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Executive Meddling / Theatre

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Even Shakespeare had a boss...

  • In a literal case of "Executive" meddling, Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor in response to Queen Elizabeth I's insistence that he feature the character John Falstaff in a comedy. Falstaff's previous appearances had been in histories set in the 14th and 15th centuries; The Merry Wives arbitrarily plucks him out of time and places him in the contemporary 17th century.
    • It's also believed that this is why Hamlet had to die in the end; law at the time stated that anyone who killed the king in a work of fiction could not survive, even if the king in question killed his predecessor to usurp the throne.
    • Executive Meddling interfering with Hamlet was parodied in a charity performance by Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie, playing Blackadder and Shakespeare, respectively. In a bit of a twist, the Executive Meddling actually improves the play.
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  • Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House created enormous controversy for its time with its story of a housewife who realizes her husband has no real respect for her and eventually works up the strength to leave him. For its production in Germany Ibsen was forced to write a new ending where the husband drags her to see her children, and she realizes she can't leave them. Reading it, one gets the idea Ibsen deliberately made it as last-minute and unbelievable as possible.
  • Stan Freberg ran into a crazy example of this when he tried to adapt his successful comedy album Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America to the stage. The legendary (and infamous in theatre circles, at least partly for providing several examples of this trope) producer David Merrick became interested after hearing just the first third of Volume One. However, first he told Freberg NOT to record Volume II for a while, so that it wouldn't compete with the Original Cast Recording. And then there were arguments over the size of the orchestra; Merrick said the orchestra should be bigger, and then changed his mind and said it was fine as Freberg had originally conceived it. Merrick continued to play mind games with Freberg for a while, culminating in meddling with the script. Infamously, he told Stan Freberg to "Take Lincoln out of the Civil War. He doesn't work!". He also told Freberg to move Barbra Frietzche (of the Civil War poem of the same name) from the Civil War to the Revolutionary War. This was more or less the last straw, and Freberg (under advice from his wife) abandoned the project while he still had his sanity and integrity intact. The adaptation was cancelled, Freberg then devoted his energies to advertising, and Volume II of The United States of America would not be completed and released until 35 years later.
    • As stated above, David Merrick was quite infamous for this. According to anecdote, he tried to cut "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife by going into the orchestra pit and tearing up the parts. "Meadowlark" became the show's best-known song after Merrick canceled what would have been the original Broadway production out of town.
  • The musical City of Angels is all about this trope. It involves the struggles of a crime novel writer named Stine, as he attempts to adapt one of his crime novels as a movie. Unfortunately, the film's producer Buddy Fiddler insists that he make all sorts of crazy changes to the script.
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  • The authorities made Giuseppe Verdi and his librettists completely rewrite Rigoletto and Un Ballo in Maschera, because the original version of the former was about an assassination attempt on King Francis I of France, while the latter was about the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden. A king's assassination was taboo subject matter for fear of copycats. Verdi and the librettists changed the setting of Rigoletto to Mantua and the king to a duke, and changed the king in Ballo to a fictional governor of colonial Massachusetts in Boston.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan were quick to shoot down demands that they rename their operetta Ruddigore something less offensive to Victorian ears.
  • Averted with extreme prejudice by most Fringe Festivals. Fringe Festivals are unjuried theatre festivals designed for maximum artistic freedom; as long as you have the legal rights to perform a play (either by way of securing said rights or writing the thing yourself) and your entry fee cheque doesn't bounce, they'll give you a venue and won't stop you from doing whatever you please onstage.
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  • An in-story example: in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, the theater managers refused to acquiesce to the Opera Ghost's demands that Christine Daae be cast as the Countess in Il Muto, instead casting Carlotta as the lead and Christine in a silent role. The Phantom was displeased. After humiliating Carlotta on stage, he later confronted the managers and demanded that they produce his new play, Don Juan Triumphant... in the executive's favor, Don Juan Triumphant kinda sucks.
    "And my managers must learn
    that their place is in an office, not the arts."
  • It is widely speculated that the ending of Molière's scandalous play Tartuffe may have been edited, as it involves a royal official coming out of nowhere to haul Tartuffe away for his crimes. Even if there were no actual edits, Molière may have felt he needed to write the ending in a way that painted the king (whom, you might recall, was Louis XIV) in a good light, especially because the point of the play was making fun of the then-influential faction called the dévots.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: An example In-Universe: At Act II Scene VII, the play notes indicate that Cyrano is tempted to accept a patronage from Cardenal Richelieu, but then De Guiche mentions the one thing Cyrano will not tolerate: someone touching his verses. It’s necessary to empathize that Richelieu is a playwright himself, he knows about art and he will be paying for everything, so his Executive Meddling could even be beneficial to Cyrano’s work.
    De Guiche: He is a critic skilled:
    He may correct a line or two, at most.
    Cyrano (whose face stiffens at once): Impossible! My blood congeals to think
    That other hand should change a comma's dot.
  • Subverted in Don't Blame Me, I'm Just the Playwright, a short play that features massive amounts of this trope In-Universe. The two playwrights are trying to make a serious play called Last Visit about a girl with two weeks to live. Executive Meddling turns it into a musical comedy, adding fart jokes, vampiresnote , and a psychotic, anorexic diva for the lead. The playwrights come perilously close to washing their hands of the whole thing ... then the finished play turns out to be a hit and they figure, what the hell.
  • Ayn Rand's preface to Night of January 16th complains about the producer who brought it to New York not only changing the play's title but hiring a ghostwriter to insert superfluous forensic experts and alter many of the original lines.
  • The P.D.Q. Bach half-act opera The Stoned Guest was intended to end with all four characters with speaking roles (The fifth character is a dog) killing each other. Then his sponsor told him that the ending was too depressing. So the ending was edited so that all four characters kill each other - and then they all spontaneously come back to life and sing about how they've somehow achieved a happy ending.
  • Pippin had many rewrites forced on the script by Bob Fosse. Schwartz and Hirson objected in particular to the abridgement of Pippin's final line, "Trapped, but happy..." to just "Trapped...", and the licensed version restored the two deleted words.
  • This is the reason the 2013 stage musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory incorporates one song, "Pure Imagination", from the 1971 movie adaptation of the source novel into an otherwise completely new score — Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures executives pushed for its placement. Given how well it goes over with audiences (it's The Eleven O'Clock Number in this version), it's arguably a case of Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • This is the reason Tanz Der Vampire is a big hit in Europe (and elsewhere) and an abysmal flop on Broadway. Extensive rewrites were undertaken to make the show more appealing to an American audience, and to obliterate any similarities to The Phantom of the Opera at the behest of Michael Crawford, who didn't want to play "the same guy with bigger teeth". It culminated in Jim Steinman being fired from his own show for objecting to the meddling, and contributed a huge part to vampire-themed musicals being seen as failures (specifically on Broadway).


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