Choreography and copyright…

I’ve been thinking about copyright and intellectual property for quite some time now… I create a great deal of things, on a regular basis, so I’m always thinking about how and where I receive inspiration.

Sometimes inspiration comes directly from the script or the music, sometimes from something entirely unrelated from the project, like a work of art, or something I’m reading. I once created a piece based upon the sculptures of Rodin – I started with just the shapes of his work, but I got so involved in his work that I went further and read about how and why he’d created those particular sculptures in the first place. The knowledge really fed into my creative process and helped me to realize the meaning and message of the completed piece.

So, when I’m creating something, who’s creation is it? OR, perhaps a better question would be, what percentage of the final piece is mine and what percentage belongs to my inspiration? OR, does it really matter? At the end of the day, I’ve created something entirely new that may then be of further inspiration to others and begat more work.

Romantic Atmosphere


But, when it comes to who gets to control the piece/creation… there’s the question. If I’ve created something that was originally fed by a script, the choreography came from me (and possibly some research I may have done), but the story and the music is the intellectual property of those who originally wrote it. Do we now share this? Should we? How would that work?

As far as the companies who grant royalties are concerned, it belongs to the writers of the play – but they didn’t send the me the choreographic notes for the original production – I did that. They didn’t even provide a paragraph that described any choreography, and frequently the music changes and undergoes revisions over time, so I am left to do the homework to learn the music and decide what MY story will be in the choreography. So, I think that it belongs to me. Set to their music and story.

Kansas City - Oklahoma!

This is a question that I ponder frequently and I’ll continue to ponder it. I wonder what your thoughts are? Sure, we need to support and protect copyright, but with the advent of YouTube and other social media platforms, I feel there needs to be further exploration of who exactly owns what, and what can and can’t (should? shouldn’t?) be done with creative work.

Comment below with any ideas you have.

And STILL more things that will happen at rehearsal…

The score won’t match…

When doing a MUSICAL…. or even a Play with Music… I promise you that whatever they have said in the script or written in the score – IF there IS a score… will not match any of the following…

a) the CD

b) the current script

c) the director’s vision

e) all of the above

Add to that… the cd won’t match…anything. Frequently it is a concept CD and that means it is very, VERY different from the production you are doing. The production that got altered before Broadway, before the Tour, after the Tour and before the release to amateur companies. It will be extremely different. Don’t count on it – in fact… the best advice is don’t use it. At best it is a basic, simple reference. Move on.

The script will NOT make sense… why would it? I mean, you paid for it, so it should… but believe me, it won’t. There will be typos for sure, but then there will also be ridiculous stage directions – that can only be done on MASSIVE Broadway budgets – and even then they are probably stupid stage directions, so Ignore them and do your own thing. Aside from that… there will be lines attributed to the wrong character or a missing character or someone you didn’t know was in the show… (seriously… ALL of these have happened in shows for which I have paid royalties to perform “their script word for word”) There may EVEN be stage directions that appear as dialogue… yup.

$h!t will be missing… Like a song you expected… or a character in the description list will be missing from the show… or an ENTIRE scene.. yup, once a script went from scene 7 to 9. We all wondered “What happened in Scene 8?”

Here’s the thing…. you roll with the punches, you do what is necessary to create your vision, you IGNORE the stage directions – and if possible, get your cast to ignore them as well and you make the best show you can. Even if it means you have to tweak a few things. Tweak away and get that show done!


Auditions: The Callback – getting ready on both sides of the table…

So, you’ve made it through all the auditions and now you have to prepare for the callbacks… What the heck, you say? More auditions – yes… sorry, more auditions.

So, if you are behind the table, what do you ask them to do? What do have prepared for them? What are you looking for from these talented people? Do you have a list prepared? Are you ready to make the tough decisions? Do you even need to have the callbacks? And if you decide that you do, can you ensure that the process is rewarding for your actors and everyone else involved? Cause it isn’t an easy time, so at least make it fun!

FIRST – be sure you have some material ready from the show (this goes back to making sure you read the script, right?), material that is challenging, fun and will show you what you need to see to make your decisions.

SECOND – have that material prepared and ready to share with your people. Is it digital? Copies? How many? Do they need accompaniment? Can you provide it for them to prepare? What is the easiest, and classiest, way to share this with your people? Whatever you do, don’t make it difficult for your actors to prepare. Ensure that they have a really good experience getting ready to sing, dance or act for you. They might not make it to the finish line, so you want them to at least have a good time at the race.

THIRD – be ready to make choices. The choices are tough and if you agonize over them too long you will start to second guess yourself. This is dangerous. Go with your gut. Return to your list of a dream cast, return to your notes and continually tell yourself…. “I have to judge them based on what they showed me today at these callbacks.” That’s all you can do. Then, make the decision and be ready to back it up.


So, what if you are on the other side of the table?

FIRST – celebrate!!! You’ve been asked to a callback. That’s impressive. No matter what the role or what you were hoping for from the audition team. You impressed them enough that they wanted to see more, so feel good about that.

SECOND – prepare! No matter what your hopes are for the show, prepare yourself to show your best performance and in your best light. You might not get the role, you might not even get the show, but if you impress, it could bode well for your future. You could be offered a role from the very first audition the next time the team sees you – people remember good work and professionalism.

THIRD – have a good time! The audition is your time to play. To show off your skill and to explore a character you may or may not get to play. Have a good time and don’t consider the outcome, you can’t control that, you can only control what you put into the audition and how you feel about it. Make it the best you can and be proud of whatever comes from it!

So, people… what are you waiting for? You’ve got to get ready, don’t you?!?

Podcast #16 Post Avenue Q debrief on the 401

After a MUCH too long hiatus, we are back with a reflective podcast on the production of Avenue Q that Matt and Ceris saw in Toronto. Don’t worry, Matt was on the recording controls so Ceris could focus on the drive.

Listen in, and comment on our plans for the future as the team hopes to not be away from the airwaves quite so long!


An Original (Kids) Peter Pan???

We are a few weeks into our process at Original Kids and the troupe is picking up the material quite quickly. When actors are young like that, they are often very sponge-like. The material gets soaked into their brains super fast and with great clarity. So, the director is ploughing ahead with all the blocking and character work and the music director is already reviewing material and refining their singing. This means it’s the choreographer’s turn to jump in there and give the kids some movement vocabulary. Time for something new and fresh and NOT THE SAME AS EVERY OTHER PETER PAN?!?!?!? What?

Yeah, that’s a challenge, you know? Making it fresh and fun and organic when it is for a story that has been told 1000 ways in 1000 different cities with different songs and versions of the story and yet, certain movement just seems to be dictated by the characters, the story and the situations of the Lost Boys, the Indians and the Pirates.

So, what do you do? Do you force choreo into a situation, just so it can be different? Or do you accept your fate and go with the tried and true movement that you know has been done before? Well, for this very youthful version, I opted to go with what is going to work for the performers – and that’s simple, effective and funny choreography and blocking.

Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan
Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan

We are already close to having finished the initial blocking and choreo for the show and the kids are loving it. There are a pile of jazz squares, (a move that is classic! – and in this case quite funny) as well as some silly hijinks in the movement, because that is what the director wants. Ms Kerry Hishon enjoys the silly. The sillier the better and for this show and these kids, it really seems to be working.

So, here’s hoping those 7 or 8 jazz squares with the crazy eyes and sparkle fingers work for the audience, too!

Journey to Neverland: Second to the Right and straight on til…. March Break

Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.

This is going to be an adventure – hopefully a fun and interesting one, for the actors involved as well as the artistic team. This is, after all, a youth production of a full scale show created on 8 hours of rehearsal per week in a mere 9 weeks.

OKTC logo

Working with Original Kids is always an adventure. It’s is always an excercize in flexibility and creativity and Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. will be no exception.

For this project I am the choreographer for approx. 30 wonderful kids between the ages of 7 and 14. This week they came into that first rehearsal with excitement and energy and enthusiasm. They performed their audition pieces with all the professionalism they could muster and they’ve been cast – as fairies, indians, lost boys and pirates and we are off together on our adventure to create this show.

peter pan logo

They are going to learn so much from this experience, but it always amazes me just how much I learn from them while going through this process. I suppose that’s part of the draw of theatre, each show and each team of people have something to offer and it is always different. Even if the team is the same, or the show is one you’ve explored before – it is ever changing.

What a great life lesson.

So, here we go… Off to Neverland!

What makes the best…?(Part 6)



There are lots of skills necessary to be a great Choreographer. Obviously a knowledge of and experience in dance is necessary and in my book, the wider the knowledge base, the greater the scope for creation. Skill as a dancer is also useful, but exceptional skill may not be necessary. Many great Choreographers have become so after dance careers that may have been less than stellar – but their passion for the art form has kept them returning to the craft and led them to find other ways to contribute.

Here’s an interesting article on that take:

For Choreographic work in Theatre the skills are specific. The dance should, whenever possible, further the story or service the plot in some fashion. While the style may still be presentational, it should fit within the world of the play or musical. While I enjoy the acrobatics and technique of a superbly performed routine, I will always appreciate movement that tells us about character and storyline to showy moves. When superb technique is available and can be crafted and utilized to further the character and plot, then exceptional choreography is taking place and can be transformative for the audience.

Knowing when to keep it simple is also a great skill. There are times when the character or performer or moment in the story needs very little movement to garner a reaction with the audience. Knowing how & when to make use of simple movements to “move” and audience is an essential skill for a choreographer.

Speaking a language that the team can understand is vital. Dancers have knowledge of specific terminology and a shorthand that may mean nothing to the Musical Director or the Stage Manager or even some of the performers. A good Choreographer will have the skills to communicate their work and their needs for support in design and vision to the entire production.  For example, the ability to read music is essential for strong communication with the team.

The next time you are in an audience, ask yourself to analyse what the choreographer has assembled. Does it speak to you? Did it help you understand or appreciate the story or the characters? Did it “move” you? If so, then you were witnessing some great Choreography.

5, 6, 7, 8!

The beginning of the rehearsal process is filled with trepidation and not just for the actors. The creative team have a lot of questions that they have to answer and they’ve got to be ready for all manner of problems with the script, the score, the rehearsal space – whatever… but hopefully they’ve got a handle on it all and have begun their plans, right? Of course they have.

They’ve copied their scripts, they’ve got the scores, (or at least they are on order), the set is sketched out and costumes are being measured and the choreography is… well… in the choreographers head.

That’s right, there’s generally no guide for the choreographer. No score, no script, no nothing. Except those words in the script that say… [they dance], or in the case of a Shakespeare… [they fight]

So, where does it all come from? And how can you be sure it’s gonna be good? Where’s the inspiration? How is it written out, taught, rehearsed, remembered? Well, sometimes all that’s a tall order to fill.

Just the other week, I began giving some choreography to a group of actors and before I’d begun a step, one of them said, (not too quietly either), “Oh, no, not another jazz square…” Well, the following step was NOT going to be a jazz square, but that little statement epitomizes the challenge of choreography. If an actor’s line in a script is silly or a note is difficult to sing, it isn’t the Director or Music Director’s doing. Sure, the actor can discuss it with them, and perhaps a solution can be found, or sense can be made of it, but if the actor doesn’t like the choreography, well, generally that came directly from the choreographer. Sure, some shows have film versions and some choreographers will lift directly from that source, but generally, I find, they like to create anew, and it can be a pretty daunting task. There’s nothing in the script to guide them – save for the odd stage direction. The only thing they’ve got is the music and often there isn’t a complete version of that. If there IS a complete recording, that can be a godsend. Otherwise it’s just the score, but some choreographers don’t read music and that will make it even more challenging.

It’s always fun to surprise people with something fun and inventive – your cast, your crew, your audience and your colleagues. I know how to read choreography and if I I’m surprised or thrilled by something on a stage, then that means I had an entertaining read at that performance. I’m always striving to provide the same for my colleagues who choreograph – and that means as few jazz squares as possible. And if you don’t know what a jazz square is… well then, you’ve probably never done a musical.

So, now… I’ve got to go find some inspiration for a dance number – again. With NO jazz squares.

Dance a Cachucha – Gondoliers Choreography MTP 2009