A sticky situation

Five months ago, I got a phone call from Mark Carter, Artistic Director of Down Stage Right Productions. I’d previously done publicity for his production of Bullshot Crummond last year. Mark had just gotten the rights to a new show that he was very excited to be producing: Evil Dead: The Musical.

Evil Dead_12
Scott Walters is Ash, with a chainsaw where his hand is supposed to be.

Now, I’m not much of a horror fan, so it didn’t really mean much to me, but he told me that it was very much in the style of The Rocky Horror Show, which I love, so I thought it would probably be good. I read the script and loved it. It is a really fun, irreverant, and campy. And people were excited about it, even though we had done zero advertising or press. It appeared to have the same kind of cult following as Rocky did.

And then we found out that Samuel French had granted the rights to the show to another theatre company, running almost exactly the same dates. We were shocked: how could this possibly happen? Turns out, Mark was granted the amateur rights, and the other company was allowed to have the professional rights. So, now there is going to be two productions of Evil Dead: The Musical running in Vancouver this Hallowe’en.

The problem is, the production that I am working on has a much smaller budget. My fee is about 80% of their marketing budget. The other guys have already placed a $4500 full-page ad in the Georgia Straight. I don’t need to tell you, we can’t compete with that. It’s like David and Goliath, in terms of budgets.

What to do? We very likely could be crushed. And this is a production that is fully funded out-of-pocket, with no government funding.

Were we mad? Hell, yeah. Frustrated? For sure. How could something like this happen? This is serious business–we could be bankrupted. Should we cancel? Change our dates? But we had already signed contracts and made expensive deposits for the theatre and the rights, so no matter what, we were going to loose money.

At the end of the day, we decided just to carry on. It’s our hope that Vancouver is a big enough town to be able to manage two productions of Evil Dead: The Musical.

Here’s what Mark has to say about the whole thing:

Dear Friends and supporters of DSR Productions,

By now most people are aware that there are two productions of Evil Dead The Musical playing in Vancouver this October.

As the director and producer of one of those productions, I would encourage people to see both productions, as I am sure they will see two very unique shows.

I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about some of the differences our production has to offer.

Firstly, we have an amazing cast of local professional actors who have been seen recently Vancouver productions of Les Miserables, Songs for a New World and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Scott Walters, who plays Ash, just finished a two-year run of We Will Rock You in Toronto and Meghan Gardiner (Annie/Shelly) has been touring internationally in her one-woman show Dissolve. Many of this cast will be going on to the highly anticipated local productions of Bat Boy the Musical, (also at the Norman Rothstein Theatre) as well as Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Gateway Theatre.

We are fortunate to have international choreographer Ken Overbey with us as well as musical director Sylvia Zaradic leading a LIVE BAND only in this Vancouver Production!

Our Designers and production team are all local professionals. Many of them work primarily with The Arts Club Theatre. In addition, other-behind- the-scenes people include Tanja Dixon-Warren from Vancouver’s longest running show Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding, and Rebecca Coleman a publicist who works with numerous local theatre companies.

The Norman Rothstein housed sold out performances of our 2000 production of The Rocky Horror Show, so we are thrilled to return to such a beautiful intimate theatre that totally ROCKS at HALLOWEEN! Enjoy a beer or glass of wine at our concession before the show or at intermission.

Above all, Evil Dead the Musical is one of the most enjoyable experiences you will have at the Theatre at Halloween: take advantage of it! As audience members you have the luxury of seeing two different versions of the same hit musical! One locally grown, the other imported.

Please show your support for local Talent  – and help keep the Arts Alive in Vancouver.

Mark Carter
Artistic Director
DSR Productions

Read the story in today’s Courier by Cheryl Rossi.

I’d love to hear what you think about this situation. Have you ever heard of something like this happening before? How did it turn out? What would you do if you were in my shoes?

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 26

  1. That is a sticky situation, indeed. I’ll preface my comments by saying that I don’t have any experience in publicity, nor do I know the logistics and specifics of the theatre company, so if I sound a bit naive, please forgive…

    You mention the other production running a full page ad – Great for them (who wouldn’t want such a promo budget!) but how many readers does the online source boast? What about your production running a social media campaign (covering any and all platforms) blitzkrieg-style? Set up a Facebook group, Twitter account, post daily blog/vlogs with video/interviews from the cast, creative team, etc. Anything that can be disseminated virtually and is prone to catching people’s attention and give them a taste of what they’re in for.

    Freebies: Any chance to run a small contest that gives out freebie tickets, t-shirts, dinner at local restaurant, a backstage tour, etc? We’re not talking thousands of dollars worth of material (and maybe t-shirts/dinner package can be donated by kind donor in the city), but if someone buys 1 ticket, they can enter the contest. (The key is to have them buy one tix at least!)

    Media: Can a local TV station program or news cast run a segment for your production?

    Meet and Greet with the cast somewhere: These are very popular here in Toronto. Set up a table, small stage, anything, somewhere (public library, shopping centre, community centre, movieplex, etc.) and have the cast do a preview bit for those passing by. Have promo material ready to hand out and hopefully those witnessing the preview will be enticed to attend the show.

    Again, these may be very basic ideas. I can’t wait to read how it all turns out!

    Romina

  2. Thanks, Romi! We are, indeed, doing most of these things, or have plans in the works for them. I really think we have the advantage on that front–our Facebook fan page has already been up for months, and more than 4,000 people have been invited to the show via our Event page.
    I’ll let you know how it goes!

  3. Hey Rebecca,

    I’ve been following this since the other group announced their run of the show… it’s certainly a sad situation, but not one that is new to the Vancouver theatre community. While I’ve never heard of shows running at the same time, I’ve certainly heard of many shows running in the same few month period, and it happens a lot. For example, there’ll be three productions of Joseph this year, two of Thoroughly Modern Millie, there has already been one production of A Chorus Line, and the touring company is coming to town, there were two productions of Annie, the list goes on and on… I think some of it stems from ego (our company has a better reputation, more money, etc. so more people will come to see ours.) I’m not sure where the other part stems from. There’s certainly an abundance of shows to choose from out there.

    There was a debate on Facebook a few weeks ago on one of my friends statuses that they were unsure of which show to spend their money on. Those of us in Vancouver certainly know people involved in both shows (Cailin Stadnyk, one of my favourites is in the touring company) and of course I’ve seen several of the performers/production team in the DSR Production too.

    What I do find interesting though… is dating back to your guest blog posting on vanmusicals.com a few months ago about “bigger being better,” how does this apply to these shows? The Vogue one will obviously have more $, more special effects, a bigger budget and a bigger theatre… it will have “everything” that the show was written to have… whereas I am sure the one at the Norman Rothstein will have a ton of heart, and a ton of talent, but may not have all the fancy special effects…

    I have to end by saying, I will likely go see both. But I think it would be in both groups interests to not turn this into a David and Goliath battle. Mostly because I think that it has the potential of going too far. The people that are coming to town are artists in the exact same way that DSR are artists, and I think – right now – that artists should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down.

  4. I thought you’d already be on the ball with these things! 🙂

    And I agree with Ryan’s comment that your production will likely show more soul and heart; that’s what used to happen with our ‘small’ community theatre shows, as opposed to the national tours that visited our towns. There’s just something about the ‘underdog’ capturing people’s hearts.

  5. While I agree with supporting local theatre, the hesitation to fully support the touring production seems to contradict the idea that we want to see local actors succeed nationally and internationally. The actors in the big budget production of Evil Dead all started local somewhere, and because some see this as a threat to our own local crop, there is hesitation. It is indeed unfair that a small budget musical has to compete with a professional one, but turning people away from the touring show would be a mistake.

    So if need be, I would suggest doing as Ryan has already suggested, and supporting both productions, as they are all artists and should be supporting each other.

  6. Hey, everyone, thanks for the awesome comments.
    @ Ryan: good question, fair, but I can’t answer it right now–I’ve not seen the show at all, so I have nothing to compare it with. It’s a discussion for coffee after we’ve both seen both shows! 🙂 (I’m a big fan of Cailin, too)
    We are encouraging people to see both. I think Mark’s letter is clear about that. But, we are also doing old-fashioned, straight-up marketing: highlighting what makes us unique, and letting people know why they should come and see our show, not just over the other production, but over all the other 593 things that we are competing with over Hallowe’en! It’s our job to put that out there, and the people who see it to decide which they want to see if they can’t see both.
    That’s my job, no matter what the competition!

  7. @ Rebecca – most definitely. I will take you up on that coffee (or something) at some point 🙂
    @ Romi – I think both shows will have a ton of heart… don’t get me wrong… I think both are going to be great, in their own ways… I certainly don’t think of Evil Dead as a cookie-cutter musical that just tours and has no heart… I certainly believe that the actors/artists coming in to the Vogue are going to be stellar in their own right.

  8. Hi Rebecca,

    Have you organized a Zombie Walk? That could be a great promo thing! I know they are doing one in Courtenay on Halloween… Looking at their site, there was one in Vancouver on August 15th…check out zombiewalk.com. It’s not exactly Evil Dead, but along similar lines.

  9. On a completely different kind of note – I will mention a similar experience I’ve had with running my event. I think you are on the right track with how to try and draw attention to your local production and I wish you the best of luck.

    The Vancouver Short Film Festival (VSFF)- formerly Vancouver Student Film Festival – started in 2005, and after doing some guerilla marketing to solicit film submissions from post-secondary students and alumni, we found that there was an existing organization that wanted us to change our name because it was too similar to theirs and they had already been running for 3 years (though we hadn’t been able to find them online when we initially did research). We didn’t change our name, but we were more careful in our future marketing to clarify in what ways we were different than their organization. After four years of very strong branding, we are still around and they are not; we have also changed our name to reflect the new nature of our festival. However, there is another festival now using the VSFF acronym – the Vancouver Singapore Film Festival at VSFF.org. Though I don’t know if they will take my suggestion to use a different acronym on their website and marketing for next year, the most important thing that we have to do is continue to differentiate ourselves from them. Because in the Vancouver arts scene, there are just too many people doing the same thing.

    Not sure if that will help you on your journey at all, but just thought I’d share my own experience.

  10. If GZT makes any kind of concession or statement to the effect of “be sure to support local arts – go see DSR’s production too” then the idea that “big” artists and “small” artists really want to support one another might be more persuasive.

    If Samuel French called DSR to ask them to move their already-booked dates, presumably they could have advised GZT of the issue before they booked their dates… but if such advice was given, it doesn’t seem to have stopped GZT from proceeding. Artistic solidarity, full speed ahead.

    I am financially and timewise able to go see both shows if I want to. But I don’t want to. Although I have a tangential involvement in the arts, I’m enough of a regular member of the public to have the same trenchant attitude towards being asked to see the same show twice. That attitude is “No, why the hell should I.” I’m going to the DSR production. Sylvia Zaradic totally trumps a bunch of random invaders from Calgary. (Actually, I suggest you make a poster showing that happening, in the style of “Mars Attacks!”… if I hadn’t already decided, that would definitely decide for me.)

    Ryan, I think you should counterattack with Rent and some LaBute in Calgary.

  11. Thanks for your comment Gil; that is the BEST review I have ever received! And I love the “Mars Attacks” poster idea. Mark?

    Please come out and support local talent and creativity!

    “Evil Dead: The Musical” at the Norman Rothstein Theatre.

    The band is sure to be loud and proud!

  12. Connect with comic book stores, and try to get one to sponsor you so that you can sell tix at cheaper price to file owners. Or maybe work out a deal that anybody who brings in an issue of “The Walking Dead” gets in at half price.

    These guys are affiliated with the company that sponsored my superhero show in 2007. Under the right circumstances, they may be interested in getting involved in your show!

  13. Is there some way that you could work with the larger company? Maybe offer a pass that allows people to see both shows and then make their views known online. It would provide marketing for both of you, highlight all the artists, create a fun sense of competition – rather then the ‘David and Goliath’ thing. As someone above commented, all the artists are Artists. They are all local somewhere. They have all gone through trying to get a gig. They all want tickets sold.
    What about a Halloween special double bill – both shows one night, a bus between the theatres, and a tick or treat bag?

  14. Not sure if I understand the situation completely, but isn’t Samuel French the guilty party here? Is he being compensated for giving the the rights to the show? If so couldn’t he ease the financial burden on ameteur group by waiving royalties?
    One has to wonder what he was thinking when he granted the rights to two companies to run productions at the same time

  15. Gil, thank you for your wonderful comments and support of the local arts. Believe me, it is very much appreciated.

    Mike, Samuel French is a company, not a person (anymore). (French started the company in 1830 – 179 years ago).

    And unfortunately, the details regarding the two productions of Evil Dead and Samuel French is much deeper and involved than is publicly known (for obvious reasons). But the long and the short of how production rights work is this:

    – an amateur company that has obtained rights to produce a show have a contract that cannot be retracted without serious legal recourse. Even if a professional production wishes to produce at exactly the same time.

    – once a professional company has obtained rights to a production, depending on the company’s size and the contract/production license, the licensing company is usually barred from issuing rights to any other productions (professional or amateur) at the same time in the same area.

    So, because DSR’s rights were obtained first (many months ago) and GZT’s were only issued a few weeks ago, GZT cannot stop DSR from producing, but…on the flip-side, DSR will have a very difficult time trying to stop GZT as well. It’s possible, but probably not legally and financially worth it.

    So as has already been mentioned in other comments, if you have the time and money…go ahead and check out both productions. But considering the cuts to the arts…this is Vancouver. DSR is a local Vancouver company with a 19 year history. Support local arts. Calgary had their chance in their city and DSR did not attempt to tread on them.

    DSR’s production is staffed (actors and production staff) completely by professionals even though the rights were obtained for an amateur production. DSR’s entire production is being staged fresh (not copying NYC or Toronto) and the same goes for the designs. A fresh new set, and a production staff that is creating their own ideas for all the fun within this show.

    And of course, there is the fact that DSR will have an amazing live band musically directed by Sylvia Zaradic! That beats canned music any day!!

  16. Gil suggests that GZT would have been informed that there was a production in Vancouver, and that it was contrary to the notion of artistic solidarity that they proceeded. Just to be clear, they would have been informed that there was an *amateur* production going on, but I don’t know that would have stopped me from proceeding, either. I would probably think that the amateur production had their own audience, and that a city of this size could handle both.

    What I’m sure they didn’t understand is that this is actually a professional production using amateur rights. I don’t really understand why DSR purchased amateur rights, since they stress that everyone involved is professional. Presumably to save some money, but they must have known that purchasing the amateur rights doesn’t give them exclusive performance rights.

    I know that DSR are being very good sports about this, it’s others that are complaining, and I know not everyone is making GZT out to be the bad guys, but I still feel the need to point out that it’s not really a “big budget production” so much as a “bigger budget production”. It’s not like this is a big American mega-musical tour, this is a company from Calgary, who many of us know, and under other circumstances our entire community would welcome them with open arms.

    Oh, and, um, I’m certain both productions will be excellent.

  17. Hey, Lenard!
    I actually have the answers to a couple of your questions!

    1) We did try to work with the other company to do cross promotions. They promised that if they came to town they would help us promote our show. The fellow who made that promise, was supposed to get back to Mark two weeks ago, but to date, no further contact has been made.

    2) In terms of rights, Samuel French actually decides which rights you get, based on how you pay your actors and your contracts with Equity. We are paying our actors, but we are not a 100% Equity show. Some of the actors are hired under guest artist contracts, but we are also giving a leg up to some lesser-known, emerging actors, as well.

    3) GZT were fully aware of our production and some of the people involved when I had coffee with their director a week or two after obtaining the rights in May. At that point they were only doing their regional production, and looking into bringing their production to Vancouver in 2010 or 2011.

    That stuff came from the horses’ mouth (Mark Carter, Producer/Director)

  18. Thanks for your response, Rebecca and Mark. That clarifies my confusion about the amateur rights, and I apologize for suggesting it was to save money. I’ll concede they ought to have got back to you if they said they would, but I’m otherwise not convinced they are acting in bad faith. Perhaps as we get more information my opinion will change, but then yours might, too.

    In any case I hope people will avoid making this out to be a David and Goliath situation. As I mentioned, DSR is being big about this, but I keep hearing the argument that we ought to support a good local group over a company from away. This gets on my nerves, as I want us to feel part of the cultural fabric of Canada. It also paints DSR as an underdog, which I don’t think is a great strategy. By all means, argue why your production is the best choice, but I hope everyone will go easy on the “big-budget-oppressive-Calgary-company”. There are some great people in that show, as well.

  19. I’m trying to choose between the two for the Halloween show. It depends on two factors for me:
    1) Whether I can get splatter zone seats, and
    2) How messy each show is.

    I love supporting local theater, but I want to leave the event looking like Carrie at the prom. How messy is the smaller show going to get?

  20. Mr. Mooney is absolutley wrong. There has never been an example of two shows running in the city of Vancouver at the same time . Maybe with in months of each other but never overlapping, unless he is thinking of high school shows. Neither of these productions are in that category .

    This situation shows the greed of the publishing company to by- pass standard licensing policy. I worked at MTI in New York for 4 years and this would never happen with a show. There would at least be a 50 mile radius check or a two week blanket of a starting date.

    The Calgary Production paid for the Toronto set lock stock and barrel, so they are just trying to get money on their investment but ,every month a new Evil Dead opens up and the idea to be the first one in the region to do it disappears. They do not have time on their side. Ottawa has already done it and Edmonton ,Regina and, Winnipeg have local productions slated as well.

    I wish both productions well, the actors are just trying to make a living and shouldn`t be faulted ,but truly I feel the local show will have more character because of their situation.

  21. @Bilken I’m not sure where you’re quoting me from… I never said two shows ever ran concurrently in Vancouver… here’s my quote:
    “While I’ve never heard of shows running at the same time, I’ve certainly heard of many shows running in the same few month period, and it happens a lot. For example, there’ll be three productions of Joseph this year, two of Thoroughly Modern Millie, there has already been one production of A Chorus Line, and the touring company is coming to town, there were two productions of Annie, the list goes on and on…”

    For example:
    * Annie came to the Centre in Vancouver last March, it then ran at TUTS this summer, surely that’s a similar example to this.
    * Thoroughly Modern Millie played at TUTS this year, and will play at the Gateway this December.
    * Joseph will play at Footlight, RCMT and then TUTS all in less than a year’s span.
    * A Chorus Line played at RCMT in April and will be at the Centre in November.

    Again, I never claimed this has happened before – I merely said that some Vancouver companies tend to do the same work very close together.

  22. I’m jumping off the fence here.

    Choosing to bring the out-of-town production to Vancouver and over-lap the dates of the pre-existing DSR production was professionally unethical.

    I do not care that there may be some grey area when it comes to professional vs amateur rights, and I am not going to scapegoat Samuel French. Calgary knew what was happening in Vancouver. And they made a choice with that knowledge. I think that choice is reprehensible.

    I disagree with the suggestion that Vancouver is big enough to handle 2 productions. By population, Vancouver has one of the smallest theatre-going publics of any major city in Canada. Perhaps THE smallest.

    Our provincial government is preparing a budget that claws back arts investment by 90%. We cannot afford to eat our own. Dead or undead.

    I applaud the members of both companies for their neutrality and generosity to each other. In the face of what has happened, THAT is professional behaviour I can respect.

    But it ends there.

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