Blog | You Can’t Say That

You Can’t Say That

By admin | March 10, 2016

A promotional image for the show That’swhatshesaid.

By Robyn Kurtz

On Tuesday we celebrated International Women’s Day and so it’s fitting that we bring you the story of That’swhatshesaid a play about women, made by women, that almost didn’t happen.

That’swhatshesaid started as a collaboration between playwright Courtney Meaker and performer Erin Pike inspired by their frustration over the (lack of) roles written for women in theatre. They decided to create a show in which only the lines written for women from the most produced plays in America were used. The project began with the list published by American Theatre for the 2013—2014 season. In the first iteration, a 20-minute version, the ratio of female to male playwrights was almost equal, but when Pike and Meaker (and Seattle director and artist Hatlo) began working on a full length play using the 2014—2015 list it was a different story.

Although there were a total of thirty-four roles written for women and 40 men’s roles only two of the eleven plays (there was a tie that year) were written by women. Furthermore the makeup of the female characters left much to be desired. In an interview with American Theatre Hatlo says they want to highlight, “what audiences are seeing women do the most onstage. What are the words that they are saying? How are their bodies moving? Who are they in relation to other people onstage? … I don’t want to indict playwrights; that’s not the goal. The goal is for audiences to understand what this accumulation looks like. I want to see if they can feel what it feels like.”

erin-pike thatswhatshesaid-1380x770

Listen to the voice mail left by Bruce Lazarus.

The show was set to run February 4 – 7, 2016 and it was nearly sold out. After seeing a preview on Wednesday February 3, Rich Smith, writer for the The Stranger reviewed the play, which appeared online Friday morning. This review alerted Samuel French, the publishing and licencing company that owns the rights to several of the plays used in the show, specifically Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews. Pike and Meaker immediately received a cease and desist notice proceeded by a voice mail from Samuel French’s Executive Director telling them that what they were doing was illegal and threatening them, their presenter, the theatre, and anyone attached to the production.

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Watch That’swhatshesaid: Redacted

With three shows left and tickets sold, but worried for the people involved with the show, Pike and Meaker made a bold decision. Instead of cancelling the remaining performances, they made some changes. The Friday night performance began with the only male voice in the show—they played the voicemail left by Bruce Lazurus of Samuel French, which received cheers from the sold out audience. For the rest of the show any time a line from Bad Jews came up, someone from offstage would yell “Redacted!” —and the show went on.

The short run has now ended but the team have received two more cease and desist letters, including one for their use of The Whipping Man, which actually has no female parts, and the script is simply flipped through on stage.

While That’swhatshesaid is about women in theatre, this production is now about fair use and copyright infringement. Does what happened overshadow the original intent or does it highlight the point exactly? Would these actions have been taken against the show if it weren’t for the subject matter?

Do you think That’swhatshesaid was out of bounds? Is this a project that needs to be seen, despite the potential for legal ramification? How do you think the licensing company should have responded?

More on the story….

Blabbermouth Podcast interview with director HATLO.

Erin Pike’s thoughts on making That’swhatshesaid, before the controversy started.

Watch That’swhatshesaid: Redacted mini doc

Rich Smith’s follow up article – Erin Pike and That’swhatshesaid Went on Despite Cease and Desist Order, Legal Ramifications Remain Uncertain

One response to “You Can’t Say That”

  1. Karla says:

    I don’t know much about theatre or this play or licensing, but I have to say I think this controversy highlights the point exactly and there is no way these actions would have been taken if it were different subject matter. This project is so valid and so meaningful, I hope more people hear about this. What a profoundly ridiculous scenario. This is exactly why women have to keep making art and being loud!