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O’Neill tussle ends in peace

Royalties wrangle at theater ends in truce

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — An email brouhaha among some leading American playwrights and the O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., has ended in a withdrawal and a truce.

A writers’ revolt was averted over the weekend when scribes were assured by Wendy C. Goldberg, director of the famed National Playwrights Conference held every July at the O’Neill, that a writers’ royalty issue was no longer on the table for the cash-strapped, not-for-profit theater.

Playwrights Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman sprang into email action last week when word spread that the center was eyeing a policy change. Under the proposed new regulations, the O’Neill would seek a piece of writers’ future royalties for works presented at the conference, where writers receive two staged readings of their developing scripts.

O’Neill administration went into damage-control mode after quotes appeared from playwright John Patrick Shanley (“Doubt”) in a story about the kerfuffle in the New York Sun on Monday, calling the conference “rudderless.”

Program, which began in the late ’60s, nurtured early work by such playwrights as Shanley, August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein and Lee Blessing.

“This is so patently unfair and so clearly against their own mission statement that we can only assume they have lost their minds,” Durang and Norman wrote last week about the O’Neill. Durang and Norman head the playwriting program at Juilliard.

However, Durang said Monday there had been a miscommunication, and he had been assured by Goldberg that the O’Neill “will not this year, or in the future, be asking for a percentage of future royalties from the plays they accept for development.”

Both sides “agreed not to discuss the back story,” Goldberg said in a statement Monday.

The O’Neill, now in its 42nd year, has faced financial and leadership troubles in the past few years, including a series of resignations and a writers’ protest three years ago over the proposal to end its open-submissions policy as a cost-cutting effort. The center also reversed that policy after protests by playwrights went public.

The deadline for the July 2007 conference has been extended from Monday to Oct. 23.

(Gordon Cox in New York contributed to this report.)

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