Artist: Erin Pike
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: North America
Location: Seattle, WA
Confronting Bodies: Samuel French, Inc.
Description of Artwork: In early February, the one woman play That’swhatshesaid enjoyed a four-night run in the tiny venue at Gay City Arts in Seattle. Created and performed by Erin Pike and written by Courtney Meaker, the play consists entirely of dialogue culled from the most-produced plays of the 2014—2015 season. These include Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez and 4,000 Miles by Amy Herzog, all published by drama lit mega-publisher Samuel French. In total, eleven plays were sourced to generate the script; Pike worked on the one hour-long piece for over two years. By collaging together preexisting texts, quoting lines and toying with their contexts, the play takes on status quo perceptions of women and shines a light on the culture that perpetuates them.
The Incident: on the second night of the performance, several hours before curtain, Gay City Arts Executive Director Fred Swanson received a cease and desist letter from the licensing and compliance arm of Samuel French. They wanted to shut down the play. The letter claims that its use of copyrighted material, specifically from Bad Jews, is infringing. Following the letter, Bruce Lazarus, executive director/vice president for Samuel French, called and left a voicemail on the cellphone of the play's creator and sole performer, Erin Pike. He claimed the production was "illegal" and said that Samuel French would "go after" Gay City Arts unless they cancelled the show.
Results of Incident: The show went on. Whenever a line from Bad Jews came up, someone offstage would shout "redacted!" and Pike would go ahead miming the stage directions but not speaking the accompanying lines. The redactions led to moments of drama that hadn't existed before this external pressure from Samuel French. Since, the creators of the play received two more cease and desist letters, one for lines it doesn't even contain. Several parties have pointed out that the manner in which the play uses pre-existing content satisfies all the conditions of fair use.