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Culture: Recording success has legal pitfalls; Amateur Stage.

Byline: John Slim

It's odd, the sort of thing which sets off a train of thought. The trigger was the seductive strains of Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade, which were filtering round the house because my wife had just galvanised a treasured tape into action on our new CD player/radio/tape deck/turntable with three-speakers-more-than-we-knowwhat-to-do-with contraption.

My train reached its terminus almost instantly, when it occurred to me that it's a shame more theatre groups don't make authorised video recordings of their shows. I shall explain its route in a moment, but first I have to say that the authorised is both important and almost impossible.

You really are supposed to go through the prescribed processes. It's not good enough to tell somebody to point a camera at the stage and leave it running, even if such an approach could somehow produce a worthwhile record.

Long before anybody removes a lens-cap, it is necessary to obtain permission from the people holding the appropriate rights to the show in question - and these may well not be those from whom permission to stage the show was obtained.

In the case of Josef Weinberger, for instance, although it can probably say where your inquiry should be directed, it is unable to give permission for one master video recording to be made of more than one in ten of the shows it licenses for stage performances.

This ten per cent tends to consist of amateur versions of operettas, rather than post-war shows - and even here, if a group wants to make duplicate tapes from the master copy, it has to obtain permission from the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS).

A Weinberger spokesman said: 'In general, we can authorise companies to perform shows but not to store any element of them on an electronic retrieval system or to make an audio or video recording.

'As far as I am aware, our company has never prosecuted anybody through the courts. But in any case, most theatre groups don't want to attract any adverse publicity.'

All of which leads me back to Glen Miller. It is some six decades since Glen Miller died and I cannot imagine that any among his mellifluous band have failed by this time to follow him. But those of us who are still about the place can still enjoy their talents because they have been preserved.

In the same way, it should be important in the thinking of any theatre group to preserve the contributions of its members down the ages. And I don't mean on just any old amateur video but on a properly thought out, properly lit professional job, probably recorded over a couple of dress rehearsals - so that the lighting won't bother the audience - to incorporate a variety of camera angles and close-ups.

It should be important. It deserves to be important. It's just that the hurdles are generally insuperable.

The good news is that Music Theatre International, New York, which controls worldwide stage rights for many musicals, is aware of the number of requests from groups anxious to keep everything above board and is now investigating ways in which they might be accommodated. There are so many inquiries that it is proving impossible to ignore them.

Meanwhile, however, permission remains elusive - which is understandable in the light of what the film rights will have cost the organisations that hold them and guard them so jealously.

Despite their commendable ambitions, society archivists must continue to tread carefully. It would be a shame to end up like the school that had to send Josef Weinberger its 50 video tapes and the master copy of its unofficially filmed show.

Good news from Worcester Operatic and Dramatic Society. After a poor start to its efforts to recruit male Cagelles for its now-imminent production of La Cage Aux Folles, the group found the four it needed and is all set to open at Malvern Festival Theatre on Tuesday next week.

Bruce Wyatt, for the company, said: 'One of them is from our youth section, two others have come forward from the main society, and one had volunteered in the first place.'When Wyn Hinks arrived at Torquay for the national conference of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, she stepped off the train - straight into a drama of her own.

After spending five days in Lourdes, she had arrived to catch up with husband Mike, who represents the Midland Area on the council of NODA and was already ensconced in the conference hotel.

It was while admiring their room that she realised she had left a bag containing some expensive conference-style outfits on the train - which was due to terminate in Paignton.

Mike jumped back in the car and drove in a minor panic to Paignton station - where he found the train being checked before starting its return journey and was able to claim the distinctive dress-carrier.

So there was a happy ending - apart from the fact that Wyn had returned from her parish pilgrimage to Lourdes with a very sore throat - to what was the second sartorial story in which she and Mike have been involved at NODA conferences in recent years.

The previous occasion concerned Mike's splendid blue cummerbund and matching breast pocket handkerchief. Friends who admired the stunning effect discovered that the handkerchief was in fact a pair of Wyn's knickers, which just happened to be the exact colour and material that were needed.

WHAT'S ON Annie, Rugby Theatre (to Saturday). Time and Time Again, The Nonentities, Rose Theatre, Kidderminster (to Saturday).

Bluebeard, Tinkers Farm Opera, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (to Saturday).

The Pajama Game, Banners Gate Musical Society, Highbury Little Theatre, Sutton Coldfield (to Saturday).

Talking Heads, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (Oct 10-19).

Confusions, Cincinnati Theatre Company, Cincinnati Machine, Erdington (Oct 10-12).

La Cage aux Folles, Worcester Operatic & Dramatic Society, Malvern Festival Theatre (Oct 15-19.

Annie, Get Your Gun, Circle Light Opera Company, Highbury Little Theatre (Oct 15-19).

The Pirates of Penzance, Norbury Theatre, Droitwich (Oct 17-19; & 24-26).

Clerical Errors, Fellowship Players, Grange Playhouse, Walsall (Oct 17-26).

Educating Rita, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (Oct 19-Nov 2).
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 9, 2002
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