Next week, the students at Mandaluyong Science High School are going to be performing their first musical production. I’m sure right now the sets are being finished, lighting cues are being entered and tickets are being sold. I’m sure the parents of the students at the Mandaluyong City school are getting excited to watch them perform.
There’s only one problem. The musical is Hamilton and they don’t have the licensing rights to perform the show. Because the amateur rights don’t exist.
According to the school’s drama club Facebook page, their production of the Lin-Manuel Miranda hit is set to perform next week.
The school is selling tickets to the event and even offering VIP seating for 100 phs ($1.91).
I wish I could say I’m surprised that this is happening. But like sands through the hour glass, so will a Southeast Asian school perform unlicensed musical theatre productions.
Mandaluyong Science High School is far from the first. In the past couple years we’ve seen this occur schools there trying to do productions of Coco and “Bombshell” based on the TV series Smash. Another school in the Philippines tried to be creative and changed the name of RENT to Seasons of Love to try to escape copyright violation.
This also comes off the heels of a school in Indonesia performing Hamilton as well. One break in the Southeast Asian trend was a school in Rio de Janeiro who performed an unlicensed production of The Book of Mormon complete with blackface. Yikes.
As I said earlier, I’m not surprised that foreign schools have produced popular musical theatre titles without obtaining permission in the past. But I am surprised that it keeps happening and the level of brazenness these schools have to flaunt it.
I do place some blame on the students, but not all of it. I didn’t know anything about copyright law as a high school student, so I can’t expect that these students are going to be knowledgeable of it either. However, I do blame the adults in the room. Whether it’s a teacher, director or adviser, someone at these schools need to know how to purchase rights and permission. By failing to do so, they’re teaching terrible lessons and putting their institutions at risk.
And before anyone brings up the stupid point of “Lin-Manuel already has enough money” blah blah blah, money has nothing to do with it. It’s the fact that foreign schools have no problem with stealing artistic property while almost all schools and organizations in the U.S. wouldn’t dare try. You would have to be Teresa Walker/Theaterpalooza level dumb to knowingly do that.
And the common defense of “Fair Use for Educational Purposes” doesn’t apply here because this a full-fledged theatrical production, performed outside the classroom, with admission being charged. But charging for tickets wouldn’t matter anyway. If an "audience" is invited or permitted—once again, whether admission is charged is not a factor—there no longer is "face-to-face teaching." Instead a "entertainment" is in progress. The spectators are not being instructed by the teacher. They are not enrolled in that particular course. Therefore getting permission is mandated.
But as I said before, foreign schools are keen on producing these shows without obtaining the rights. This is dumb and lazy, because most licensing houses have Asian departments to work with these schools. Why these teachers and schools choose to go the different path is beyond me.
So my advice to any foreign school that is even thinking about producing an unlicensed musical, please don’t. Go through the proper channels to obtain permission and this way you can save your students the heartbreak of not being able to perform a show because a cease and desist letter was sent a day before performances begin.
And to the Drama Club at Mandaluyong Science High School, I would pick a different show.
UPDATE: Within hours of this piece being publoshed, I’ve been told by sources that the show is cancelled.