Performing Plays

If you are giving a public performance of a play – regardless of whether your audience is paying for tickets or not – you must purchase a performing rights licence from the publisher or copyright holder. This will prevent you from receiving a huge fine when the author discovers that you’re ‘selling’ their work for free!

Some copyright holders will allow their plays to be performed for a percentage of the box office income, but most opt for a fixed fee per performance. This can be costly but special rates are often available for schools and youth theatres, so do check carefully.

Never take the risk of staging a performance of a play or musical without getting the proper performing rights licence(s) organised in advance. Shows have been closed down mid-rehearsal and schools have been fined. It’s not worth the risk. Scripts usually contain details of how to obtain a licence to perform them but, if in doubt, contact the publishers or the copyright holder. Samuel French are one of the major publishers of play scripts and their website contains a lot of really useful information:

For future reference, many pre-twentieth century plays, i.e. Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, are out of copyright and can be performed freely. This needs checking, obviously, on a case by case basis but it’s worth remembering when you come to select your next production.

If a professional production of a show you want to stage is happening in your area, or close by, you may not be granted a licence to perform it at your youth theatre or school. Also new plays aren’t usually released for amateur performance until any professional runs and subsequent tours are finished. So it’s a really good idea to apply for any licences before you make any announcements or start rehearsals. If you don’t get a licence, don’t give a performance!

Performing Extracts

If you want to perform short extracts from a play you MUST check with the copyright holder or licensee that this is permitted. You may be able to perform extracts from some plays that are out of copyright without a licence but, again, you should check and clear this with any copyright holder, or licensee. Copyright holders can usually be found in the front pages of your script or book.

Performing Music

If you play any music as part of a public performance, you must get a music licence. The Performing Right Society for Music provides licences that cover the vast majority of commercial music originating from the UK and all over the world. There are some circumstances where you might not need to purchase a licence, or where you may need to get an additional licence from the relevant copyright holder(s), so it’s always best to check. The Performing Right Society for Music can be contacted through their website:


It’s really important to acknowledge the author of your play or musical on all forms of publicity – posters, programmes, tickets, websites, blogs, reviews, and so on. This forms part of your licensing agreement and makes your production look more professional.

Arts On The Move Plays

Arts On The Move offers performing rights licences that cover single classes, or groups, from schools, junior drama groups and youth theatres for up to five performances of one play. These performances can be given to non-paying or paying audiences of up to 200 people.

For all downloaded scripts, a separate licence must be purchased, but paperback scripts (limited titles now available) come complete with a free basic performing rights licence!

More information can be found on our Performing Licence page.

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