Back Stage welcomes letters on performing arts issues. All letters should include the writer's address and phone number, are subject to editing, and must be limited to 250 words.
Freedom to Disagree
Eric Kuttner's letter opposing government support of plays that some might regard as antagonistic to religion stands the world on its head.
What he fails to recognize is that the establishment clause of the constitution prohibits an "establishment of religion," which has been construed to mean the prohibition of government support of a religion or aid to a church in fostering its doctrine. But the First Amendment also states that Congress shall not prohibit freedom of speech which, most simply put, is the traffic in ideas. Speech includes talking about anything and everything, including religion which, as it happens, is interwoven into the fabric of the American system. Our public schools are-and must be-free to teach about religion. And public schools at every level must also be free to discuss plays like "Corpus Christi," or any other play dealing with a religious theme, like Oberammergau and the passion plays of the middle ages. That means discussing the pros and cons. Unfortunately, Mr. Kuttner's argument leads to a stifling of speech in order to avoid "controversy"-thus, ultimately narrowing the area of inquiry that is vital to our constitutional, democratic system.
Many, including Catholics, gay and not gay, did not share the Catholic League's view. Those of Mr. Kuttner's persuasion should be reminded that the real issue here is the need for having the freest and widest dissemination of ideas, a dissemination that government should encourage and enlarge, and not, as Mr. Kuttner's misapplication of the First Amendment would, diminish.
New York City
Counterpoint on Copyright
I represented Joe Mantello in his litigation against the Caldwell Theatre and Michael Hall. Your article [Back Stage, "Love! Valour! Compensation!" 4/2/99] concerning the settlement was correct.
Mr. McCarthy's letter stated: "Caldwell and director Hall did not acknowledge their unauthorized use of Mr. Mantello's stage directions." What the parties did say in their joint settlement statement follows:
"In its production of "Love!Valour!Compassion!' the Caldwell used certain elements of the New York production which Joe Mantello created. To the extent that the Caldwell used these elements of the New York production, it was not its intention to use such elements without proper authorization."
It is ludicrous for Mr. McCarthy to suggest now that Mr. Hall did not copy Mr. Mantello's stage directions when Mr. McCarthy told me before the lawsuit was filed that Mr. Hall held up a picture of the opening tableau staged by Mr. Mantello and created the identical tableau for his production. [The McNally script reads: "Bare Stage."] Mr. McCarthy then said that Mr. Hall thought that he had the right to use that picture and other materials in mounting his production. In fact, Mr. McCarthy told me that Mr. Hall thought that he was expected to make his production as much like the New York one as possible.
The settlement of this case met the requirements that the SSDC has maintained in settling others like it: the offending director and producer acknowledge the unauthorized use of the original's director's work and pay an amount in excess of the directorial fee that would have otherwise been due. The Caldwell did the same. How Mr. Mantello uses this payment is solely his choice, despite the stipulation that neither party will hold the other responsible for its legal fees. In fact, Mr. Mantello intends to donate the settlement to the SDC Foundation to support young directors. Neither Joe nor the SSDC pursued this case for monetary gain.
Mr. McCarthy also writes that the settlement has left the law concerning directors' property rights unsettled. In fact, this litigation led to the first decision which recognizes a director's claim that his stage directions constitute protectible intellectual property under both the Copyright Act and the Lanham Act. The Caldwell had filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court denied in upholding.
Mr. McCarthy's spin and hair-splitting are worthy of the White House. Just as oral sex is sex, copying elements of the New York production which Joe Mantello created is copying Joe Mantello's stage directions. That's what they acknowledged and paid for. Case closed.
Ronald H. Shechtman, Esq.
New York City