Dear High School Theatres, Stop Writing Your Own Shows Based on Movies

“As You Wish” at Heritage Private School

“As You Wish” at Heritage Private School

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This weekend, students at the Heritage Private School in Cyprus are going to be performing a world premiere musical of sorts. The original musical is titled “As You Wish” and it’s directly based on the book and film “The Princess Bride.”

According to local news, “the school has added its own touch as it features original music and lyrics written by the school’s drama teacher Alexandra Kouris and music teacher Hovig Nassanian, promising to deliver high-spirited adventure on its inaugural run.”

The article further states, “As You Wish” will feature a 45-member student cast and crew, as well as a live band, which promises to bring to life a brand new innovative production. Full of all the eccentric characters, dazzling swordplay and romance of the original, this production aims to amaze and entertain a wide international and family audience through the added dimension of song. Tickets are priced at €12 for adults and €6 for children."

“Creating our own musical,” says the musical’s director Kouris, “has infused a magic and energy that is felt by the cast and crew, and which will definitely be felt by the audience. We all can’t wait to show you our talents!”

The problem with all of this? By taking this specific work and adapting it the way these teachers have, they are technically violating copyright owned by the William Goldman estate and even bigger, the Walt Disney Company.

For those of you who don’t know, Disney Theatrical Productions owns the rights to the material and have been trying to develop it for the stage since 2013. Any type of adaptation of the book or film would need to have permission from both Goldman’s estate and Disney Theatrical Productions to continue. Judging from the information presented and their publicity materials, Heritage hasn’t done either.

But this article is less about going after Heritage Private School as it is more about pointing how this is an ongoing occurrence in schools both domestically and abroad. I’ve seen many instances in the past of schools trying to escape the costs of having to pay licensing fees by writing their own shows based on hit movies.

Some teachers might feel this is different than doing an unauthorized production of “Hamilton” because they would be adapting a movie that has no stage script or theatrical licensing rights. But that doesn’t mean the creative property isn’t owned and violating copyright is still very much in play.

In fact, two years ago East Newton High School in Granby, Missouri got into hot water over their adaptation of the film “The Breakfast Club.”

At the time, Arts Integrity’s Howard Sherman wrote about the issue,

“The lesson here is one of failed communication all around. It’s possible to applaud the school administration for the initial impulse to trust and work with the drama teacher and his wife to come up with a good show for the students, however all of those parties failed to understand the basics of copyright and licensing, since no script was available. That shouldn’t be taken as permission to go ahead and cobble together your own adaptation, but rather to either create a wholly original work, or to legally license preexisting material.

The fact that a Hollywood movie company is unlikely to discover a scofflaw adaptation in a small town (and indeed, several other “original” stage adaptations of The Breakfast Club can be found via a careful Google search) makes no difference. Neither does asking for a donation instead of charging a set admission. What happened in Granby absolutely qualifies as public performance of dramatic material.”

The same could be said for the production at Heritage Private School.

And as is the case with the majority of these situations, the blame is squarely on the shoulders of the educators. I get it, these teachers want to do popular shows to gain interest in their programs. So skirting around things like copyright, what’s the problem right? It’s a big problem. First of all, it’s teaching a terrible lesson.

But second, it’s putting their program at risk because let’s say that Disney Theatrical Productions does happen to care if a production of their undeveloped material is being performed on an island in the Mediterranean Sea and they send a cease and desist letter to the school. Now the show is shut down and the students are screwed over. All because the adults in the room cut massive corners.

I’m pleading with the theatre educators out there. If you’re planning on writing an adaptation of a popular movie, go through the proper channels to make sure you’re allowed. I didn’t find out that Disney owned the rights because I’m some sort of insider, I found out by doing a simple Google search which is what these educators should have done before they put pen to paper. And definitely don’t advertise the show in local news.