Magazine article Stage Directions

The Boundaries of Design

Magazine article Stage Directions

The Boundaries of Design

Article excerpt

In the tech world they talk about "unicorns"-start-ups that become wildly successful, eventually taking on a valuation of more than $1 billion. Venture capitalists lust after them, entrepreneurs want to create them, and competitors seethe with envy over them.

Most of us in theatre will never come near amounts of money that are that colossal. But hope springs eternal, right? And one of the perils of dealing with a successful show is, well, dealing with success. It's easy to be generous and not worry about compensation when there's no compensation to be had. But when a show's a hit? Suddenly the issue of who owns what, and how much it's worth, and what you're entitled to do with what you own (or what other people are entitled to do with it) becomes a matter of much more urgency.

For example, in 1999 Candace Carell, the makeup designer on Cats, sued the producers of Cats and John Napier, the costume designer. At the heart of Carell's suit was the idea that she had created and owned the makeup designs, and the producers had been using her designs in videos and an activity book without giving her any further credit or royalties. Napier was named in the suit because it was unclear how much co-ownership he had with some designs because of the directions he had given Carell. It was a messy, complicated case that eventually settled outside of court-and it highlights just what can be at stake when something is successful. Contracts and laws exist to prevent this sort of situation but they can be intimidating and exceedingly formal in a work environment that prizes collaboration and a free-flow of ideas. …

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