Our friends at the National New Play Network announced this summer that they have eliminated subsidiary rights from their commissions. This affects not just NNPN, but their member theatres, who agree to forgo future rights on plays receiving NNPN funds. This was a big topic at last year’s NAMT Fall Conference, in a great discussion about how to balance the income of writers and the income of theatres — especially smaller ones — that spend money on developing a new work and depend on future return. (At the conference, John Weidman argued that we shouldn’t be talking about rights at all, but rather “subsidiary participation in an author’s revenues.” If you missed it, NAMT members can view video highlights of this panel here.)
For NNPN’s Rolling World Premiere program, member theatres will get sub rights only after the playwright’s income has reached a certain amount— a “bonanza clause.” As NNPN puts it, “Bonanza Clauses have become frequent compromises between playwrights who deserve to make a living and theaters which want to be compensated for the future success of a play if it goes Boom, so to speak.”
This is an interesting issue and one that I’m sure we’ll continue discussions for a long time (including at this year’s Fall Conference), as all of us who are passionate about new works strive to find a balance between the needs of artists and the needs or producers. We need both to create new musicals!