By Mary Reines
Wicked Local Marblehead
Following lawsuit threat, Mugford Street Players relocate their production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
It seemed as if the Mugford Street Players would have to completely abandon their production of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which was set to open at Marblehead Little Theatre on March 1, after receiving a cease and desist letter from Atticus Limited Liability Company last Wednesday.
“We took a big body blow last week when we were told we couldn’t go forward,” said Mugford Street Players producer Greg Mancusi-Ungaro.
In the letter, lawyers at Loeb & Loeb detailed a decades-old copyright agreement between the Harper Lee estate and play distributor Dramatic Publishing Company (DPC), which prohibited the production of “amateur performances” of the show within 25 miles of a major city during the “New York run” or “first class touring production” of the play.
The attorneys for Atticus asserted that these restrictions were being violated due to the current run of a new play adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird” written by Aaron Sorkin, which opened in New York in December 2018. The Players had been rehearsing an earlier play adaptation of the book, written by Christopher Sergel.
After the initial outrage and despair, the Players sent an email blast with their request for a theater more than 25 miles away from Boston that would be willing to host their production. According to Mancusi-Ungaro, Radio Host Aurelia Nelson, of North Shore 104.9 FM, spread the word and reached Chris Griffith, the interim manager at Gloucester Stage Company, who came forward and offered the space.
“John [Fogle, director] and I went and met him,” said Mancusi-Ungaro. “He’s been incredibly accommodating.”
Mancusi-Ungaro also discussed the relocation with lawyers representing the Sorkin play in New York, as well as the lawyers in Alabama representing the Lee estate, and was able to get the green light. He re-applied for a show license with DPC and was successful.
“It’s really been quite a process,” he said.
According to Griffith, Gloucester Stage Company is about 35 miles away from Boston, which is in accordance with the copyright agreement. He said he believes this is the first time that Gloucester Stage Company has come to the rescue like this.
“I think this is the first time that a situation like this has happened with a community theater production being caught between the Broadway production and the licensing company,” he said.
The Players’ near-cancellation has received national attention, as the theater company is among many others across the nation and the world that have been thwarted by this lawsuit threat, according to articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Mancusi-Ungaro thinks that the Mugford Street Players have been the only theater troupe to relocate its production, rather than cancel it altogether.
“A lot of companies have closed their shows,” he said. “I believe we’re the only company that adopted the strategy of taking our show outside the limit.”
The Mugford Street Players’ production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be playing at the Gloucester Stage Company on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from March 29 through April 14. Tickets are $15 for students, $25 for seniors and $35 general admission, available at http://gloucesterstage.com or the Arnould Gallery in Marblehead.