Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Theater and Copyright

At this point, it was still OK to take pictures
On Sunday, I went to see The Colored Museum by George C. Wolfe at out student theater. Even though it's a little dated, the play is still very good and quite funny. As soon as the audience managed to get over its collective paroxysm of political correctness, it started roaring with laughter.

One thing, however, made a very unpleasant impression on me. The word copyright was mentioned 4 times in the tiny brochure with the information about the show. Then, an audio announcement was made that yet again mentioned the copyright laws.

I understand why nobody should be allowed to take flash photos of the performance. The flashes might distract the actors, and that will be detrimental to the show. Of course, during the Golden Age of Spanish Theater spectators expressed their feelings about the play in any way they wanted. Often, they would throw all kinds of junk (like rotting vegetables) on the stage to show their dislike for the performance. Still, the Golden Age Theater not only managed to survive but will obviously outlive today's theater. We treat our actors and directors as minor deities and get very little of value in return.

Leaving the sorry state of the modern theater aside, however, I still wonder why there are so many injunctions against using any kind of recording equipment during a play. People go to the theater for a certain kind of experience that is not reproducible through any kind of technology. It had never occurred to me to check whether The Colored Museum was available online somewhere before going to see the play at the theater. In the same way, I don't check what's in my refrigerator before going to a restaurant to sample the cuisine of a world famous chef. 

What I love about theater (as opposed to the cinema) is that it's a lot less controlled and controlling. You get to see actual human beings surrounded by real objects instead of photo-shopped and airbrushed cyborgs who appear against computer-generated backgrounds. Still, every effort is being made to render theater as dead as the cinema. Be silent, don't whisper, don't move, don't eat, don't drink, don't check your messages, don't take pictures, remember the laws that only allow you to be a silent, unmoving object of an artistic experience. Is it any wonder that more and more people prefer to stay at home and watch TV? With the television, at least, you can scream at the actors, exchange your impressions with others, walk around as much as you want, eat, drink, and blog while you are watching.


Anonymous said...

Off topic:
Clarissa. Just looked at your twitter. It is soooooo much comforting for me to see that after life full of self-hate thinking what a monster am I, just to find a similar--aspie-typical soul... You even do not know that here and there I see the details --and you just describe your everyday feelings/thoughts--which so much mine. This time I saw on Twitter about compliments from colleagues and immediate reaction "to be fired". It is sooooo comforting. It is exactly all mine reactions--and still I struggle to explain to my mentor that it is real character,not a lying nature,not hysterical empty words, but tyyyyyyyyyypical for untypical--us. Aaaaaah what a treat. You seems to me so much more well self-esteemed and comfortable with yourself--and it a help to less fortunate some...just to read and to find a similarities.

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I will now feel less embarrassed of the trivial nature of my tweets.

Anonymous said...

Then ummmmm instead of feminism why not to start aspie-izm as I guess we are so much more discriminated minority! Feminism has no meaning in the world of legal homo's. There is no now as much of difference between genders--thank to global spoiled ecology. And same time us,even labeled as autism and not just proud Aspies,number increasing so dramatically. Finally anything is under discrimination while minority by digits...Just kidding though.

Clarissa said...

There was never any difference between genders besides the differences in the reproductive system. This is, actually, what feminism is trying to make societal practices reflect.

There are many groups that defend the rights of autistic people. I personally don't feel discriminated in any way as an autistic, so I don't have that much interest in any political activism in this direction.

Pen said...

I think part of the reason for this caution is that were the performance to be recorded--without the permission of the playwright (who is the copyright holder)--then the author would not receive money for the extra copies (I believe they do get paid for live performances, though).

Copyright laws, especially where literature is concerned, can be tricky, and they have to be observed. It's like me taking a copy of a movie I bought and making it available online for free. No one is making money on that. If it were a book that was being distributed freely and illegally over, say, the internet, chances are that the publisher--and the author--will actually lose money. And then, no matter how many people like the book, the publisher still won't offer another contract.

Rimi said...

Pen, you're right, but then the author will have enough of a fan base to publish indepedently. The publishing house structure is really only useful for two things: publishing in bulk, and channelling money to make your book visible so people buy it (promotion/PR). For this, most of the money made from the books go in their coffers. My buddy who is a best-selling author in India, has been offered a paltry 20% of his next book's sales, and that was the best offer he had. This man's first books first edition was sold out within six weeks of a nation-wide publication.

So the crux is, laws have to be respected not because they make you respect the author's right, but because you'll get chucked into prison and pay huge fines if you don't. And that always galls me -- money-minting corporate houses taking more and more of our freedoms away, on the slim off-chance we take away a miniscule fraction of their profits.

el said...

Wow, I think you're the only person to imply letting people eat, walk around and scream at the actors would do wonders to make modern theater closer to the Golden Age level. ;)

Pen said...

I agree, Rimi. That argument--royalties in traditional versus indie authors--has come up a lot at a writing site I frequent.

However, I don't think the contract for a play is nearly the same thing. It can't be--very few are ever published through a traditional company. When I played in the pit band for my school's musical, we couldn't even keep any of the music, and each student's copy of the manuscript was disposed of correctly. Unless it specifically states in the playwright's contract that they have to have a print published version available to the public, they maintain full rights. However--and here's where I meant to connect it to the literature reference in my first post--those rights (of both the actors and playwright) can be stolen by people who take pictures or otherwise record the performance. I didn't mean to make you think I was talking solely of the book publishing industry. I merely said that piracy is piracy, and then looked for an example to help corroborate that. A play is less likely to be performed by a paying acting company or theater if pirated versions exist.