“Tree” highlights the need for Credit Arbitration for playwrights

An insight prompted by a Mark Brown article in The Guardian: Writers claim being excluded after creating Idris Elba’s play

I read with interest The Guardian article by Mark Brown. The short version of the story is that Ms Allen-Martin and Ms Henley were removed from a theatre production after four years of work. “Tree” now claims it was created by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba, and has failed to acknowledge both women for their contribution.

You should also read the Medium article Tree. A Story of Gender and Power in Theatre. Both Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin explain in their own words what happened.

What strikes me after reading this article is how weak Allen-Martin and Henley were made to feel, and how little power they had to have their claims recognised. Basically if you don’t have huge reserves of cash to litigate, there’s not much you can do.

Anyone who knows anything about screenwriting knows that writers are frequently replaced. A new writer is brought in to do a rewrite, or polish, punch up the dialogue, fix this hole in the plot; the list goes on. When this all goes tits-up, and there is a dispute over credit, screenwriters can turn to the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Credit Arbitration service for help. The aim of the service is to ensure “that each writer’s contribution to the shooting script is properly valued and rewarded with the correct credit.” I can find no such service for playwrights. If I’m wrong let me know. It’s probably one of those things, it feels like something the Guild should get into, but for some arcane reason they can’t.

I wish nothing but good fortune to Ms Allen-Martin and Ms Henley. They’re not alone, we’ve all felt the same weight, frustration, and disappointment, at one time in our life.


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