If You're Going to Copy Broadway Show Design, Don't Brag About It

I think we can all agree that it's wrong for local theatres to copy Broadway production design. 

While I agree there are some design elements that are necessary for every production(Les Mis' barricade for instance), many of these shows' licensing agreements allow theatres to be creative with their design. 

However, that doesn't stop many local theatre companies from stealing previous design work. Even worse, they pass the copied designs as their own, rather than give credit to the original designers. 

Last year we reported that Stage Center in Shreveport, LA had been copying other production designs for years and not giving credit to the original designers. They have since corrected this. 

The latest example comes from The Upstagers in Del Rio, TX. Their production of She Loves Me looked more than a little familiar. Check out the video below: 

It's more than obvious that The Upstagers copied designs from the recent Roundabout Theatre Company Broadway production. While the color scheme is a bit different, the design concept is identical to David Rockwell's design for the Broadway revival. From the window placement, entrances and exits, not to mention the second level with a spiral staircase, it's clear that they were trying to get it as close to the Broadway version as possible. There are also plenty of instances where staging and choreography are identical as well. 

The first thing to take away from this video, is the video itself. MTI, which grants the rights to She Loves Me, does not allow tapings of productions to be posted on Youtube as it's a violation of video licensing. I spoke to a representative this morning who confirmed to me that while recordings can be distributed within the cast, posting them for the public, especially on Youtube, is strictly prohibited. So this video is likely going to be taken down soon after this article is published. (UPDATE: The video was taken down minutes after this article was published)

If that does happen, here is a pic of the Broadway set design by David Rockwell, which won the Tony that year:

And here is The Upstagers set:

And to illustrate that the mechanics were copied as well, here is a shot from the Broadway production with the set folded up and Ilona entering from the audience. 

And here is a shot from The Upstagers set folded up and Ilona entering from the audience. 

Pretty blatant I would say. But if there was ever a question over whether or not they copied the set design, actor Robert Wade(who played Georg) confirms it in the comments under the video. 

When someone remarks how much it looks like the Broadway revival, Wade states:

"Thank you.  I wouldn't quite go THAT far, but this truly was a demonstration of what you can do in community theater on a shoestring budget, ingenuity, and a LOT of hard work.  I looked at a lot of pictures and videos of Roundabout's design and worked out how to make a lot of it when you DON'T have millions of dollars ;).  There was so much more I wanted to do with the set, but when you're designing, building and, of course, acting, there are only so many hours in the day."

I'll admit I scoffed at Wade bragging about his "ingenuity" when it came to copying the set design. Wade goes into more detail in a blog post where he wrote:

For us, however, the biggest challenge was designing and building the set.  When I saw the 2016 Broadway revival, I fell in love with that approach to the set.  However, they had millions of dollars, a large stage and a fully automated system to move the monstrous set.  I was determined to make a version of it on a very tight budget (a couple of thousand) and being 100% manual movement.  

While Wade mentions the Broadway revival, stating that they "designed" the set is a bit foolish since they basically just copied it. Also nowhere does Wade state that he reached out and received permission from Roundabout Theatre Company or David Rockwell to copy his design. I spoke to someone at Roundabout this morning and they told me that they would never permit this unless it's a touring production(sidenote: which I really hope happens), since they consider it a violation of intellectual property. 

While The Upstagers are far from the only theatre company to copy designs from Broadway productions, what's somewhat shocking here is that,

1. They admit it.

2. They boast about having done it.

3. They don't think it's wrong. 

I would go into the many reasons why using other people's designs without their permission is wrong, but that should be obvious right? Someone needs to let Robert Wade and The Upstagers that. 

Most licensing agreements allow local theatres to put their own spin on a show when it comes to the design elements. When a theatre stupidly opts to simply copy someone else's work, not only is it unethical and often illegal, it shows a severe lack of creativity. 

I sincerely hope more local theatre take this to heart when producing these shows. Take that opportunity to bring something fresh and new to these productions, don't steal other people's work. And certainly don't brag about it.