. Plays

Australians wanting to see a new Broadway play will find the tariff stiff: Around $A2,000 ($1,540), in fact, for the airfare to New York, since they could wait three years or more to see a show Down Under, when it makes it at all.

And that delay means U.S. playwrights potentially are losing out on substantial royalties from a market that can generate up to $A4 million ($3.08 million) from a national tour of a play.

Australia’s major theater companies believe the Dramatists Guild’s current Approved Production Contract (APC) for plays severely hampers new U.S. plays from reaching Aussie stages.

Article 9 of the APC defines Oz as an “additional territory.” That allows Broadway producers to have an automatic six-month hold on Oz rights, then a 12-month option period. There is a further six-month option but it a n only be exercised if the producer can prove a Broadway production is being mounted for Australia, a rarity here indeed (but not in the U.K., which is also deemed an additional territory).

And to accelerate rights means a sub-license that whacks on sundry fees which can double the original 10% authors’ royalty.

Producers’ options, per the Sydney Theater Co., amount to “18 months of deadwood.” Working on a one-year lead time for programming, the company, one of Australia’s two largest subsidized theaters, says it’s “virtually impossible” to get a new American play for at least two years after its Broadway opening. Company started trying for its 1990 U.S. offering, “Burn This,” in 1987.

After “some years of accumulated frustration,” per g.m. Michael Lynch, he wrote to Guild exec director David LeVine at the end of the last year, proposing that Oz and New Zealand be removed from the list of additional territories. Failing that, he argued that producers should sublicense rights for a “first producer’s royalty” of 2% (on top of the 10% author royalty), without sundry royalties.

Third alternative was to insist on paring options down to six months, for which a producer must give evidence of its inten tion to mount the play in Oz. “We believe that if such evidence were required, the rights to many more new American plays would become available to us concurrently with their first six months on Broadway.”

LeVine, who hasn’t yet responded to the Dec. 28 missive, told VARIETY that the Dramatists Guild had begun a review of the situation, He added, however, that lengthy delays were, in his experience, the exception rather than the rule.

“We have to track down each instance,” LeVine said. “I’d be interested if any American producer made exorbitant sublicensing demands and then didn’t produce the show there.” He also said that the subject may be taken up with the League of American Theaters and Producers.

Lynch points to two plays he tried to get for the 1991 season. One was refused, the other offered only via sublicense with a “greatly inflated royalty and advance.” The company has had only two new U.S. plays in the last four years, but has tried for four or five. So, as with other companies, its U.S. product is mainly confined to non-production contract plays or older works (it’s staged two Arthur Miller plays in two years). Yet it’s had up to seven new U.K. works over that time.

Industry has now fully endorsed the Sydney Theater Co.’s position via the Confederation of Australian State Theater Companies; in April it faxed Guild prexy Peter Stone ratifying the industry’s stance and asking for a response. Also, two of the leading U.S. agents have endorsed the Lynch proposal and agree that U.S. authors – their clients – are being denied opportunities.

West End product does solid business in Oz. Recently Melbourne Theater Co.’s “The Importance Of Being Earnest” grossed over $A3 million ($2.31 million); Sydney Theater Co.’s “Lettice & Lovage” grossed $A2.6 million ($2 million).

More importantly, state companies can joint venture to help guarantee a return; each also has a minimum return via substantial subscription bases.

“The people who really suffer are the U.S. authors,” says Lynch. “For ‘Burn This,’ the fact they left it so long disadvantaged it.” Adds artistic associate Brett Sheehy: “The heat goes out of a production if it takes three years to get here.”

That’s made worse, they say, given the increasing trend of plays being made into films, meaning that in Oz, the film will likely come out first.

Industryites – including many in the commercial arena – say. this scenario arises out of ignorance of the Australian market. Says Melbourne Theater Co. g.m. Andrew Kay: “It may be an island at the bottom of the world, but there are good dollars to be earned. letting the product get old they’re losing money.”

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