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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Saturday (3/31/18) 10:45am - ... wherein Peter wonders about improv-show licensing.

In yesterday's post, I alluded to "show licensing" as a concept that was rattling around in my head.  Here are some more thoughts about that:

Right now, nobody thinks of an improv show format as a piece of intellectual property that an owner could bind up in a license and then transfer or loan to other artists.  And that's bad.  There are awkward situations that a "show license" could prevent.

For instance: if you finish a show run, the cast usually wants to keep doing the show in some form.  But then nobody's sure who to secure permission from: the show's director? the theater's artistic director? the theater owners?  And even if you know the right person, how do you go about getting permission?  And if you *do* secure permission, what conditions apply?  Do you have to list the theater in the posters?  The programs?  The publicity?  And then nobody really wants to do the awful grunt work of hammering that out, and therefore nothing happens -- or it happens without sorting out all the permission issues, and people get irritated.  You could avoid this by saying, at the top of the run: the format for show <x> is covered by license <y>.  The artistic director (or whoever) owns license <y>.  They're willing to loan out the license under the following conditions... and so on.

You also get the situations where you strike an agreement for one group to do another group's format.  Seemingly all is well.  But then, when the show goes up, they do a complete hatchet job of the original.  Your tender, delicate rumination on loss has turned into a marathon of dick jokes, or vice versa, and you're not happy.  But you never secured anything in writing saying that, if you're claiming to do this show, you're *actually doing this show*.  And without a license, or the notion of leasing it out to another group, you don't even really have the *language* to express how you feel betrayed.  And on the other end, the dick-joke group doesn't even necessarily know what they did wrong, because you never told them what aspects of your format were non-negotiable.

And frankly, there's a scene-wide chilling effect against even opening up the conversation of "we'd like to do your format -- can we borrow it?"  It feels gauche, like "can I steal the jokes you're using in your stand-up set?"  Even if the show isn't being done any more.  Even if it hasn't been done for years.  Even if the people who did the original show have moved out of town.  And you also get the weirdness of the first show in a particular genre "clear-cutting" the genre for years.  Anybody who would like to do essentially the same show you did now has to patiently invent something recognizably different for no real reason.

Plus, it means that show formats don't often travel between cities.  And that's frustrating, because there are scenes where people are getting pretty good at narrative stage performance, but nobody has a lot of practice coming up with formats.  Those places would be ideal for "let's just license out this one" -- they get to do a solid improv show, and everybody gets to level up in understanding how formats are put together.

Again, all of these arrangements *can* be done currently, but (1) we have no language in place for talking about how we do it, and (2) since no one talks about doing it, it feels taboo and wrong, and not in a hot or sexy way.  Just the concept of a license and leasing terms could help dislodge both problems.

I imagine, too, there's a fear of "unweaving the rainbow" -- that is, if we can break an improv show down to its essentials -- something you can write up in a three-page document -- then that makes the whole thing feel less magical, especially if the format was generated organically over rehearsal.  So it won't work for everybody, but still, it could work for a lot of people.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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