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Gurney Resigns Position With Dramatists Guild

Playwright A.R. Gurney, forced to choose between the Dramatists Guild and San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, has resigned from the guild--and from his position as secretary of the guild.

At issue was the contract for his new play, “The Snow Ball,” slated to open at the Old Globe May 9. The Dramatists Guild had called for a boycott of all League of Resident Theatres (LORT) members that refused to implement a guild-proposed standard minimum contract.

Thomas Hall, managing director of the Old Globe as well as president of LORT, had adamantly rejected the guild proposal in an Oct. 11 letter.

Gurney decided to sign with the Globe and resign from the guild.

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“They didn’t ask me to resign,” said Gurney. “But they let me know that they could not approve of my relationship with the Old Globe since the Old Globe was not prepared to give certain rights to other playwrights that they had given to me. To make it easier for them, I resigned rather than force them to kick me out.”

He indeed would have been kicked out, confirmed Peter Stone, president of the Dramatists Guild.

“If he had not resigned, there would have been a very strong expulsion. Here is a man (Gurney) who was as responsible as any one else for the conception of the contract, was in on all of the discussions, who had as much to do with it as anyone I can think of, who signed the letter (to the LORT theaters threatening the boycott) and when it came to endangering his own production had not the courage to stand with his fellows. It’s not a very attractive spectacle.”

Stone said that he saw only one clause in Gurney’s contract, but that alone made it unacceptable.

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It was the so-called “assignment clause,” which specifies who has the right to determine who will produce a future commercial production of a show that originated at a LORT theater. The official position of the guild is that a playwright, alone, should assign those rights. In Gurney’s contract, he and the Old Globe share the assignment rights. This was unacceptable to Stone not only because Gurney wouldn’t have total control, but also because the clause made it clear that other playwrights might not receive even as much control as Gurney got.

Gurney speculated that a theater’s ultimate fear in giving the assignment clause away to a new or unfamiliar writer is that a playwright might elect to hand the next production over to his own mother.

But Stone responded that theaters also could act irresponsibly, assigning the rights “to Sadaam Hussein” or to someone who might cheat the playwright.

Hall defended the theater’s right to help choose a play’s future producers: “When we’re investing a half a million dollars in a production, you expect you’ll have some say in its future. You never make that money back in a nonprofit theater. The only hope is to make it back in a commercial production.”

For Gurney, it was a question of divided loyalties in a painful internal struggle that the Globe ultimately won.

“It’s an argument of two rights and I got caught in the middle. It’s never pleasant to be in exile. I feel sad.

“They (the Dramatists Guild) believe very strongly that they want to bring the moment to its crisis. I felt equally strongly that I had certain loyalties or obligations that I couldn’t deny. (Old Globe director) Jack (O’Brien) and I had been working on this for over a year. I couldn’t walk away from it. And the contract that was proposed to me was eminently fair.”

The Old Globe premiered two of Gurney’s plays, “Another Antigone” and “The Cocktail Hour.” Although “The Snow Ball” will actually debut at Hartford (Conn.) Stage in February, it will be a co-production with the Old Globe, which has handled all of the negotiations on the project. Hartford, too, is a member of LORT.

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