There isn’t a class about business contracts in the drama department.
But Clare Shaffer, a sophomore dramatic arts major, said one might be useful.
As producer for Company Carolina, Shaffer has to negotiate contracts for the rights to plays the company performs.
The most recent of these, “Spring Awakening,” opens this weekend.
“It’s a lot of paperwork,” she said. “Doing this has really prepared me to go off and deal with the business things.”
Shaffer first decided to produce “Spring Awakening” after receiving a proposal from junior Katie Moylan, the show’s director.
Moylan saw the play in Charlotte and had a vision before the curtain dropped for intermission for her own production of the show.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this was an incredible thing I was given, and I want to give it to someone else,’” Moylan said.
Moylan immediately wrote an enthusiastic proposal. In it, she said the company could edit some of the more controversial parts, like a graphic sex scene. Shaffer decided to perform the play uncensored.
Shaffer said she could identify with Moylan’s enthusiasm about the show.
“I found that really compelling, because I’m a director and I know there are shows like that, that I just have to direct,” Shaffer said.But in the theater world, artistic passion isn’t always enough to get a show on stage.
In spring 2010, Company Carolina’s production of “Cats” was canceled a week before it was scheduled to open because the group was denied the rights.
Deborah Gerhardt, a UNC law professor who specializes in copyright law, said popular plays like “Spring Awakening” or “Cats” are often difficult because the rights holders don’t want there to be too many productions available to the same audience.
“If every high school in town, and Duke and UNC were doing ‘Spring Awakening,’ it wouldn’t be special to see it,” she said.
Because of these technicalities, Shaffer had to give Music Theatre International (MTI) — which holds the rights to the musical — an extensive list of details about the production.
The rights, royalties and security deposit amounted to $1,700 for the three-performance schedule — a good surprise for Shaffer. She said musicals can cost upward of $3,000.
The most expensive part of the production is actually the use of Historic Playmakers Theatre, Shaffer said.
She said the price was probably so low because Company Carolina is non-professional and non-profit.
“We’re on the cheap end of everything,” she said.
Gerhardt said that despite the cost and time associated with getting rights, theaters rarely violate them.
“The art community respects creative rights because they create intellectual property too,” Gerhardt said.
“People understand these are the rules and they play by them.”