Friday, June 29, 2012

Thomas Jenkins of the San Antonio Current on 'VibratorGate'

Two weeks ago San Antonio theatre critic Thomas Jenkins pointed out unauthorized alterations to the script of Sara Ruhl's In the Other Room, or The Vibrator Play at the San Pedro Playhouse, causing a stir among theatre circles in the town. He describes the current state of play, comments on the role of the theatre critic and outlines the implications for theatre art in San Antonio.

The Wicked Stage on Vibratorgate at the Playhouse

June 29, 2012

Well, I’m afraid I’ve been AWOL in the Bay Area while the spectacle of “Vibrator-gate” continues to unfold at the Playhouse (see my initial review of Sarah Ruhl’s “The Vibrator Play” here, the Playhouse President’s subsequent interview here and a fascinating piece by Jade Esteban Estrada for Plaza de Armas here). The good news is that the production of Luis Alfaro’s Bruja that I saw in San Francisco was really deft and affecting and perhaps some enterprising troupe in San Antonio will pick it up; but the bad news is that we’re forced to still ponder the lessons and meaning of what happened in the Cellar in SA. 

So, some thoughts: 
As I suspected, the Cellar did not seek permission to change the script. When I discussed Vibrator-gate with some of my non-theater-savvy friends, they were surprised to discover that licensing agreements generally preclude any alterations to the script, even a single word or setting. Indeed, Samuel French’s licensing agreement states: “The play will be presented as it appears in published form and the author’s intent will be respected in production. No changes, interpolations, or deletions in the text, lyrics, music, title or gender of the characters shall be made for the purpose of production.” This might seem draconian and legalistic, but in fact, such language protects playwrights from renegade productions—like the Playhouse’s—that misrepresent the author’s intention: after all, The Vibrator Play is not the Playhouse’s play. It’s Sarah Ruhl’s play; and if she wants to write about race, or magical realism, or boogers, or anything at all, that’s her prerogative. If the Playhouse didn’t want to produce her play as written, surely they had other plays to choose from, and better things to do.
Now, changing the play is bad enough, but the Playhouse might have at least mentioned the changes to the character and the ending in, say, the program.

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