Posts Tagged performance rights
That you’re visiting my blog tells me you’re most likely already a fan of reader’s theater, so I needn’t tell you how reader’s theater makes literature class that much more compelling, or how drama is referenced 47 times in the Common Core, or how nearly all my plays are first “vetted” by the editors of Scholastic classroom magazines where they’re published long before hitting TeachersPayTeachers. Instead, let me tell you how my Read Aloud Plays could just as easily be called “Act Aloud Plays.” My evidence? Well, every so often I stumble upon a classroom webpage featuring a videocast of a school play or musical that turns out to be mine. And because most publishers charge a pound of flesh, a fatted cow, and a hefty fee for performance rights, I frequently get emails from polite teachers verifying that such rights are indeed included in the original purchase price (they are). I also get requests to adapt my stories or include them in performances outside the school setting. For example, last year a community theater in Carolina included my adaption of A Christmas Carol in its holiday dinner theater, and the Tshwane Children’s Theatre in Irene, South Africa, performed my Peter Rabbit play in rural African schools. Pretty cool.
I think the popularity of these plays stems from the fact that they’re written to be acted out, not merely read aloud. When I create a play for Scholastic, I imagine students performing it on stage. How will the kids move across the floor? How simple can the set be? What must the characters say and do to help the audience grasp what’s going on? Is the setting consistent throughout the scene? How can I minimize the presence of the narrator? Such questions help build plays teachers can use on the actual stage.
Says Officer Lockstock, the narrator in the Broadway musical Urinetown, “nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.” Save for the occasional soliloquy, narration is rare in 3-act shows, yet it’s often necessary in classroom plays. It quickly provides the background information required to reduce a complex story to a 15 or 20 minute performance. Still, as I craft scripts, I ‘m constantly looking for ways to minimize the exposition or find creative ways to deliver it. In my Jackie Robinson play, for example, the narration is delivered by the hot dog and peanut vendors. They set-up Jackie’s story while simultaneously hawking ballpark franks and Cracker Jacks. It’s as if they themselves are characters speaking to a grandstand full of spectators.
Though my latest TpT release utilizes narrators, it was most certainly designed with the stage in mind. The Newsies first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. It tells the story of the New York newsboy strike of 1899 through the eyes of a 12-year-old Polish immigrant. Aniela Kozlowski goes to work selling newspapers just as the strike unfolds (no pun intended, just questionable blogging). Ani’s character is based upon one of my own students who shares with me a Polish heritage, so I was particularly thrilled to watch her play the role late this past school year. Historically-accurate, rich with dialect, and embedded with great pictures from famed photographer Lewis Hine, The Newsies is unquestionably one of my best plays to date. Not only is it a play about actual kids showing the grit, determination, and unity necessary to overcome some pretty extreme challenges, it’s also a nice reminder that battles had to be fought to establish some degree of balance between the interests of big business and the common laborer, that unionism has played a significant role in establishing the American Dream.
You can preview or purchase The Newsies at TeachersPayTeachers. I encourage you to pair it with Stolen Childhoods, my play from the same era about Lewis Hine’s crusade to end child labor. Or, take The Newsies to a whole other level and make it a musical. I did this very thing with a Br’er Rabbit script this past year. Though initially rather daunting, something magical happened once the kids started singing (and eventually dancing) to Zippity Doo Dah and Sinatra’s High Hopes. Br’er Rabbit ended up being the highlight of our school year. By incorporating songs from the 1890s, The Newsies will be a smash hit, too. You’ll find Ta-ra-ra Boom de-ay, The Sidewalks of New York, A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight, In the Good Ol’ Summer Time, and My Wild Irish Rose all on Youtube and/or Amazon. I can see places in the script for all of them.
Of course, there are dozens of other “act aloud plays” on my webpage and TpT site. Any one of them might be just what you need to get your students up and active on stage—to bring a little extra magic to your language arts class.
I was recently contacted by a theater company in Maryland which wants to add my adaption of “The Gift of the Magi” to its annual Victorian Christmas Collection. They wanted to know how much I charge for performance rights. Normally, when you perform a play from publishing companies, you’re required to pay a substantial licensing fee. The Samuel French Company, for example, owns the rights to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. If you want your students to perform it for the annual PTO bazaar, it’ll set you back $100 or 10% of the gate receipts, whichever is greater—and that’s often in addition to buying the scripts themselves (which run $8 or $9 each).
I craft my plays so that teachers can use them to build strong readers, self-confident speakers, and engaged learners. I don’t charge schools to perform my plays. Your three bucks gives you license to photocopy as many scripts as you need for your class AND the rights to perform the play in your school. Three bucks sounds like a pretty good deal compared to traditional publishers.
I’m pleased the Gift of the Magi is getting some love in Maryland, but I’m even happier that my holiday plays are finding their way into classrooms all over the country. It isn’t too late to work in a reading or even quick performance of one of my Halloween plays into yours. The Birth-mark, which is based on the short story masterpiece by Hawthorne, is a good place to start. Says one purchaser of The Birth-mark:
“My students love Reader’s Theater. They loved reading this. They said that they were able to express the ‘darker side of themselves.’”
Also consider The Monkey’s Paw, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and the Tell-Tale Heart. The Monkey’s Paw originally appeared in Scholastic’s Scope magazine, while the latter two are available in my book, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories (Scholastic). You can purchase it as an e-book and have it ready for your students right away.
“My 8th grade students LOVED this assignment. I let them use their cell phones and make the ring tone noises while reading. It kept them engaged and we read it three different times during the class so they could read different parts. Highly recommend.”
Finally, I have a handful of engaging Christmas plays, too. Gabriel Grub–from Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers—is my newest script, and it’s as eerie as any Halloween tale. I also have two versions of A Christmas Carol. For a limited time, you can download my traditional version from TpT–or you can re-imagine Scrooge as a woman by using my Classic Short Stories version (which also includes Magi, by the way).
I’ve heard horror stories. There’s one about a federal official who caught a band teacher photocopying sheet music. The school was fined $10,000 and the band director lost his job. True story? I don’t know, but it’s evident from the FBI warning at the beginning of that Bill Nye video I show every year that copyright infringement is serious stuff.
This got personal for me when the criminal underworld started pirating my plays, apparently in an attempt to turn a fast buck (which is ironic, given that I have yet to make a fast buck from writing these things). A thoughtful reader contacted me about it after discovering a site where my play, Stolen Childhoods, could be illegally downloaded.
I immediately went into sleuth mode, quickly tracking down the offending site, fully prepared to fire off a cease and desist e-mail or maybe even call the 1-800 number on that Bill Nye video. I quickly discerned, though, that the “criminal” was merely a middle school language arts teacher who’d posted my play online for her students to read as a homework assignment. Seemed innocent enough to me. Here was a hard-working middle school teacher using my work as the centerpiece of what looked like a pretty significant unit of study about child labor during the Great Depression. I was flattered. And yet, this did indeed represent a copyright infringement.
I’m a great fan of technology. I use it extensively with my own students, and I want to encourage others to do the same. But I suspect we could all use a little tutoring when it comes to copyright infringement. If you want to post one of my plays on your classroom website, go for it. However, please toss in a few safeguards. Consider password protecting your site, adding a watermark to the posted-PDF, and at the very least, including a highly-visible warning that ONLY your students have legal authorization to download (maybe one showing a big badge like they have on the FBI warning!).
Another reader recently asked me if I’d develop a play based on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s THE Great American Novel as well as a significant player in the high school literary canon. Frankly, I’d love to craft a play around it.
But I can’t. It would be an infringement. Because To Kill a Mockingbird is still under copyright, without the permission of the copyright owner, I don’t have the right to sell any such adapt ion. This makes me wonder about a host of other reader’s theater scripts for sale on TpT. From Charlie Brown to Charlotte’s Web to Dr. Seuss…I wonder just how “legal” such products really are.
Know that every play I produce has been legally adapted. What’s more, most all of them have previously appeared in Scope and Storyworks, meaning my wonderful editors and diligent fact-checkers at Scholastic have gone over them with a magnifying glass and a copy of the Chicago Elements of Style.
All my plays also come with reproduction and performance rights. The original purchaser is licensed to print a full classroom set for use in his or her classroom once each year. And that same class is licensed to perform it, whether in the gym or the Performing Arts Center over on Ethel Merman Boulevard. That’s not the case with scripts appearing in most drama magazines or with plays available from theater publishers. Their terms require you to purchase expensive performance rights—even if you’re an underfunded school.
I didn’t ask that middle school teacher to remove my play from her site. I don’t want to discourage her from using my play or technology, and for the most part, her classroom site is difficult to find. My hope is that, like the reader who reported it to me, my customers will respect the copyright notice clearly printed on each play and purchase legal versions. To those of you who respect copyright, thank you!