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A Pennsylvania theater company began pressing the local group to change in December 2010.
Monday, September 30, 2013
A Roanoke theater company that specializes in unusual dramas has gone through an unusual drama in real life.
Gamut Theatre, a tiny nonprofit that has in recent years staged challenging plays such as Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo” and Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot, ” will soon be known as Off the Rails Theatre.
That’s because the Gamut Theatre Group in Harrisburg, Pa., demanded the Roanoke theater change its name. The Harrisburg Gamut asserted they had the name first and wanted to protect it — going so far as to trademark their name after the Roanoke theater didn’t immediately comply.
“It really is hard to give up our name and to feel forced into it for reasons that seem so silly,” wrote Miriam Frazier, co-founder and artistic director of Roanoke’s Gamut.
In an email, she outlined her unhappiness with the name change and the financial and emotional stresses it brings: “To get the matter reviewed legally and to pay the various filing fees associated with changing our name will end up equaling what we would spend on a production.”
“This has been going on for about four years,” said Clark Nicholson, artistic director of Harrisburg’s Gamut. “The idea of putting another theater company in a bad way is not anything that we ever wanted to do.”
Nicholson said he and his wife, Melissa, who’s the Harrisburg Gamut’s executive director, founded two separate theater companies, one for children’s plays and one for Shakespeare productions, in the 1990s. In 2000, they took the name Gamut for their umbrella corporation.
The Harrisburg Gamut has an annual budget of about $400,000 and employs six. Roanoke’s Gamut is all-volunteer, with an annual budget of at most $10,000.
“We are tiny but tenacious,” wrote producing director Kathy Guy.
Frazier, 48, and her friend Guy, 62, first worked together in the 1980s at The Acting Company of the Roanoke Valley. The Acting Company disbanded in 1992. Frazier and Guy, who both live in Roanoke, created Gamut in the early 2000s — the name stood for Gypsies and Misfits Unknown Theatre — and put on a couple of shows, then put it on hiatus. They resumed producing shows in late 2008.
When they put up an official website, Nicholson noticed them.
He concedes that so far, there’s no overlap in the two theaters’ audiences — his theater tours under the name Gamut, but hasn’t come to the Roanoke region, he said. The issue is web presence. The two companies “exist right next to each other on the Internet,” he said. A Google search on “Gamut Theatre” calls up a mix of entries on both theaters.
In December 2010, Nicholson sent a formal letter demanding a name change.
Frazier contends the existence of Roanoke’s Gamut did nothing to hurt the growth of the other company.
“Because the issue has always blatantly been Internet confusion rather than any true or concrete confusion, it was just hard to ever take it seriously,” she said.
Nicholson, however, said he became more concerned as the Roanoke company’s reputation for good work grew — and especially wondered what would happen if the Roanoke Gamut began to expand as his theater has. He also wanted to prevent other companies from using the name.
“If we didn’t lock down this name we might have other problems in the future,” he said.
The Roanoke company offered to remove all references to “Gamut” from their Internet presence, but that didn’t satisfy the Harrisburg group, which trademarked the word “Gamut” in April 2012. Roanoke’s Gamut has chosen not to mount a legal challenge.
“Our attention wants and needs to be on the production of theater and not on fighting lawsuits over a name,” Frazier wrote.
Gamut is producing one more play under its old name. “Baby with the Bathwater” is a dark comedy by Christopher Durang about family values and child-rearing. Performances take place Thursday through Oct. 12 at Community High School in Roanoke.
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