Harold Pinter, the playwright renowned for transforming the stage direction “pause” into a moment full of meaning and menace, draws attention after his death for a different kind of pause: the pause his estate put on all productions of his plays along the East Coast.
Hannah Corrigan ’09, a theater studies major, returned from winter break with the intention of staging Pinter’s “Old Times” — a play about memory, desires and the elusiveness of past and present — for her senior project. She had a producer and a cast, and Toni Dorfman, theater studies director of undergraduate studies, agreed to direct the play: everything was ready for the production.
Or so Corrigan thought, until her producer David Demres ’09 found out that the Pinter estate had indefinitely restricted all productions of Pinter plays on the East Coast after the playwright’s death on Dec. 24.
Dorfman said she did not understand why Pinter’s agents were so repressive and protective of his plays.
“It seems a little odd that colleges and universities should be restricted from doing the works of a great playwright,” she said.
Corrigan and Demres tried to secure production rights online, through a company called Dramatists Play Service.
Craig Pospisil, a representative of Dramatists Play Service, could not be reached for comment.
Corrigan pointed out that the main problem was the difficulty of reaching someone authorized to make a decision.
“I don’t think they [the agents] care that much — after all, rights aren’t meant to prevent academic purposes — but there were five levels of officials to get to the people who could actually make a decision,” Corrigan said.
Dorfman and Victoria Nolan, deputy dean of the school of drama, had a three-way conversation with Pospisil last Friday to negotiate the possibility of staging “Old Times” for purely academic purposes — without ticket sales or publicity. Under these circumstances, the News would not be allowed to run a review of the production.
Big-budget commercial productions — on Broadway, for instance — often request that estates of playwrights restrict the performance of the same play by other theater companies. When Rachel Hansen ’09 tried to produce “The Homecoming” by Harold Pinter last spring, she could not secure the rights because the show was running on Broadway at the time.
School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 wrote in an e-mail that it is not uncommon for playwrights or their estates to limit productions of plays in a certain region.
“It’s a decision that can protect certain artistic or commercial prospects, real or imagined,” Bundy wrote.
But the indefinite restriction of all works by a playwright may hint at a larger project regarding the playwright’s works.
Given Pinter’s recent death, the hold on all of his plays might suggest that a theater company in the New York region is planning a retrospective of his work, Nolan said in an interview with the News.
On Dec. 3-5, Lex Kiefhaber ’09 directed Pinter’s “The Lover” at the Saybrook Underbrook Theater. It was three weeks before Pinter’s death, and there were no obstacles against the production.