Navid Khonsari of Ink Stories has tweeted a letter to DelGaudio and Oz about the Sundance project. Khonsari claimed that the inspiration was also drawn from other examples of similar text art from social justice campaigns and other artists. “There was never a conscious effort to replicated what you had created as yours is a live performance while ours is a virtual reality experience, however, I do understand your concerns and for that I do apologize,” he wrote. He said the “I Am” cards would be modified for future performances. See the full letter here.
Here’s the thing. There aren’t that many totally original ideas under the sun. Most artists have borrowed concepts from each other. DelGaudio’s show certainly isn’t the first to use text, or even to use that specific “I Am” text. If Ink Studios had adapted the concept into an experience with a different end goal, or sparked a discussion about identity through a different set-up, there wouldn’t be a problem. But to take both the general and specific elements of somebody else’s work and plunk them into VR isn’t inspiration. It’s theft. In this particular case, it’s theft accompanied by a non-apology.
Performers often draw inspiration from each other’s acts and adapt each other’s ideas into wonderful new creations. And sometimes performers just rip off an entire concept, which is decidedly not wonderful.
Derek DelGaudio found himself in that situation after his In & Of Itself show was plagiarized at the Sundance Film Festival. In & Of Itself is a storytelling experience that deconstructs identity. The show begins with a wall full of cards printed with statements of self, such as “I am a mapmaker” or “I am a flautist.”DelGaudio wrote and performs the show, with other credits to Frank Oz as the director and Neil Patrick Harris as executive producer.
DelGaudio tweeted his feelings after seeing photos of something called “The Hero Experience” put on by Ink Stories at Sundance. The concept sure does look identical.
DelGaudio also confirmed that the creators of the copycat had attended a performance of In & Of Itself. His work is a very personal creation, as he'd previously shared in an interview with Stephen Colbert. Not only is Ink Stories' choice to steal the concept just uncool, but it also denied DelGaudio the opportunity to perform his original idea with that Sundance audience. It's a tangible business loss as well as a real jerk move.
Neither Sundance nor Ink Stories appear to have responded to the issue. Although considering they made Yoda this understandably angry, one would hope that an answer is forthcoming really darn fast: