Suspended New Milford theater’s production to reopen with new set
The curtain is going back up on the TheatreWorks’ production of “Bell, Book & Candle” after a rookie mistake temporarily suspended the show last week.
Artistic license appeared to have been stretched when a set design was copied by Joseph Russo, director and designer for the New Milford community theater’s production of John van Druten’s supernatural comedy.
Performances of the play, which opened Dec. 4 in New Milford, were “suspended” Dec. 10 after the board of directors received a cease-and-desist letter from the attorneys and agents of Darko Tresnjak and Alexander Dodge, who originally collaborated on the set design for a 2012 co-production of the play by Hartford Stage and Long Wharf Theater.
However, the production has been “completely restaged and re-designed,” according to Glen Couture, president of Theatreworks. The production will reopen at 8 p.m. Friday under the direction of actor/director Matt Austin, Couture said.
Russo has “voluntarily resigned from the board,” Couture said.
Couture said Russo was not aware he crossed into copyright infringement when he used elements of the earlier production.
“He indicated that he he saw the production of ‘Bell, Book & Candle’ at Long Wharf a few years ago, which inspired him to bring it to TheatreWorks,” said Couture, who said Russo was “one of our youngest board members.”
“He was sincerely unaware that his use of major elements of the scenic design was a copyright infringement.”
Couture said an apology has been issued to everyone involved. The set is been reworked and TheatreWorks has established a new policy to vet all of the design elements for future productions.
A new policy to review all of the design elements and staging of every future production before the production begins rehearsals is being established, Couture said.
Couture said the TheatreWorks board members, who are responsible for artistic decisions, were not aware of the copyright infringement until they received the email to cease and desist. The board accepted responsibility for the error, Couture said.
Facebook posts brought the copyright issue to the attention of the original artistic collaborators — Tresnjak, director, and Dodge, set designer — for the 2012 co-production of the play staged by Hartford Stage and Long Wharf Theater.
The two men had collaborated in 2007 for a production of the same play in San Diego.
“This is unconscionable,” Tresnjak said. “They copied my staging. Personally, I don’t intend to take any further action now that the production has closed. But if you let this happen, it will keep happening with other companies.”
Tresnjak acknowledged there can “occasionally be similarities” in productions, but this instance “goes beyond that.”
“I wish TheatreWorks nothing but that they continue and do their own original work,” Tresnjak said. “But we are not done with (developing) the production and there can’t be another version of my production happening.”
Michael Stotts, managing director of Hartford Stage, said the theater “stands firmly by the artists we engage.”
“At this point, they (TheatreWorks) have appropriated theater design designed for a production at Hartford Stage and Long Wharf.
“They’re facing infringement of artistic design. But they have suspended production. I hope ongoing conversations between artists and representatives can resolve this.”