Monday, February 19, 2007

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law!

Well, there wasn't too much happening in Stolen Chair-land this long weekend (though next weekend we have our unfundraiser party, a weekend of Commedia masterclasses taught by Antonio Fava, and the NYC premiere of Pulcinella's War performed by Fava and Merve Engin), so I've spent the day lurking around the blogosphere...

Quite a few of the theatre bloggers have been buzzing about David Cote's new posting on "fraud" over at Histriomastix, and Isaac Butler from Parabasis pointed to Jonathan Lethem's related article on plagiarism, copyright, public domain, and intellectual property. Anyone who's heard me ranting about the public domain, cursing Mickey Mouse, Sonny Bono, and George Gershwin for infinitely extending copyright laws, and threatening to go to law school so I can defend artists against monopolistic estates in intellectual property disputes can see why Lethem's open-source approach appeals to me.

While Stolen Chair has certainly been guilty of cribbing a line or two for each of our shows, we are more conspicuous creative criminals in our theft of styles and stories. Though we didn't have this sort of theft in mind when we chose our name, it's become the company's calling card over the past half-decade. While I don't think we're in danger of finding ourselves in court anytime soon, I do spin my wheels thinking about where, exactly, legal lines should be drawn.

In some senses (and this could be the director in me talking), the poaching of style is perhaps more commercially threatening than stolen stories, which, provided they are attributed in the program materials, are, in many ways an advertisement for the original source material. Commedia and Kabuki troupes in days gone by fought bitterly (um...not with each other; or rather, yes with each other, but "like with like"...though I would pay good money to see Harlequino take on an Onnagata) when they found themselves competing with copycats trying to ride on the coat-tails of their innovation. (From my understanding, contemporary popular entertainers in the burlesque, circus, and neovaudeville circuits tend to be rather intolerant of an "uncredited homage.")

But that's what Stolen Chair proudly does: ride on the coat-tails of any theatrical or cinematic tradition that had, in its own time, broad popular support. Just because Raymond Chandler (and Ionesco and Moliere and Ludlam and Hugo, for that matter!) is not around to complain doesn't mean he would be too keen on our mimicry. And if we became profitable in sampling his literary voice [insert laughter here], I find that becomes almost as troubling for the concept of intellectual property law as Vanilla Ice's infamous dispute with Queen...all right, it's true: few things are as troubling as Vanilla Ice...

So, where does that leave us outlaws? Well, I don't really know. I'll keep thinking...Comments?

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