Rights snafu leads to show swap between Park Square and Guthrie

Richard Cook.

Richard Cook.

When Park Square Theatre announced the first season at its new Boss Thrust Stage, they had hoped to open up with a bang: Anne Washburn's hot new work, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Show.

The problem? The Guthrie Theater was also deep into planning for their own production of the play. A rights snafu meant both theaters could lay claim to the piece. In the end, a swap was arranged. The Guthrie retained its rights to Mr. Burns, while giving up its option on 4000 Miles, Amy Herzog's Pulitzer-Prize nominated new play.

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Park Square's Richard Cook first heard of the trouble a couple of weeks ago. He learned that Mr. Burns, about how a particular Simpsons episode becomes part of the cultural landscape in a post-apocalyptic future, was also in development among the Guthrie, the playwright, and San Francisco's ACT.

These kinds of conflicts have increased in recent years in the Twin Cities, as the active theater community leads to multiple companies looking at the same shows at the same time.

However, the rights are usually hammered out before seasons are announced. In this case, two agents were negotiating rights without close contact.

The news led to a series of phone calls between Cook and the Guthrie's Joe Dowling as they tried to find a solution that would work for both theaters. With Mr. Burns off the table, Cook turned his attention to 4000 Miles. The show had been part of earlier considerations for the Boss season, but the rights weren't available, as the Guthrie was considering it for the Dowling Studio season.

Part of choosing 4000 Miles as a replacement was the intended audience of the show. Park Square is hoping to use the Boss Thrust as a way to bring in new, younger audiences to the St. Paul theater, while also retaining its existing audience.

Mr. Burns had the Simpsons connection. 4000 Miles centers on the lives of young adults in New York City. "Hopefully, it will be of legitimate interest to younger audiences," Cook says.

Those rights were released, allowing Park Square to pick it up for its season. The show will run September 19 to October 12 on the Boss Stage. The Guthrie will announce its 2014-15 season soon, which will include Mr. Burns.

Park Square has also worked a deal so its subscribers will be able to see Mr. Burns at the Guthrie for a discounted rate.