Eleven days before the opening of "To Kill a Mockingbird", the set was built, the cast of 19 members was in full repetition and 3,000 tickets were sold.
Then an email changed everything for the production of the Kavinoky Theater.
A powerful Broadway producer asked Loraine O. Donnell, executive artistic director of Kavinoky, to cancel the show or risk being sued. In the end, the Kavinoky was not alone: small theaters across the country received similar warnings inviting them to abandon their "Mockingbird" productions.
Kavinoky and other theaters are the collateral damage of a theatrical conflict, with Scott Rudin, producer of a new adaptation of "Mockingbird" on Broadway and the estate of author Harper Lee, and Dramatic Publishing Company, which sells rights to theaters plays, on the other.
The question concerns a 1969 contract between Lee and the Dramatic Publishing Company. The language prevents "Mockingbird" productions from occurring in cities, or within 40 km of them, with a population of 150,000 or more, according to the 1960 US Census figures, when a "first class drama" based on the novel occurs in New York. or is on tour.
The Dramatic Publishing Company, which granted Kavinoky a "Mockingbird" license for a percentage of gross sales, has a different interpretation. O 'Donnell said that a representative had told him to ignore the warning, but that the company would also not cover legal fees if the theater was being sued.
A request for comment to the drama company was not returned.
A representative of Rudin repeated over the phone to O Donnell that the Kavinoky would be continued if it staged the classic adaptation of "Mockingbird" by playwright Christopher Sergel.
"We hate to ask anyone to cancel any production of a play anywhere, but the subject productions authorized by Dramatic Publishing Company directly infringe the rights that Harper Lee places on us. has licensed, "said Rudin in a statement to The Buffalo News.
The change of show was so fast that the posters announcing "Mockingbird" are still on the doors of the Kavinoky theater.
"There is a dumpster on the outside, and all of our set is inside," O Donnell said about the ruffled piles of wood.
"It's unreal," she says. "I feel like I'm in a movie."
On a table at the front of the Kavinoky Baroque Theater, 259 seats are decorated with unfortunate show props, including a hammer, hammer, cane, fedora and a telephone at the bar. ;Ancient.
Behind them are three large black chests with three LED screens, which combine to make one 20 feet wide and 8 feet high. The screen will be a centerpiece, with action taking place underneath for an adaptation of George Orwell's "1984", the replacement piece that O Donnell, his designers and his cast rush to open on March 15 .
The screens were obtained in 2017 for this purpose, thanks to a grant of $ 47,000. A hanging metal frame was built on stage by stage designer David King.
O Donnell has also heard theaters from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois forced to cancel shows.
"They are all in shock," said O Donnell.
O & # 39; Donnell stated that she was also convinced of this, but that she had neither the time nor the luxury to feel it for a long time, nor to cry what could have been.
After all, the show must continue, she said.
"We have subscribers who are expecting a five-piece season and we have the responsibility of organizing a show," said O Donnell. "With only two weeks notice, we were already struggling to put on a show, so we could not wait another day.
"We learned this at the end of the day on Wednesday and we thought of a plan on Friday," she said.
O Donnell gathered everyone after the decision to inform them of the unexpected turn of events.
"I told them:" If you want to leave right now because you have not signed up for that, I totally understand, "said O Donnell. "But if you want to see what '1984' consists of, we'll immediately go down and read the piece out loud.
"Then, if you want to participate in the production, you can let me know before Saturday noon," she said.
"Almost all the actors before even going down the stairs came to see me, hugged me and said," I'm in it, "said O Donnell." They have whatever you have to do, we would do anything for the theater. It was really – I have not cried since what happened, "she said while suffocating." It was such a moving moment.
"I thought these people were giving priority to the theater," said O Donnell. "It means everything to me and shows the quality of our theater staff here in Buffalo."
All members of the cast of "Mockingbird", including six children, will be in "1984", that they play live or through audio and video appearances.
Generally, there are four weeks of rehearsal for a show, with scripts available months in advance. Set and costume designers often have one year to prepare.
"They're scared? Oh yes, they are," said O Donnell about the actors. "They have to learn their aftershocks in three weeks, but I've never seen a group of actors and designers so engaged."
"Mockingbird" was one of the most popular shows of the season. One-third of the tickets were for children's mornings with a dozen high schools and colleges.
O Donnell feels bad for the students and their teachers.
"Many teachers saw that we were playing the piece a year ago and have developed their program around us so that their students can see the piece," O Donnell said.
As "1984" is another classic novel adapted to the stage, O Donnell hopes the mornings will be preserved. It was also chosen because the whole is relatively easy to build and is not heavy. The adaptation of Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan was performed on Broadway in 2017 and is directed by Kyle LoConti. It closes on April 7th.
The financial risk for the small theater company caused by the loss of "Mockingbird" is a concern.
The cost of building the whole on its own has cost "thousands and thousands of dollars," O Donnell said.
There have also been 500 refunds since the announcement of the cancellation.
"Like all nonprofit organizations, ticket revenue is only a source of revenue, but it's an important piece of the puzzle," said O Donnell. "Losing ticket income can be devastating financially."
O Donnell still does not understand why the Lee and Rudin estate, the Broadway producer, have deemed it necessary to act as they have done against a small theater in Buffalo, as well as against some other people. other small theaters of the country.
"We do not know what the truth is in this fight, but we do not want to suffer either," said O Donnell.
"We need everyone's support to come see" 1984 "and support this incredible community of actors and designers."