Having Your Work Adapted For The Stage

Find out how to ensure your work is successfully transferred to the stage.

If you’re an author, it can be gratifying to hear that someone wants to adapt your text for the stage. But adaptation is a business partnership and takes work to get right.

Call your Agent

An adaptation query may come through your agent. If a query comes to you directly, inform your agent immediately and ensure they lead all negotiations on your behalf. If you don’t have an agent, or your agent is unfamiliar with theatre contracts, seek advice from a third party (e.g., a colleague or the Guild).

Know your Partner

Before agreeing anything, sound out the company/person who wants to adapt your work.

  • Research their track record, especially in adapting original texts. Ask for samples (scripts and recordings).
  • Get clarification on how – and how well – they know your text. Ask for a Proof of Concept to understand their creative intentions, e.g., text edits, tone, dramatic structure.
  • If you want creative input into the adaptation, ask for proposals on how this might work.
  • How feasible is their plan, practically and creatively? How comfortable are you with their communication style and work methods, their experience, their vision, their view of your role?

Listen to your instincts. Discuss any concerns with your agent/expert. Trade-offs (e.g., choosing feasibility over creative control) can have consequences.

Take Your Time

Adaptation requires you to hand over your work to someone else so they can turn it into their work. Final handover can come at any point. You may prefer no creative input after signing contracts, or you may want involvement in every creative decision up until opening night. But sooner or later, you’ll have no further say in how your work is represented.
From the start, take your time when making all contractual, practical or creative decisions. Give yourself at least 72 hours to consider any proposals, including draft edits/scripts. Making decisions quickly under pressure may create difficulties later.

Put it in Writing

Written negotiations can be time-consuming, but leave little room for misinterpretation. Avoid agreeing to a business or creative proposal over the phone, on Zoom, or face-to-face. Keep notes and ask for all proposals to be put in writing. If you do verbally agree something, immediately send a detailed written re-cap.

To Give or Not to Give

A good adaptation contract covers many elements, including Duration, Territory, Language, Exclusivity, Title, Credit, Approval, Fees and Royalties. The details vary but you should always consider:

  • What you’re Giving
  • What you’re Not Giving
  • What you’re Getting

Flexibility is good, but not at any cost. Understand your priorities. Clarifying what you Won’t Give sets up strong boundaries to protect your work. If something is proposed that you’re not prepared to Give, consider it carefully and discuss it with your agent/confidante before responding.

Before you Sign

Seek advice so you fully understand every detail of the contract. Flag any concern, no matter how small. Ensure there are clauses covering Dispute Resolution and project failure/abandonment.

When Love Breaks Down

Even with watertight contracts, creative or practical problems can arise.

  • Don’t let a problem escalate. As soon as you sense something might be going wrong, discuss it with your agent/confidante. Then present it to the other party, or instruct your agent to communicate on your behalf.
  • Understand your contractual rights. Offer solutions only if you’re contractually obliged to. Don’t try to rush a fix.
  • If an acceptable solution isn’t proposed, move into Dispute Resolution.
  • Stay rational. Legal action, including mediation, is a last resort. It costs money and time and is unlikely to fully satisfy either party.

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