To the editors:
In respect of the legacy of the Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union and to the integrity of the Chicago theater community, we can no longer remain silent, allowing the play Jane: Abortion and the Underground to be obscured by wild claims, chronological gaps, half-truths, and petty, egocentric insecurities.
In a recent feature (Our Town, January 29), you validate the claim that the coauthorship of Jane was suddenly introduced with the circulation of publicity materials. To the contrary, the project was conceived last spring by Imagine Theatre Company's artistic director, Karen Gorrin, who wished to bring a political feminist story to the stage. Gorrin invited free-lance journalist Paula Kamen to bring her talents and experience in feminism and combine them with Gorrin's own theatrical skills to develop the play that ultimately became Jane. Although you describe Gorrin as a computer consultant who always wanted to start a theater company, it should be noted that she holds a theater degree from Columbia College, where she worked with this city's most celebrated artists. Gorrin also studied classical drama at Oxford University, England. This was Kamen's first excursion into the world of the theater. Although initiated by Gorrin, from the moment the two set to work together, it became a collaborative effort.
In the tradition of such plays as Working and From the Mississippi Delta, whose rich dramatic quality is drawn from oral histories, Gorrin suggested the format which would bridge the gap of the two worlds that she and Kamen came from, for when they met there was no script. They embarked on a journey, together, to interview people from all over the country. These interviews were then transcribed by Gorrin and Stephanie L. Hodde, the theater's literary manager, who was brought in as dramaturg for the project. (Kamen now claims Gorrin never saw the transcripts until the middle of December.) Ultimately, the script would consist of 75 percent oral history and 25 percent new dialogue, created to make active the actual accounts as described by the interviewees, and also as a device to tie together the interviews and move the story forward. The three met for dozens of literary meetings, often lasting late into the evening. Unlike production meetings that may occur between a playwright and a director, these meetings, and others between only Gorrin and Kamen, were actually writing and development sessions to select, structure, organize, and express the story of Jane. The 15 drafts Kamen claims are a direct result of these meetings. While research was a valuable tool in the development of the script, a journalist's research alone does not make a dramatic play.
As to the contract and Kamen's claim of waiting three months for it to be "delivered," in actuality we discussed terms long ago, as suggested to Gorrin by experts in the theater community. Kamen claimed monetary gain was of little interest to her, and agreed that each would contribute to the expenses of development. (There was no grant, only small donations and personal monies.) At Kamen's insistence, we didn't sign an agreement, which would also have given Imagine Theatre credit for producing the first production, as she demanded a legal mediator to review it first.
When Imagine Theatre was assigned an attorney to act as mediator by Lawyers for the Creative Arts, well into the play's development, it discovered that Kamen had already obtained her own attorney through LCA (it had coincidentally been the same attorney). As we waited reassignment, and rehearsals began, Kamen mailed her so-called "letter of intent," which began, "Thank you very much for all your efforts . . . ," laid out stringent monetary requirements, gave NO credit to Imagine Theatre, Gorrin, or Hodde, as is customary, and for the first time claimed sole authorship. It asked for a signature by Gorrin, although only one original was enclosed. It soon became apparent Kamen had applied for a copyright after she obtained an attorney. (A copyright, as she must know, is not proof of authorship and is rebuttable in court.) We were forced to obtain legal counsel, not as a mediator, but to protect our artistic, financial, and moral interests, and found E. Leonard Rubin, an experienced entertainment attorney with Willian, Brinks, Olds, Hofer, Gilson and Lione.
Since, Kamen has created one sensational crisis and bizarre claim after another, alerting the press to what should have been a private matter and then condemning their treatment of the situation (letter to the editor, "Innocence Lost," February 12). Bringing a tape recorder to the theater, slandering Gorrin and the theater staff in front of the actors and designers, and refusing to speak with Gorrin, Hodde, or the stage manager, Julie Goldstein, without the presence of her chaperon, created an unpleasant atmosphere that caused tension among all members of the company.
After her outburst of profanity during a dress rehearsal, Kamen changed her mind about the verbal agreement that supported the recommencement of rehearsals she had previously stopped with legal threats. Although we had already proceeded based on the agreement, she suddenly refused to memorialize it in written form and instead created new claims of legal problems with an interviewee who requested anonymity. (Gorrin spoke with the person in question prior to opening night, and confirmed the identity had been sufficiently hidden.) We had met every new demand she made, solely in an effort to allow the show to go on and not to concede to any of her claims, including changing promotional materials at great time and expense. Each time, she would add an additional requirement and we therefore concluded she had been negotiating in bad faith from the beginning.
Kamen, with the aid of her attorney, attempted by continued calls to the press and other means to undermine every aspect of the production, including chipping away at the bond and self-esteem of the actors and the entire company. The production was finally canceled after a company meeting and subsequent group decision on February 11, NOT due to a National Writers Union letter (received by us on February 12) as you reported (Hot Type, February 19), but rather because several actors in the 13-member cast bowed to the pressure and threats of legal action apparently influenced by Kamen's activities, although it is unprecedented for actors to be sued in this type of situation. The actors expressed that the immense emotional commitment this play required to perform had been severely and irreparably damaged.
The issue of authorship remains. Kamen continues to refuse to sit down and discuss it and her attorney continues to refuse to review materials held by Gorrin, dismissing them as nonrelevant and nonexistent.
Over 25 strangers came together, more than half of them women, each developing close relationships along the way, to tell a story of empowerment and bravery and pass the torch that inspired the feminist movement of the 60s boldly into their own generation. Instead of acclaim for their efforts, they were bestowed with heartbreak and anxiety, as one lone member chose to seize total control. Kamen may have won the battle, but as announced in its press release of February 15 (which you chose to not print), the Imagine Theatre Company will tell the story of Jane, in its respectfully due manner, in the future.
Karen Gorrin Artistic Director Stephanie L. Hodde Literary Manager Imagine Theatre Company
Michael Miner replies:
Hot Type did not report that the show closed because of the National Writers Union. Gorrin's mistake on this count is an odd departure from the tolerance and precision with which this disagreement has otherwise been aired.