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The Play's the Thing

Jackie McMillan —

The Royalty Plays are a collection of over two thousand acting editions, or play scripts, given to the library by Dunedin lawyer and city councillor Maurice Joel (1911-1986).

The little-known collection of play scripts called the Royalty Plays Collection resides in a non-public stack, but each play is on the library catalogue and they may be borrowed, just like other books. Ask at the information desk on floor one of the City Library to borrow from the collection. (The format of these scripts makes them a little less robust than a bound book which is why they are not found on the public shelves.) 

Royalty Plays — Image by: Dunedin Public Libraries | Kā Kete Wānaka o Ōtepoti

You can find the Royalty Plays Collection by typing DP_Plays  into a general search in the library catalogue. We have also added a tile to the library website under Collections which will take you directly to the complete Royalty Plays Collection.

There are some gems in the collection, including plays by Agatha Christie, as well as adaptations of some of her novels. (An adaptation, And Then There Were None, is due to be performed at The Globe in London Street in 2021.) Other treasures in the Royalty Plays Collection are plays by writers usually known for their novels, like R. F. Delderfield.

We are working to improve the catalogue records of the Royalty Plays Collection to include subject matter and other details that will help you choose a play to read. You can also find more information about these royalty plays by searching on these websites: Concord Theatricals, the New Zealand Play Bureau Ltd, Doollee.com, and on Wikipedia.

Maurice Joel and his gift to Dunedin

These play scripts were once owned by local city councillor Maurice Joel (1911-1986). Joel was a lawyer who had an abiding interest in the Arts, particularly in theatre. Joel's legal firm Aspinall and Joel (which later merged into Gallaway Cook Allen) became the New Zealand representatives for play script publishers Samuel French and other international publishers of plays in the English language. The collection is made up of 'specimen' scripts that were sent to Joel by these publishers during the three decades or more that he acted as their New Zealand sales rep. Joel's job was not only selling play scripts, but his legal skills were employed to arrange New Zealand performance licences for these plays.

The play scripts Joel donated to Dunedin Public Libraries are predominantly twentieth-century plays first performed in England, although there are many American scripts in the collection too. Also among the scripts are English translations of some European plays. Most scripts list the names of the first performers, along with the date of the first performance. It is likely that many of these plays are yet to be performed in New Zealand.

What is a Royalty Play?

The 'Royalty' in Royalty Play has nothing to do with the Royal family, nor does it refer to plays that feature kings and queens. In the case of the library's collection of play scripts, royalty refers to the performance royalty, laid out in a licensing agreement, which is a payment required to perform a play. The royalty payment is made to the copyright owner: the playwright, or the estate of the playwright via an agent. (Some of these plays may be out of copyright, but it depends on the date of the writer's death.)

These days the New Zealand Play Bureau Ltd acts as New Zealand agent for Samuel French publishers. They license plays and a few musicals on behalf of a number of overseas publishing houses. Contact the Play Bureau if you are looking for a contemporary English language play from overseas, or if you are checking on licensing rights for performance.

Reading Play Scripts

Reading a play script is a very different kind of reading experience. Understandably, the text of a play is mostly dialogue, with some acting direction, and little descriptive language. Those who act and perform read scripts to learn their lines, but it can be a fun and rewarding reading experience for anyone. Reading plays together was a popular pastime prior to the days of television, when radio plays ruled the airwaves. These days play-reading can help with your digital detox, for like tabletop role playing games (RPGs), reading a play offers alternative creative entertainment away from a screen. Also, reading a play aloud, alone or in a group, helps to build your confidence with language and public speaking. So why not gather a few friends together, or contact one of the many theatre groups in the city, and give play reading a go? (In some cases the collection has more than one copy available, so you won't need to share.)

Dunedin's Globe Theatre is hosting a Rehearsed Reading. Dunedin author and playwright, Keith Scott has adapted D. H. Lawrence's novella The Fox as a new stage play. He says "this is a unique opportunity to experience the impelling power of D. H. Lawrence beyond the page." You can watch the Rehearsed Reading directed by Scott, at 2pm on Sunday, October 17, 2021. Tickets $10 through iTicket from 1 October. (If you wish to book before hand contact Keith Scott at keithdougscott@gmail.com or phone 03 425 0540)

Performing Plays

Please note: anyone can borrow the Royalty Plays, but performing, even to one person, requires a licence. If you wish to perform the plays, please contact the New Zealand Play Bureau Ltd