Small Theaters Drop Mockingbird Over Threats From Broadway

1969 contract gives producer the right to block competition
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2019 7:10 PM CST
Updated Mar 1, 2019 5:03 AM CST
Broadway Clout Closes Small Mockingbird Productions
The old courthouse museum in Monroeville, Alabama, where "To Kill a Mockingbird" is set.   (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Small theaters around the US are canceling their productions of To Kill a Mockingbird after being threatened with legal action by a Broadway producer. Scott Rudin is notifying theaters that they're not permitted to stage the play, the New York Times reports, because there's a new adaptation, which opened on Broadway in December. The estate of Harper Lee, the novel's author, supports Rudin. Many of the threatened theaters were putting on community or student productions, using an adaptation that's been staged for decades; Rudin's version was written by Aaron Sorkin and stars Jeff Daniels. "I truly don’t understand why this is a problem for them," said the artistic director of the Kavinoky Theater in Buffalo, which received a shutdown letter two weeks before opening night.

The threat is based on a 1969 contract between Lee and Dramatic Publishing Co., which sells the rights to stage the play. The contract prohibits Mockingbird productions within 25 miles of decent-sized cities if a "first-class dramatic" version is on tour or playing in New York. The Times counts eight cancellations out of more than 25 planned productions across the country so far. The Dayton Playhouse canceled after receiving a letter from Rudin's lawyers, and the chairman told WDTN that when he told the cast and crew: "There were tears. There was anger in the room." In Massachusetts, the Mugford Street Players found a way for the show to go on. They're moving the production from their theater 16 miles outside Boston to a spot in Gloucester, about 40 miles from the city. (More To Kill A Mockingbird stories.)

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