Kavinoky forced to shut down To Kill a Mockingbird over legal threat

Feb 28, 2019

Buffalo's Kavinoky Theatre at D’Youville College has been forced to shut down its production of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says it's over a licensing dispute that has closed productions at small theaters across the country.

“Companies, small and large, are getting these cease and desist and really we have no alternative,” said Kavinoky executive director Loraine O’Donnell.  

Loraine O’Donnell, executive director, Kavinoky, stands on set of To Kill a Mockingbird before it was torn-down.
Credit Credit Photo provided by Kavinoky, Brandon Moran

O'Donnell tells WBFO News they received a 'cease and desist' order claiming they don't have the rights to stage the play. The order came from a Broadway producer tied to Harper Lee's estate.

But O'Donnell says it has rights for staging the play from Dramatic Publishing Company from two years ago and this is a different version from the current Broadway production.

“When I heard about the Broadway production, again a whole different adaptation, written by Aaron Sorkin, I called the publishing company that we got the rights from and said, ‘I heard about the Broadway production. I just want to make sure we are still fine, that we still have the rights.’ They said ‘Yes, we actually have an arrangement with them. You’re all set. It’s a different adaptation. You're fine.’ Ours was written by Christopher Sergel and it has been around for about 30 years and theaters all around the country have been doing this,” O’Donnell explained.

NPR STORY: Community Theaters Kill 'Mockingbird' Productions After Lawsuit Threat

O'Donnell and her crew were forced to strike the set. They’re rebooting selling 3,000 advanced tickets just two weeks before they were to open. She says the theater has spent thousands of dollars on the production, which has a cast of 19 adults and six children.

“Our entire staff of artists and designers, on a dime, had to turn and start a completely different show and that’s what we will be doing because we really have no choice,” O’Donnell noted.

Kavinoky is now preparing to perform George Orwell's 1984. O'Donnell is hoping current patrons come forward to support their new show set to open March 15.