Coppola amenable to give adaptation rights to “The Conversation” to little Pyewacket

INNOVATIVE PYEWACKET THEATRE TROUPE last year adapted Stephen King’s “Misery” for the stage, and had a huge hit that won several Joseph Jefferson Citations. This year, artistic director Kate Harris set her sights on adapting Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation.”

So she contacted the Big Man through American Zoetrope. Big Man had a little man respond that Coppola was “amenable” to an adaptation for $5,000 upfront plus 10% of the box office gross. Whoa! Pyewacket is one of those little Off-Loop troupes that operates on a five-figure annual budget. Coppola wanted a lotta’ clams. So they sent the Big Man the Pyewacket financial statement. He responded that he still was amenable for $100 upfront, plus 12% of the gross. Done!

Now, 12% is double the standard author’s royalty in theatre, which typically is 5%-6% of the box office gross. But Coppola and “The Conversation” have marquee value, so it’s a fair deal all around. Who knows? Maybe he’ll even come in to see it. Besides, at a typical Off-Loop storefront–say 99 seats at $20 a ticket–the weekly gross is under $8,000 even for an SRO show. Coppola won’t buy another vineyard on a max take of $960/week. That’s probably pocket change for him.

What’s really great is his willingness to entertain a proposal from a small company completely unknown to him, and to negotiate terms with which that little troupe can live. Pyewacket expects to open “The Conversation” in January.

TONY AWARD WINNING ACTRESS Elizabeth Franz and crusty character curmudgeon M. Emmet Walsh opened at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain Sept. 29 in a production of “Buried Child,” by writer-actor Sam Shepard. The play, about a son who returns to the Midwestern homestead farm where secrets are buried, requires two older actors of star quality, and both Shepard and Royal National director Matthew Warchus felt Franz and Walsh were perfect for Hallie and Dodge (the one-legged grandfather).

Not so British Actors Equity, which at first refused to issue them green cards to perform in London. Deal is, if two American actors play the West End, then two British actors are supposed to be approved for Broadway by Actors Equity Association. In practice, the Brits are far tougher about enforcement than stateside Equity, and a lot more Brits than Yanks have crossed the pond.

When Shepard heard The Word from British Equity, he told the Royal National “No Walsh, no Franz, no show.” Faced with the prospect of a cancelled production that would deny work to the English actors in the cast (everyone but Franz and Walsh), British Equity backed down. On with the show!

Walsh, who doesn’t have to act for money anymore and has, in fact, established a charitable foundation from his earnings, turned down a very lucrative offer in order to make his debut at the Royal National. The hit HBO series, “Deadwood,” wanted him for a recurring role, possibly as many as 10 episodes for which Walsh would have collected about $25,000 per. His weekly salary at the Royal National is about 5% of that (plus housing and perdiem). Walsh, who will be in “Buried Child” into January, preferred the dramatic challenge, the prestige of the Royal National Theatre (which Laurence Olivier used to run) and the opportunity to work with good friend Franz.

Walsh last was in Chicago to film “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Franz appeared at the Goodman Theatre in 1998 as Linda Loman opposite Brian Dennehy in “Death of a Salesman.” She won her Tony Award the following year when the Goodman production transferred to Broadway.

JONATHAN ABARBANEL is theatre contributor for Chicago Public Radio, theatre editor and critic for the weekly Windy City Times and Chicago correspondant for Back Stage, the national trade paper. Email,