Why a playwright is urging L.A. theatergoers to boycott his latest

In a move that goes against the well established laws of theatrical publicity, a playwright has urged audiences and the media to boycott his new play being produced by a small theater company in Atwater Village.

Tommy Smith is asking the public to stay away from the Echo Theatre Company's production of his short play "Ghost Light," a half-hour series of monologues delivered by an actress. He said that a contract was never finalized between him and the Echo, and that the company hasn't obtained production rights.

"I literally have had my play stolen from me," Smith said in an email sent to colleagues and the press this week.

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The Echo said through a spokeswoman that it has a signed contract with Smith to perform the play, and that Smith has been paid for 12 performances. The company has canceled future performances of the piece following the clash with the writer.

"Ghost Light" was performed four times in August and once in September with actress Deborah Puette, according to the company. She was scheduled for another two performances in September, plus the possibility of other performances at a later time.

The Echo said that due to its short length, "Ghost Light" was performed as an addendum to a separate play, "American Falls."

Smith said by phone and email that he entered into an agreement to do a workshop presentation of "Ghost Light" this summer.

"I was never given a rehearsal schedule .... The piece went up without me seeing it, and I still haven't seen it," he said, adding that he was paid for the workshop run.

Smith said he began contacting the Echo's artistic director, Chris Fields, in August about artistic changes to the text and title and about getting a production contract to his representatives at the Gersh Agency. 

The playwright said Fields eventually sent a document to Gersh in September that gave Fields complete authorial control over the production. The Echo didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the playwright's statement about the document.

"It was around this time that my agent and I had a sobering conversation," Smith said. "We agreed that we could not grant him production rights to 'Ghost Light.'" Smith said that the company went ahead and produced the play.

Smith's agent at Gersh wasn't immediately available for comment.

The playwright said that he doesn't plan to sue, in part because "this is a community art, built only on the goodwill between artists, and there isn't enough money to bring in lawyers."

Smith's plays "Fugue" and "Firemen" were previously produced by the Echo. The company produces plays at its home at the Atwater Village Theatre.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT

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