Broadway rights jeopardize original play lineup

The Mary Moody Northen Theatre opens their production of “Museum” by Tina Howe on Sept. 26. However, until the end of July, the St. Edward’s University theatre was expected to perform a completely different show.

During the design process for the theatre’s original show, “The Visit,” Broadway bought the rights. Because Broadway is the highest tier theatre in the U.S, it can pull the copyrights from any other American theatre. St. Edward’s producer, David Long, was told that his production would be a competing audience for the upcoming Broadway performance, and he must choose a different show.

“Their argument was kind of absurd, given that we are in Austin,” Long said. “But such is life.”

Long and his production team had already designed all of the sets and costumes on paper and spent about four months planning the show. They were days away from starting to build the sets. Susan Branch Towne, the costume designer, had researched and hand-painted close to fifty authentic costume designs for an early 20th century time period. 

“It was a profound amount of work that we had put into this,” Long said. “And at this point, none of it can be used.”

One reason Long originally selected “The Visit” was its large cast, which would have given more students opportunity to get on stage. Pressed for time, Long contacted his cast, told them the predicament and quickly transitioned to look for a new show with a large cast.

“It was terrifying. [Long] told us he was going to look for a new show, but that he was not going to be able to include everyone. There was like a three-week period that we were all just waiting with bated breath because suddenly there was a chance we might not be in the show anymore,” sophomore Cheyenne Barton said.

Long found “Museum,” which he characterizes as “charming and funny” and manageable in terms of the limited amount of time his production team had to design the show. It also had the large cast he was desperately seeking, and Long was able to re-cast all but four male actors from the original cast.

Junior Conor Kelch was one of the four men. He finds Broadway’s decision perplexing, but understands the bind that Long was in.

“There is no way that the Mary Moody Northen Theatre would have made people say, ‘Well, I was going to spend a lot of money on air fare this weekend and venture to New York to see a play but the Mary Moody Northen Theatre is doing it, so I don’t have to go,'” Kelch said. “I’m still very grateful to have been cast in ‘The Visit’ though.”

The production team and actors had to double up on all of their efforts to open on the original scheduled date.

“We freaked out a little bit, but we got back on track. I used the exact same production team, and we jumped right in. So basically, with the amount of time it takes to design one show fully, we designed two shows,” Long said. “I’m so proud of everybody. I think this is going to be an outstanding production.”

Long said that he is going to try and acquire the rights for “The Visit” for next season, so that he and his production team’s work does not go to waste.