[article originally published in LMDA’s monthly newsletter New & Noteworthy Issue 2.8 May 2017.]
LMDA recently entered into an agreement with Attorney Nicholas Rohlfing, who represents a range of clients in the entertainment community, changing custom and practice for his clients. And now he’s working with us at LMDA.
Tell me a bit about you. How did you develop your interest in the rights of theater artists?
I came to New York at 24 as an actor, started a family in my 30s, and wanted to have more security than I could get as a working actor in New York. Nobody was knocking on my door to join their entertainment law firm in New York City after graduation, so I joined the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office as an Assistant DA. I was there for almost four years as a trial attorney and then started to build my entertainment law practice. In fact, I was doing it long before: part of the fun I had as a performer was negotiating my own contract.
What’s the nature of your practice?
My practice is focused in the entertainment industry, including dramaturgs, literary managers, directors, choreographers, and a wide array of other individuals and interests in the field. I have a client who is developing and shooting a documentary film and we’re creating a life story rights agreement with the subject. I have concert performers where contracts are new every time, and producers for whom I’ll seek to get option agreements. I develop new kinds of arrangements that haven’t existed before.
How and where did you connect to LMDA?
I met [LMDA President] Ken Cerniglia during development of Disney’s Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre in Virginia in which my wife [Heidi Blickenstaff] plays the mother role. Ken and I discussed issues that dramaturgs experience, including the lack of standard contracts. I have worked for associate directors and choreographers in the Broadway community, who are not under the jurisdiction of any union and have no collective bargaining agreement, creating contracts with the general managers of the Broadway League. It’s a similar exercise in trying to change customs and practices for literary managers and dramaturgs, who are so integral to the development of new work, but their status, their position, their compensation far undervalue what they contribute to development.
What is your arrangement with LMDA?
The arrangement is pretty general to start. My hope is that I can help create continuity between existing agreements, change the culture on the general management side of what these deals look like (and increase receptivity), and create continuity in representation for the people of your organization, which ultimately furthers the field. It’s a slow journey that can be taken in steps.
What are some of those steps?
When I saw LMDA’s sample contracts, I could see that an immediate powerful contribution I could make was formatting, aesthetics, creating continuity, and coming up with contract terms that general managers are used to. I’ll take the biggest contracts and flesh them out, while formatting them to fit what folks are used to seeing, and we’ll then work our way through the other agreements.
Interview by Martha Wade Steketee