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Last updated August 11, 2014   

Changing the Script

by Craig Pospisil
Director of Non-Professional Rights
Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

Copyright 1997, Dramatists Play Service Inc. (reprinted with permission)

"The play must be presented in its published form, without any changes, alterations or deletions."

That is the first condition on all of our licenses for a reason. The plays we publish are protected by Federal Copyright Law, which prohibits anyone from making unauthorized changes to a script or from producing the play without obtaining permission. Copyright law has the reputation of being complicated, but it stems from a simple, concise premise. The creator (in this case, the author) of a work of art (the play) is the sole owner of that work.

That's it. That is what Intellectual Property is all about.

I think what confuses people is that intellectual property covers a wide set of rights, all of which are separate. Once you write a play there are many ways in which that work can be "exploited." There are stage performance rights, publishing rights, adaptation rights (like turning the play into a musical), film rights, and so on.

Another thing that makes intellectual property difficult is that it's not tangible. You're paying for something which cannot be seen or held. It's helpful, therefore, to think of stage performance rights as something you are renting. Pretend that The Crucible is a car you've just rented from Avis. You're free to drive the car around, . . . but you can't have it repainted. Or pull out the radio. Or turn it into a convertible. "Look," you might say. "I've improved the car. It feels great to have the wind blowing through your hair." Avis, however, may feel differently, . . . and I doubt your insurance will cover it.
The point is that the play belongs to the author. If you have a terrific idea for a story or a vision you want to create, great, fabulous. Write your own play.

Frequently asked questions:

"Can we cut bad language?"

No. Now, many authors don't mind toning down bad language and some even provide alternatives. But you must always ask for permission to make any changes.

"I didn't get enough men trying out. Can I cast this role as a woman?"

No. Now, depending on the importance and size of the part (yes, there are small parts) some authors may not mind a gender change as long as thelines are not changed. But they are unlikely to approve sex changes for major characters. We often get requests from groups that want to produce all-male productions of The Women or all-female productions of A Zoo Story. Neither of these has ever been (or is likely to be) approved, and illegal productions have been quickly shut down. Again, you must always ask for permission to make any changes.

"Is it okay to drop this one character and give her lines to some of the other actors."

No. Sometimes an author will allow a high school or similar group to do this with minor characters. But only sometimes. And always ask first.
"The show is running too long. I just need to make a few cuts. It won't effect the message/tone/overall feeling of the play."
If the running time of a show is important to you, I urge you to choose a shorter play. You may not make any cuts to shorten the running time.

"Can I change the title?"

Please don't even ask me this question.

"Can I change --?" "Can I change --?" "Can I change --?"

No. No. No.

At this point, I'm sure many of you think I'm a terrible curmudgeon. I'm sorry. But these are the rules, and the Play Service must enforce them.
Before you write in to ask us about make any kind of alteration to a play please ask yourself a question. "If I spent over a year or two working on a play, struggling to make it the best that I could, and to say all that I wanted it to say, . . . how would I feel about someone else deciding the change my words, or alter my intentions, or delete my characters?" After you have honestly answered that question, you may write in to the Play Service. And nine times out of ten do you want to know what the answer will be?

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