Key dates for the ‘Zip: A Streetdance Musical’ rights issues

Just to be clear, we have not read and are not privy to any of the legalities regarding ‘Tree’, only the media coverage. As such we can’t comment on the particulars of ‘Tree’. What we can do is talk about our experiences. A lot of people have been coming to us asking for a more detailed summary of our experiences on the Zip: A Streetdance Musical project for which Ray Shell, Sarah Henley and James Kenwood were credited as writers, which was performed at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town in August 2010. We have even been accused today of defamation by Sarah Henley. We can’t share any of the original emails online because of data protection and legal concerns, which believe me we do not have the money to navigate, but we’ve taken the time to put together a timeline of how our rights conversations with Sarah Henley broke down. Please keep in mind that we are a small production company speaking up about an issue that we feel is more complex than the narrative that has been presented in the media.

It’s a fairly laborious tale that many people in the theatre industry are probably familiar with. In this case, the scrabble for rights before we had even funded the second phase resulted in the end of the project. This project was never intended to be a big commercial musical, but a vehicle for reaching young people in communities affected by knife crime. We wanted to shape the work around workshops in those communities. Instead, it became about something so different. A fight for ownership that actually belonged to those telling their stories as well as the credited artists and mentors who Ray Shell wanted to give an opportunity to.

Timeline of correspondence:

15 October 2010 – Sarah claims co-authorship of Zip and asks for update on second stage of work

15 October 2010 – Tamzin responds clarifying that rights would need to be agreed with Ray Shell, as writer of Zip project and based on contribution to second stage.

15 October 2010 – Sarah agrees that rights discussion will happen when future contribution is established and asserts that lawyers and managers will deal with this.

15 October 2010 – Tamzin confirms that funding will be key and at that point we can: “establish who wrote what and therefore the appropriate apportion of the writer’s rights. Having not been involved in your writing process, I haven’t any idea as to where you three stand now, but when we have the second phase project I’m sure you can all settle this (hopefully without too many legal fees!)”

Ray Shell confirmed today (9 Jul 2019) from the US that he mentored a lot of this writing. He has several emails to back this up but we are trying to work quickly to respond to the request for clarity.

18 October 2010 – Sarah emails to say she has set up a meeting with a large venue in Camden to discuss the future of Zip, unbeknownst to Giant Olive. Sarah to connect the contact with us.

19 October 2010 – Tamzin responded thanking Sarah. She updated her on a connection made with Artistic Directors in NW/NE & Midlands. Tamzin raised concerns that future funding opportunities for a large venue in Camden would be limited, given the work had already been work-shopped and performed in the area.

19 October 2010 – Sarah responded that she was keen to progress with larger Camden venue. Suggested a meeting.

22 October 2010 – Tamzin asked if large venue in Camden was proposing to fund the production.

25 October 2010 – Sarah pushes for a meeting so as to get into the budget plans for large Camden venue.

26 October 2010 – Sarah and Tamzin miss each other’s calls.

26 October 2010 – Ray emails Sarah and James to say that George has put out a call to the large Camden theatre. Ray confirms that unless the large Camden theatre is prepared to fund the production we need to look elsewhere in the UK. Ray suggests we speak to the other artists who have contributed to Zip and establish the musical elements of the project we intend to retain. Ray suggests that this happens in December due to his Christmas production schedule and a visit to the US. Ray suggests we need to calm the process down to allow Tamzin to put in funding applications and plan for the tour. If the large Camden venue gets back in touch, at this point we will know whether another run in the borough is appropriate.

26 October 2010 – Long email from Sarah asserting that George cannot progress a conversation without Ray, Sarah and James meeting to plan the footage. She suggested funding wouldn’t be an issue and her brother has offered to put in money. She stated that the large Camden theatre had potential project participants. Sarah was concerned that we are discussing funding and talking about financial support from the large Camden theatre. Pushed the benefits of facilities.

5 November 2010 – Ray thanks Sarah for her passion but questions the benefits of putting the work on again in Camden. Giant Olive’s best interests will be to develop a national tour. “No workshop or production of ZIP will be created without my full input and a creative team of my choosing or it would not be ZIP…it would be something else. I would like to continue working with the two of you but I’m getting a little tired of the constant pushing and pulling…as I said to you in an earlier email…nothing is going to be done at the moment so PLEASE CHILLL…work on something else…but if you want to work with me on the next stage of ZIP then it will have to be on my time plan and at my pace”.

5 November 2010: Sarah acknowledges Ray’s involvement but suggests that she and James want to work on improving Zip for the tour.

5 November 2010: Tamzin thanks Sarah for the proposal but suggests that the large Camden theatre is put on hold. Tamzin emphasises the shoe-string budget we were working on with Zip and states that “Without the cast being able to be paid, Giant Olive would be unwilling to do this, particularly as you indicate paying less than we managed to raise for the original ZIP. I think we need to aim higher for phase two”.

5 November 2010: Sarah agrees to drop the large Camden theatre suggestion, reluctantly. Sarah suggests that previous Zip material was rushed and in draft form. Sarah suggests working with young producers and organising rights separately, minimising Ray’s time commitment on the project.

15 November 2010: Email from James frustrated that we are not to progress with large theatre in Camden and criticising Zip suggesting it needs rewriting.

15 November 2010: George reiterates that we are at the funding stage. Once we are funded then we can plan the pre-production work. If anyone has legitimate funding options, let us know.

15 November 2010: James questions whether funding is necessary.

15 November 2010: George confirms that we had limited funding for phase 1 but nothing can be made with nothing and it was hard enough to produce the work on such a limited pot. Giant Olive’s resources are tied up in Christmas show but we are working on fundraising and please be patient, we will keep everybody informed.

15 November 2010: James thanks George and apologises for coming across as pushy.

16 March 2011: Sarah emails requesting clarification on terms for Zip.

23 March 2011: Tamzin sends over basic terms one page outline document, which had been glanced at by a lawyer on a pro-bono basis agreeing that any contribution made will be credited with writer credits in second phase of Zip and paid at industry rates according to contribution but that the work would remain a Giant Olive project.

23 March 2011: Sarah emails to say that this was not how she understood terms. In this email Sarah asserts rights ownership over specific elements of Zip, asserting that she and James have not signed an agreement with Giant Olive over the material. The specific ownership claims made here were, in our opinion, incorrect. Specifically, a claim was made regarding the Ghost chorus. This was conceived by George as a result of watching a Youtube video in 2010 of the MTV awards performance by P.Diddy, Sting & Faith Evans (1997). George suggested to Ray that the victims could be portrayed as a ghost chorus.
Sarah asserts that it was always understood that they would be co-writers on the project, in spite of earlier correspondence. Sarah asserts ownership over the music and lyrics written previously and suggests that they can put these to use elsewhere.

23 March 2011: Tamzin emails Sarah to confirm that material produced for Zip will not be performed elsewhere without prior written permission. Tamzin confirms that none of the material produced by Sarah or James will be used in the next phase of Zip unless they agree to contribute as writers, without ownership over the whole project. Tamzin makes the point that we are at the starting point for the process and the agreement cannot at this stage specify percentage contribution since we are all aware the piece needs re-writing but as yet haven’t reached the planning phase.

23 March 2011: Sarah thanks Tamzin and confirms she is not intending to produce the work elsewhere. She would like to be involved and is sure we can reach an agreement. Sarah thinks it would be a shame not to use the music and contributions that she felt she and James had made to the original show. Sarah’s concerns related to credits and a specific fee but she agreed that it is hard to determine this without knowing what the percentage of involvement will be. Sarah suggests passing this on to her lawyer as she is too close to the work.

23 March 2011: Tamzin emails Sarah to say she feels things are becoming quite distant from the purpose of the project. She is meeting a pro-bono legal advisor in the next week and requests any further amendments from Sarah and James.

23 March 2011: Sarah agrees that she would like to get back to being creative.

Late March 2011:

Following the advice from our pro-bono legal advisor, a face to face meeting was organised at the Lion & Unicorn with Sarah, Ray, Tamzin and George. We are trying to find the date of this meeting. It would have been in late March 2011. At this point the relationship had completely broken down. Litigation was threatened and things had clearly escalated beyond the resources of our small production company, in spite of the fact that we had confirmed in a written document that industry rates of pay and credits would be applicable, based on agreed input. This was all before any of our funding was in place. If we were on Wall Street this could have been described as an aggressive takeover.

The question we have to pose here is: would these artists from Zip have produced Streets in the way they did if they had not been involved as performers and singers and writers in the project, which was drawn from workshops in Camden? In Sarah’s email to us today she observed that it was inevitable that there were similarities. Nobody is saying the script was the same. But rights issues are more complex than they are being represented in the media.

You look at the trailers and see what you think:

We had never intended to make this unfortunate situation public out of courtesy to the artists who worked on Streets and we did not make any complaints about the production when it was performed in April 2013 at the Cockpit theatre. But, we do not like the way that a different rights dispute is being depicted in the media. In all conscience, we thought our own experiences should be shared to open up a more meaningful conversation. That’s our suggestion, let’s have a meaningful new debate on rights for all artists because things obviously haven’t changed over the last ten years.