Most plays and musicals are original works. However, occasionally a play or musical will be adapted from a novel, or, in some cases, from a nonfiction work. Recent examples of adaptations include the theatrical presentations of Ragtime, Bright Lights, Big City, and The Cider House Rules. Locally, some of author John Hassler's books have been made into plays, and the humor book How To Talk Minnesotan has served as the basis for a long-running musical comedy.

The process of creating a play or musical from a book may begin in one of two ways. In most cases, the playwright or other person or persons seeking to create the adaptation will contact the owner of the dramatic rights. However, in some cases, the contact may come from a theatre owner or producer, who will then enlist one or more writers to create the proposed adaptation.

Some of the issues which the parties to an adaptation deal should consider are listed below: 

Who owns the adaptation rights?

Initially, the author of a book will own the copyright in that book. However, certain rights under the copyright, including the right to prepare plays and musicals based on the book, may have been granted to the publisher in the publishing agreement. Accordingly, the first step for a person seeking to create an adaptation will be to determine who owns the adaptation rights.

How much time will the adaptor be given to write the adaptation and to arrange for its production?

The owner of the adaptation rights will usually want to limit the time in which the adaptation can be prepared. If the play or musical is not completed with that time, the rights will revert to the owner, and the owner will be free to look for another adaptor. Similarly, the rights owner will want to require that the adaptation be staged in some venue within a specified period after the adaptation is completed. If the play or musical is not presented within that time period, all rights will revert to the rights owner, and the owner will attempt to begin the process again with another playwright or producer.

Will the rights owner be able to control the creation or use of the adaptation?

The owner may want a right of approval over the script, and may want to approve or be consulted on the staging of the adaptation. The playwright will be reluctant to grant script approval rights, and will almost never give the rights owner control over the staging of the adaptation.

How will the rights owner be compensated?

The rights owner will usually receive an option payment in exchange for granting adaptation and production rights to the adaptor. The option payment will be nonrefundable, but it will be applied against any royalties that subsequently become payable if the play or musical is produced. In most cases, the rights owner's royalties will be a percentage of the net proceeds which the adaptor receives from the production or other use (film, merchandise, etc.) of the adaptation. If the play or musical was commissioned by a theatre owner or producer or is presented in a larger venue (e.g., Broadway or Off-Broadway), the owner's royalties may be based on the gross weekly box office receipts from the performance rather than the net proceeds paid to the adaptor.

How will the rights owner be credited?

The rights owner will usually want to be credited. A typical credit is in the form of "Based on the book " or some similar form. The credit should be included in all advertising materials and programs for all performances of the adaptation.