Service of Intellectual Property—in Theater Too?

March 20th, 2023

Categories: Chocolate, Copyrights, Intellectual Property, Movies, Theatre, Trademark


Zurich, Switzerland. Image by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay 

I rented office space for a decade from a law firm that specialized in intellectual property. It’s big business. For years I represented brands belonging to a corporation in the top 100 of the Fortune 500 list and one of the first things I learned was how to refer to the corporate name–there was only one way, no “the” or “corporation.”

Friends who directed organizations such as the International Linen Association in addition to promoting the fabric watched out for inappropriate linen references. One example might be a textile using the color “linen” when the fabric was made of cotton or calling a line “Linen,” when it was made to look like it but was polyester.

More recently, The New York Times reported “David Stärkle, who oversees the enforcement of the Swissness legislation for the Swiss government, said that it would be misleading for Toblerone to continue to include an image of the Matterhorn, a symbol of Switzerland, on its packaging when some of its production was happening outside the country.” The wording on the packaging of the sweet treat—first made 115 years ago in Bern—will also change. It will now reference its founding in the country but will no longer be “Toblerone of Switzerland.”

Champagne can’t be used on a bottle by an adjacent region of France even if the product is as delicious and bubbly.

I get all these examples. The next one not so much.

After the movie musical “RRR” won the Oscar for the Best Original Song “Naatu Naatu” there was a kerfuffle by some about the performance on stage March 12. According to Yahoo News, even though the singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava were Indians, none of the dancers were of South Asian descent nor were American choreographers Napolean & Tabitha Dumo. Lead dancers at the ceremony were Billy Mustapha who is Lebanese Canadian and Jason Glover, American.

According to Yahoo, “The two lead dancers in the song Ram Charan and Jr NTR did not perform on the award night….. Jr NTR told The Juggernaut the original actors didn’t want to take part in the performance to keep the focus on the singers.”

I saw the performance and it and the music were riveting. Check with my friends: I texted in real time that it was my choice to win. I didn’t think about who did what any more than I would have about the nationality of the actors in any show.

If the execution is superb, who cares? In fact, I most admire the famous actors who so convincingly become their characters I forget they are there. One was Robert Morse in “Tru” where he played Truman Capote. Morse was heterosexual and Jewish. Capote was neither. So? Another was Billy Crystal when he became his aunt standing on a Broadway stage with no props or costumes in “700 Sundays.”

I understand the business reasons for intellectual property. But I think that it is a shame when such specificity intrudes on theater. How many high school, college and amateur productions will be constrained should such thinking take hold? If there aren’t enough Jewish children in a class does that mean that “Fiddler on the Roof” is off the table? Did people squawk when Paul Newman played the lead in “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” about a conservative country club couple in Kansas City in the ‘30s and ‘40s? Your thoughts?


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

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10 Responses to “Service of Intellectual Property—in Theater Too?”

  1. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook: I hope this is not true…. My Grand Niece is this week rehearsing to play the role of Little Girl in a special fund-raising Anniversary Concert of the original musical Ragtime at the Miniskoff Theatre on Broadway next Monday. She is only 12, and performed in school plays, ….first time on 🎭 Broadway.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Loretta,

    CONGRATULATIONS! We are taking more and more things too far. A friend whose child goes to public school in Queens, NY received a notice that the words “mom” and “dad” were no longer to be used. I was unable to confirm this online. I have read about it about some private schools and wrote about it a while ago.

  3. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook: it is very much yo the extreme. I re entry was discussing this with family who have young children and family members who are teachers. It is just as hard on the teachers who have yo remember who wants to be called, or who identifies with, a certain pronoun. Teachers are called on the carpet, sometimes professional careers on the line because they overlooked addressing Sally as “they”. I am not sure how, or what it takes to come back. Kids will exclude others simply because they cannot remember what Roberto wants to identify as…thus creating other situations harmful to a child.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Loretta,

    My friend told me that some children want to be birds and other animals. It never ends.

    But to circle back to the topic of actors that’s what they do —they become other people they take on other roles they don’t play themselves, so it doesn’t make sense to try to fit the world of performance into the same constraints.

  5. Martha T Takayama Said:

    This whole notion of having to be that which you are supposed to represent sounds ludicrous..

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    It’s nuts. And you captured the point in a few words. Brilliant

  7. lucrezia Said:

    if the nonsense demonstrated in this post persists, there will be no theatre, opera, since most, if not all works will at least have an act/scene/word which is bound to “offend” someone. Some will ban Beethoven on grounds of being too dramatic, Goodbye Mozart — too powder puffy, Gregorian chant is out because a Buddhist is offended, and on into the night. No more books, since there’s always something to upset someone. Hopefully there will be enough aggravation to start a revolution. If not, we will become a society of illiterate hermits.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    The people who complained about the dancers who weren’t Indian would insist that only Austrians could play or conduct Mozart or Germans play or conduct Beethoven. It’s parochial thinking.

    Had the dancers been terrible or disrespectful I would understand a complaint. But they were spectacular giving honor to the song and movie.

  9. Deborah Wright Said:

    Nitpicking is becoming another way to stifle creativity. This complaining of casting an actor who is not of the ethnic group he or she is portraying is missing the point. Acting is just that, acting. We aren’t talking of the 50’s or 60’s when Ricardo Montalban portrayed a Japanese actor in Sayonara, or Native Americans were never considered as actors in all those television westerns. I was teaching in an elementary school when “Fiddler on then Roof” was in the works for a local production at the Woodstock Opera House. Not only were there few Jewish children in the school district, it wasn’t even a consideration. Enter the O”Reilly family. They were a talented family who sang and had acted in many amateur productions. Two of the little girls were cast as the youngest of Tevye’s five daughters and the father had a role also. They were so well-cast. As I said: acting is just that: acting!

    This idea that fiction needs to be of documentary purity is nonsense. How many angels can dance on the point of a pin? That question was debated by church scholars for two centuries.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Deb,

    Joel Grey, the iconic master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club in both Broadway and movie versions of Cabaret is American. The show takes place in Germany. We could spend the day identifying other examples that illustrate the point both of us are making. Let’s hope this parochial approach is a flash in the pan.

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