Practice Areas

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  • Entertainment Law - Theater

    Entertainment Law - Theater Definition

    To appreciate theater law, contrast standard theatrical practice with movie industry practice. A movie producer acquires ownership of creative contributions on a buy-out basis and has the unfettered ability to revise. A theater producer acquires a license to produce a play for an agreed period and pays the playwright royalties that vary based on the success of the production. The play remains the playwright’s property, no changes may be made without the playwright’s approval, and the playwright has approval over key elements of the production. This creates a dynamic whereby neither the producer nor the author can dictate. For this reason, theatrical production often is referred to as a collaborative process.

    Theater lawyers, representing producers, underlying rightsholders, investors, authors, actors, theater owners and others who participate in the development and exploitation of stage properties, will structure, negotiate and draft agreements to advance the theatrical production process. A commercial stage production typically begins with a producer licensing a finished play or, alternatively, by first securing rights in an underlying work (such as a novel) and then engaging writers to create a play or musical.

    To finance development and production, producers typically raise capital from accredited investors via private offerings under Rule 506. Attorneys for investors who provide early, high-risk funding or who make large investments will seek to negotiate heightened financial terms and billing credit.  Investors include investment partnerships and, increasingly, theatrical investment funds modeled after private equity funds.

    Early on, the producer will enter into agreements with a general manager, a director, and often a not-for-profit theater that showcases new works. As the production progresses, there will be numerous additional contracts - e.g., with designers, actors, and a commercial theater.

    Broadway has not been impacted by technology as directly as the music, publishing and movie industries, so many elements of theatrical legal practice have remained relatively stable. However, change is accelerating as movie studios seek to re-purpose film libraries, venture and private equity investors explore Broadway investing, and the Internet continues to transform theatrical marketing and is beginning to make Broadway investing more accessible.

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