lovers weep for The Phantom - shot down by an e-mail and a call
curtain fell down abruptly- just a few hours before the opening
night of the show of shows last Thursday when a simple e-mail stopped
The Phantom of the Opera from being staged at the Lionel Wendt Theatre.
it a case of panic?
The following questions however beg an answer.
did the organizers panic when they received an e-mail and
a telephone call- not even a court order and not seek legal
the trustees of the Lionel Wendt an obligation to advice and
ensure that local productions obtain more than a CMC permit.
the towel-thrown in so easily?
Jerome De Silva says that "We just don't have that kind
of money" to pay for the copy right. But, is this after
he has studied the law of the land? It might be useful for
them to have studied a recent case where ETV fought - and
won- a copyright battle in court over BBC, a mightier organisation
than the Really Useful Theatre Company.
is the role of the Performing Rights Society in all this?
can the Government help?
*How can theatre goers help, at least in this instance, the
well-meaning Workshop Players-a group of young amateurs offset
the huge financial burden incurred?
in Colombo were still reeling this weekend over the shock closure
of the Workshop Players' production of the multi-million rupee production
'The Phantom of the Opera'.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was also expected to grace the show.
In a dramatic
turn of events, 'The Phantom' was called off after theatre authorities
received an email and telephone call from Australia warning them
that they could face legal action if the show went ahead.
The last minute
'injunction by e-mail' had all the hall marks of a mala fide for
a show that had been in preparation for six months and publicised
over three weeks.
one of the most expensive to hit the local stage was estimated to
cost approximately Rs. 3.8 million and was billed to be a lavish
spectacle with many special effects and dazzling pyrotechnics. Tickets
had been sold out long before opening night.
Wendt authorities received a phone call from the Really Useful Theatre
Company in Australia asking them if they had checked their email.
The message was that The Workshop Players had not obtained the rights
to stage 'The Phantom of the Opera' in Colombo and hence the production
had to be halted," said the distraught Director Jerome de Silva.
The Really Useful Theatre Company is a subsidiary of the Really
Useful Group formed by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the original composer
of 'The Phantom of the Opera' and a string of other hit musicals.
of the Opera starring Jerome de Silva as the Phantom and Serela
Athulathmudali as Christine was to be the Workshop Players' tenth
anniversary production. It followed on this popular group's earlier
successes such as 'Cats', 'West Side Story', 'Les Miserables' and
'The Lion King' and was to run from October 17-28.
Eager theatre-goers, all agog over opening night came to the Wendt
on Thursday evening only to be greeted with the disappointing news
that the show was off. On Friday, a terse announcement in the newspapers
said that 'The Phantom' was cancelled and ticket refunds would be
given at a later date but, a host of theatre goers refused to accept
the refunds and asked that it be donated to the Director of the
A trustee for
the Lionel Wendt Selvam Canagaratna said the theatre had nothing
to do with the problem. "It was the director's decision to
call off the show due to the dispute over copyright," he said.
blamed the theatre owners for chickening out very early from a move
to legally contest the fiat by e-mail and telephone. Admitting that
they had not obtained the rights to stage the show in Colombo, Jerome
de Silva however said the huge cost involved was what prevented
them from doing so. "It's not even an option to try and buy
the rights for every production done in this country. We just don't
have that kind of money." Lawyers for the Workshop Players
are now working on making representations to the Really Useful Theatre
Company to see if the production could go ahead even at a later
only hoping to cover costs through ticket sales and sponsorship,"
said Jerome. "If at all, we would have had a cast party with
the proceeds of the souvenir. So anyone thinking that I make big
bucks off these productions is completely off the mark as we barely
manage to meet our expenses."
A veteran theatre
personality who has devoted his spare time to promote English theatre
in less privileged schools, Jerome de Silva has, as both actor and
director been in the forefront of English theatre for over three
decades. He launched the Workshop Players ten years ago and recently
masterminded its Sinhala counterpart in a bid to encourage young
people all over the country to take up drama. "The cast and
crew are devastated and so am I. But they seem to be finding their
strength in their various religions at this time, " he said.
cast and crew who had practised enthusiastically for six months
working through the night as the play neared its opening were in
tears as news of the cancellation hit them. For many to whom 'The
Phantom' would have been their first big 'break' on stage, it was
a cruel and heartless act. Backstage at the Wendt on Thursday evening,
they prayed, sang hymns in little groups and comforted each other.
On Friday, some attended mass at the Infant Jesus Church in Slave
Island, hoping for a miracle that would see the show back on the
would be an understatement to describe what we feel right now. Why
are we being hurt like this when all we are trying to do is bring
a little bit of Broadway and West End to Sri Lanka?" said Mahesh,
a young member of the cast.
hurting anyone by doing this play. Nobody was gaining monetarily,
there was no profit, only the experience of a lifetime which was
snatched away from us," said another of the cast, 18-year-old
will not only affect "The Phantom' but all of English theatre
in this country," said a crest-fallen Jerome. "We will
never be able to stage another foreign production in our country
again. This is something we should think about. Our country should
take a stand to try and help this cause."
While the public
ponders over the larger implications of the cancellation of 'The
Phantom', the Workshop Players are meanwhile appealing to theatre
lovers to help them with the approximately Rs. 1 million deficit
they now face on expenses already incurred on the show. Some performances
to come are ahead on the production-line "Caught in the Net",
a sequel to the popular "Run for your Wife" is due in
2003. "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" and others are
on the way. Is it curtains for them too? Merisa de Silva