Community Theatre Changed Character's Gender Until They Were Told They Couldn't


Fans of the musical 9 to 5 might have been a bit surprised when seeing its production at the Cascades Theatre in Bend, OR to see the character of Joe portrayed as a female rather than as a male as it's written into the script. 

According to the director, Karen Sipes, due to the lack of males that showed up for auditions, she decided to cast a woman in the role and change the pronouns to make Joe a female. Given the character's love arc with Violet, this would give the show a same-sex pairing in the Cascades production. 

The show opened on June 15th, however word got back to Music Theatre International, the licensing house for 9 to 5, and they quickly contacted the theatre group and forced them to change Joe back to a male character. The actress originally cast, Natalie Kniola, still portrayed the role but played it as a male rather than female. 

According to Sipes, the MTI contract stated that they couldn't change the gender or pronouns of the characters. While I find it somewhat interesting to turn Joe into a female, one always has to err on the side of caution when dealing with such script changes by always making sure permission is granted. 

 Andy Karl as Joe in the Broadway production of "9 to 5" (Walter McBride/Retna Ltd)

Andy Karl as Joe in the Broadway production of "9 to 5" (Walter McBride/Retna Ltd)

If the director had checked with MTI or read the contract fully, they would know that such a change would have been prohibited. 

We've seen many times when directors make changes to theatrical properties without checking with the playwrights first. Sometimes they go unnoticed and other times it can shut an entire production down

Copyright when it comes to theatrical productions is nothing to play around with. If you're going to try to change anything in the script, design, publicity or otherwise, it's always best to check first. From my own years of directing, I've seen both the benefits of seeing permission and consequences from not doing so. 

It sounds like everything at the Cascades Theatre was just fine after the change was made and I'm sure with their next production, they'll certainly read the fine print.