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comradebunny
09-05-2008, 04:38 AM
I hold degrees in English and theatre. In the past I have written several plays (two have had productions) I have not had anything published yet. I give you this background to set the stage for a project I have been working on.

I currently live and teach on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. I am non-native, but due to my background I have been approached with a very prestegious task. I'v been asked to write a play about Sitting Bull. Over the past two years I have been researching this project and creating the story outline.

I am now gathering my scraps of ideas and dialogue and putting together my first draft. This is where I have encountered my dilema. In the play, I use as many of Sitting Bull's actual words as possible. I am working with a friend who is translating the English translation back into the Lakota spoken during Sitting Bull's time. Sitting Bull's son, Crow Foot, willact as the translator. It is very important to the Dakota/Lakota people to keep the language alive and I want to honor this in the play. This is not my problem.

One of the main characters, David Johnson, is completely fictional. His storyline never happened. He is a device I am using in order to tell Sitting Bull's story. My dilema is this. I would like to use quotes made by people who knew Sitting Bull. I want to use some of this as part of David's dialogue. Is this ethical? I know historical dramas often stretch the truth, but I am trying to stay as real as I can.

So, is putting someone else's true words in the mouth of my character wrong? Is there a right way to do it?

Thank you for your time. I appreciate any help.

P.S. I aplogize in advance for any typos, my head is fuzzy froma cold.

alleycat
09-05-2008, 04:57 AM
I would say that you could ethically use what was said by others in your play; but at the same time, since these are historical quotes in a way, you might be more comfortable paraphrasing what was said by others rather than using direct quotes. Of course, if these quotes are somewhat generic in nature ("Sitting Bull was saddened by the fate of his people.") then I would think it's okay to go ahead and use the same wording.

RainyDayNinja
09-05-2008, 05:00 AM
Well, unless it was said about him a long time after Sitting Bull died, the quotes would be in the public domain, so legally, you can do whatever you want with them. As far as ethically, perhaps you could put a note in the programs (or even in the narration, if it fits), saying something to the effect of: "The character of David Johnson is an amalgamation, and many of the things he says were spoken by real contemporaries of Sitting Bull."

comradebunny
09-05-2008, 05:55 AM
Well, unless it was said about him a long time after Sitting Bull died, the quotes would be in the public domain, so legally, you can do whatever you want with them. As far as ethically, perhaps you could put a note in the programs (or even in the narration, if it fits), saying something to the effect of: "The character of David Johnson is an amalgamation, and many of the things he says were spoken by real contemporaries of Sitting Bull."

I was thinking of that. I'm not sure the process I go through to make sure that this appears in every playbill for this production (assuming there is more than one). I like the idea. Many of the quotes I'm interesting in using are from non-native people who had become close to him.

As for Sitting Bull himself, I have a collection of every thing he was ever recorded as saying as well as his drawings. I had already planned to include something about using as much of his recorded words as possible. I will be interviewing descendents soon as well as other elders in the community.

I'm excited for the project and a little nervous. I am blessed with many friends who are helping me to not make some huge cultural mistake. The end result will hopefully be a yearly performance in Fort Yates, North Dakota. The idea is to use this as a way to bring in tourism to the area.

The play will include also traditional singing and dancing. I have others who are researching time appropriate songs.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Thanks for the feedback. It helps center me for the task ahead. I won't feel like I'm doing something wrong.

alleycat
09-05-2008, 06:02 AM
I too like RainyDay's suggestion, although I can't remember whether I've ever seen it done for a play. I've seen it used in books, of course.

If you decide to go that route, I wouldn't worry about it being in every playbill. One statement in the original script is enough to my way of thinking. That effectively put the world on notice that you are being completely honest in your use of historical records. Most play goers are not going to care anyway; no more than they would care about who owns the copyright to a certain play or the first time it was staged.

IceCreamEmpress
09-05-2008, 06:06 AM
You can put a note in the script to the effect that you would like the notice to appear whenever possible in playbills. I've seen similar things in scripts published by Dramatists and Samuel French.

comradebunny
09-05-2008, 06:15 AM
Thanks IceCreamEmpress, that is good to know. Although, I am writing this play for my community, I would like to see it published someday. I'm not sure if it will be possible though since it is so closely tied to the Dakota/Lakota culture.