Harold Pinter Makes a Scene

Harold Pinter Makes a Scene

One of their earliest productions, Harold Pinter’s The Room, flouted all kinds of theatrical conventions—including getting permission from, and paying royalties to, the playwright. The Room was scheduled to open on October 31, 1962, just before its official New York debut at the much fancier Off-Broadway house, Cherry Lane Theatre. “Not knowing anything about theatre, we didn’t know you had to have rights or anything,” Ellen Stewart said. “You find a play, you just do it.” She quickly discovered this was not the case. The day before the opening, a finely dressed man approached Stewart in her theater and asked in a distinct British accent, “Where is this Mama woman?” It turned out to be the playwright himself, Harold Pinter, who was accompanied by his agent. Stewart calmly explained that she had no money but hoped that she could produce all his plays—at which point the agent started yelling at them, threatening to sue. Pinter’s agent declared that no one could produce his plays without her consent, but that only ruffled the playwright’s feathers. “Since when can Harold Pinter not put on his own work?” he said. “My dear lady, I hereby give you permission to do The Room as many times as you like.” Foster recalled, “The agent looked like she had just swallowed a horse.”

From Chapter 6 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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