Performing Arts Ethics: Amateur And Professional Ethics Dunces, Part 2…The Amateurs [Corrected]

In Part 1, I wrote: “Performance artists generally and across all levels and regions tend to be incompetent at ethical analysis, and their ethics alarms aren’t merely dysfunctional, they are warped.” Unfortunately, this applies to aspiring performance artists among amateur ranks as well.

RGV Productions works  with The Door Christian Fellowship Ministries of McAllen, and thus was responsible for live-streamed performances of a youth production of the Broadway hit “Hamilton” this weekend at the Door McAllen Church in McAllen, Texas. The production added scenes and dialogue and changed lines. During the climactic (and historical) duel between Aaron Burr and Hamilton, for example, the titular character says, “What is a legacy? It’s knowing you repented and accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ that sets men free. You sent your sinless son of man on Calvary to die for me!”

Sure doesn’t sound like Alexander to me! At the end of the show, a pastor delivered a sermon that included a passage you will never hear on Broadway, except as satire: “Maybe you struggle with alcohol, with drugs, with homosexuality, maybe you struggle with other things in life, your finances, whatever, God can help you tonight. He wants to forgive you for your sins.”

Uh, can’t do that.  The licensing rights to perform any show that hasn’t passed into the public domain specifically forbid it. Now, to be fair, RGV Productions and the church never obtained the rights: they are still unavailable, as is the norm when a Broadway show is in its initial run. Never mind: these disrespectful scofflaws did the show, or their mutant version of it, anyway.

Presumably their gamble is that the rights-holders will be reluctant to come down hard on a religious institution and a production performed by a group of kids. Rationalizations include the Saint’s Excuse and “We meant well!” I sure hope they are wrong and get slammed. The adults responsible for this outrageous breach of law and ethics should be sued and punished hard. The production was disrespectful to all of the artists responsible for “Hamilton,” as well as the show itself and the business of theater. It also betrayed the audience, which was misled into thinking it would see some reasonable approximation of “Hamilton.” Instead they got a clumsy defilement of the artistic product, executed by people who lack the talent, skill, perspective, experience, training and taste to have any involvement with Lin-Manual Miranda’s creation beyond purchasing a ticket.

How could anyone, never mind a church, conclude that it was ethically acceptable to literally steal a product and then alter it beyond recognition (as if a mostly white production of Hamilton performed by inexperienced teens wouldn’t be unrecognizable enough)?

The answer is obvious, no? “That’s show biz!”


Pointer: Curmie

13 thoughts on “Performing Arts Ethics: Amateur And Professional Ethics Dunces, Part 2…The Amateurs [Corrected]

  1. Yep, that’s a brazen breach of copyright and licensing. They will get a cease and desist letter and the producers will likely get sued, as they should.

    Their response is already set: “hey, what’s the big deal? Why is big, bad New York legal pounding on us? They’re kids. We didn’t charge for the production.” Then, YouTube will block the live stream – which is a huge problem for the church – in the name of licensing violations, etc. The church will run to their friends in the media, declaring the church is being targeted for ministering to God’s word and God’s children. Some idiot like Hannity will push the narrative that a small Christian McAllen church is being oppressed by the Friends of Gays because of their religious beliefs. The heads of the church’s ministry will run to any outlet willing to present their story. And, the story will grow and grow.

    Pretty clever. Cynical and devious but clever.

    The story almost writes itself.


  2. I had a comparable experience which was not quite comparable.
    I went to see a production of the Merchant of Venice put on by the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, home of the Coen brothers and the setting for their movie A Serious Man (an ethics/religious movie that Jack might wish to take a look at).

    They added two scenes.

    One was a scene of drunken debauchery in the middle of the movie. I forget the context, except it was to show the characters wasting money and acting licentiously. I don’t recall if it was the Christian characters doing it, or one of Shylock’s relatives (or both). It reminded me of The Prodigal Son.

    The second scene had was at the very end. Shylock had been forced to wear a cross necklace toward the end of the play. After the play ended, you see Shylock sneaking away and hanging the cross on the branch of a tree (or something as he, presumably, fled Venice).

    Neither of the scenes added any words to the play, but they were both strongly meaningful in the context of the production.

    I asked my high school teacher (yes, it was that long ago) what he thought of that. He had not seen the production but he rules it was a fair theatrical deviation, as it did not change the source material.

    I am not sure if I agree. It may depend on the day. Nonetheless, it is a good illustration of the fine line between what might be okay, and what isn’t.

    (This is also useful, because I am reading the Harry Potter series with one of the Gory Young’uns. After we finish the book, we have watched the movie. We just finished the third movie and she was quite vocal about how much the movie deviated from the book. I have explained that, as the books get longer, the movies can’t. Significant changes happen, including deletions, simply out of necessity. She may understand, but I don’t think she has quite warmed to the idea yet.


    • The major difference is legal rather than purely aesthetic/ethical: The Merchant of Venice, unlike Hamilton, is in the public domain.

      • I disagree.

        I would argue they are either: 1. Equally important; or 2. Incomparable.

        Violating legal licensing is easily wrong.

        Modifying the work is easily wrong.

        This scenario just happens to involve both sorts of violations.


    • My favorite metier is Gilbert and Sullivan, which has been in the public domain for many decades. Thus anything goes, legally, but I maintain that wholesale rewriting without explicit identification of such as such is unethical. Interpretations are swell; they can (but usually don’t) in invigorate a classic work. But if you are going to add speeches, new songs and scenes, write your own damn show.

        • Oh…I misunderstood. No. The idea of the copyright is, among other things, to prevent unauthorized competition with the professional original. A free production theoretically is even more of a threat. What is charged for an unsanctioned production is irrelevant.

  3. The tatic of using a religious cloak to evade scrutiny reminds me of the old Wisdom Tree games that refused to pay licence fees to Nintendo in the 80’s. Nintendo fought back by pressuring retailers that sold their licenced products, so wisdom tree found a market in the religious media stores and rebranded their games (Often in hilarious ways) to appeal to that demographic.

    Engineering your own games from scratch to work on other’s hardware is far more acceptable than copying wholesale a different product and warping little bits of it for your use though. Depending on the final product, the church’s conduct might be considered fair use or parody.

  4. “How could anyone, never mind a church, conclude that it was ethically acceptable to literally steal a product and then alter it beyond recognition…?”
    This is a “progressive” Christian church, and a perfect example of what Paul mentioned in Galatians 1:6-7: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
    Once a church has crossed that line, the performance licensing laws are negligible barriers.

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