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One issue plaguing the reputation of community theatre groups all over this country, is when designs and concepts from Broadway productions are copied for local productions without permission from the original designers.
While direction can't be copyrighted, design can be. But beyond violating copyright, it's incredibly unethical for a local company to do this. Especially if these local theatres are making money off of these shows. Artistically, it shows a lack of creativity and an abundance of laziness on the part of the designer. director and leadership of the theatre.
Now to be clear, I'm not talking about iconic costumes or shows that call for specific set designs. I'm talking about local theatres copying Broadway or professional designs for their own productions.
Last February we saw that with a theatre in Connecticut. As the saga at Theatreworks New Milford played out, I promised you all that if I saw instances of theatres copying Broadway or other productions, I would consistently call them out for it too. Today, I keep that promise.
The town of Shreveport, Louisiana is home to Stage Center. A relatively young theatre group, Stage Center has been producing an impressive array of large scale shows since 2012. Part of their mission statement reads as follows:
"We aim to work on new material as well as retelling classic work to enrich the lives of Louisianians."
Pretty standard statement if you ask me. But what makes this statement so interesting is the "retelling classic work" section. Because that might mean one thing to you and I, but to the folks at Stage Center, it seems to mean copying Broadway and professional designs since their inception.
Let's start with their first production in 2012 of Sweeney Todd. Here are some pictures of their production.
Bare bones stage with wooden boarding. Contemporary black and white clothing. Good concept right? But it looks familiar....where have I seen this before?
Oh that's right, it was the 2005 Broadway revival of the show!
I like how Stage Center copied everything right down to Toby wearing pajamas. Now you would think that with similarities this obvious, director & co-founder Jared Watson would give ample credit to John Doyle right? You would be wrong. Because according to their website, Jared claims himself as the designer of the show.
Since this was their first outing, although egregious, maybe it was a rookie mistake. Maybe they learned their lesson in the coming seasons.....
Not so much.
In 2014, they did a production of Ragtime. Again, they decided to do a bare-boned production complete with stylized piano frame and scaffold-esque set.
Again, if that looks familiar, it's because it's almost identical to the 2009 Broadway revival, right down to the frame of the piano.
Once again, did they give credit to the designer of the Broadway designer, Derek McLane? According to their website, not that I can see. And who directed this production? Oh that would be Jared Watson.
Fool me once, fool me twice, but a third time? Yep, Stage Center would do it again. This time with A Chorus Line. Let's do this in reverse. Here are pictures from the 2006 Broadway revival.
Now here are pictures from Stage Center's production.
Notice how they almost nail the lineup costume by costume. Who directed this one? Jared Watson. Any published credit to costume design Theoni V. Aldredge? None that I can see.
And with that, Jared Watson just kept going. Lifting designs and concepts from Broadway or other well known productions.
He did it with Cabaret:
And with Jesus Christ Superstar:
And with Red:
And just recently with Fiasco Theatre's incredible and original version of Into the Woods. Here is Stage Center's production:
And here is Fiasco's Off-Broadway production:
Not for nothing but for a show that ran just last year, that's pretty ballsy to be copying its design so soon. Now I have been told that regarding this production, Stage Center mentioned in the program that it was loosely based on the Fiasco production. However, first of all, there is nothing "loosely" about this. This is a straight up copy job. Secondly, while mentioning the Fiasco's production in the program is a very small step in the right direction, Fiasco had no idea Stage Center was doing this. According to sources, this was all news to Fiasco and that they had all intentions of contacting Stage Center about this.
Look, I have no idea what goes through the mind of Jared Watson, who is responsible for all of this as co-founder, director and "designer" for most of these productions. But what I do know is that doesn't look like any thoughts of originality when producing these works.
Just as with what happened at Theatreworks New Milford, Stage Center has to answer for this. They also have to realize the lose-lose situation they're in. Either:
1. Jared Watson and the board knew they were stealing designs from professional productions and didn't care.
2. They didn't know that stealing designs from professional productions was wrong.
Both options are terrible and speak to incompetency of the board of a theatre company.
And to be clear, while there are certainly problems with not giving credit where credit is due, these artistic choices by Mr. Watson should have never taken place. These aren't terribly hard shows to design and direct. So it boggles my mind as to why he wouldn't have taken the time to come up with someone else or at least not something so obvious. From the looks of their production value, it doesn't look like affordability to do something original would have been a problem. Choices like these speak to laziness, arrogance and only do damage to the theatre company's reputation.
This is a time when we need to celebrate the work that's being done on Broadway and elsewhere but we also need to protect it and make it known that practices like these are wrong and only a disservice to the performers involved.
I certainly hope that Stage Center makes the necessary apologies and staff changed to prevent this from happening again. Needless to say, we'll be watching.
UPDATE: 8/4/2016 - So far there has been no apology by Stage Center for their blatant copying to designs from professional productions. Still Jared Watson claims credit on their website for the design of others. One wonders the arrogance and disdain Stage Center has towards the Broadway community its trying to emulate.