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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
I'll get to all the furor over wage earnings going due to the on-going on-line debate between Todd Collins and Mike Daisey in another post. However, standing back, I'm looking at both their points. Daisey contends that actors, designers, directors are suffering deteriorating wages. Collins contends that theater staff and administrators are seeing their wages deteriorating.
So, it seems we're all in the shit. And we can blame the economy, but I can tell you from experience money in Theater has been going backwards since 2000 (a year prior to 9/11).
So, why are we finger pointing at the family making theater happen? Shouldn't we be (for lack of a better term) be pointing the finger at our audience? Or to be even more specific, educating our audience about the need for theater in this country? I don't think that patrons are simply turning away, dying off, or giving us the finger for no good reason. I just think they don't know how great theater is, and to be honest... We're not giving them much of a reason to learn.
Seriously, we're barely ever discussed in the greater National Discussion. Our critics (our only voice in traditional print media) are being fired right and left from major news papers. Houses are closing right and left, and what are we doing around the country to compensate. We're playing it safe. That's what. We're so scared that everything will collapse, we're not even putting out the art that gets the audience excited about theater.
And what's even worse, we're making safe choices and trying to convince ourselves that they're risks. For example, Sorry, to bash any of you who are putting August Wilson on your seasons, but putting August Wilson on you season and calling that your 'big risk'. Are you fucking kidding me? August Wilson is one of the most well regarded play wrights in the history of American Theater. That's like putting Tennessee Williams or Neil Simon on your season of shows and saying, "That's a big risk." *sarcastically* Oh, we might have a cast of all African American actors on our stage and talk about racism. Look at the Risk we're taking this season." Please, what is this 1952?
We're not making theater that truly lights up the National Perspective and drives people back to the theater in a passionate way! What was the last show that did that? RENT? Way back in the 90's? (and before you bring up Spring Awakening, please, consider, that the only people who know about that show are theater nerds. The public at large has no idea what that show is or even about.)
We're trucking out the same old product across the board and expecting the audience to get excited about seeing Damn Yankees for the 300th time. We've got to take bigger risks with our theater. We need to really create (for lack of a better term) controversy with the Art on the stage.
Theater managers are so worried about putting off their audience in this 'turbulent economy' that they are playing it safe, and guess what? The audience is bored. And before someone like Todd responds to me saying, "But but but... we have to save the theater and keep the doors open or no one will have a job!"
That viewpoint is like the captain of a ship telling his crew to repair sails, when the bow of the ship is already submerged in the water.
We need big important, social commenting, wildly entertaining shows right now. This is why we're all seeing the money and the audience disappear. To be honest, right now, theater is fairly boring.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
World's Largest Cheeto and the Optimus Maximus from Gizmodo on Vimeo.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Now, a guy in Florida who runs an Equity Theater has decided it's his turn to throw a great big rock @ Daisey. Todd Olson is The Producing Artistic Director for a Theater in Florida called the American Stage Theater Company. I always cringe when I see some poor soul with the title Producing Artistic Director. Producing Director and Artistic Director are two separate jobs. So, when I see some person with the 'merged title', I immediately think to myself, they are either some poor schelp who has to do both jobs, because there isn't the budget to pay two people, OR they are in all regards a control freak. But I digress, Mr. Olson basically challenges Daisey to 'balance his budget' and do exactly what he claims should be done in his piece. Pay Actors a fair an equitable wage, while also getting the audience in the door. He 'challenges' Daisey to take up his offer, and if Daisey can do it, he will produce Mike's next show. And if he cannot, then Daisey has to stop railing against the state of regional American Theater. Theirback and forth can be read on MikeDaisey.com.
So, we may be in for another round of discussion about this topic. I, for one, am anxious to see if anyone has changed their model based on what Daisey started a year ago. I hope a new conversation pops up on the radar. Travis Bedard jumps in with his thoughts on this re-examination of the inferno known as "How Theater Failed America." It's a good read go check it out.
My issue in this exchange is the odd train of thought that Todd Collins seems to be riding. You see in my world, the theater is the Actors Medium. It's a place for actors, built by actors and the theater staff should be there to support them. However, in this country the actors are often times the last folks considered when it's time to hand out paychecks. I often hear theater managers talk about how they need all this staff to run a theater, and that of course drives up the budget. If you follow their logic, you need a full time staff person to, run the box office, market the shows, develop business relationships, manage and maintain the technical equipment, manage the facilities, and of course an office manager. So, if you look at that, and you say pay everyone 40K a year, that's a budget of 240K a year for the admin staff. That's a lot of dough. However, Producing Artistic Directors often claim they 'need this'. And without the staff the theater would crumble into oblivion. However, instead of employing multi talented artists to full fill these jobs, they often employe folks without any formal theater training. I remember working at a very well known regional theater, and one day at a company meeting the new 'development' person walked in the room. She had just been hired to drum up some funding for the company. She told us, she'd never really been into theater or studied it, but she knew how to glad hand business owners. She lasted all of a year I think before she ran screaming to another job.
Collins seems more quick to defend the need for his marketing staff and development staff, than to admit to the great white elephant no Producer of theater in this country really wants to admit. These days in theater, you pay everyone but the actors. This is the case in L.A., where I have often heard people say, "We got to pay the stage manager! But when it boils back to paying the actors, everyone will say, "Eh, they get to perform, that's payment in and of itself."
I think this concept of pay the actor last is what really fuels the angst in Daisey's piece. It's also the self indicting message that pisses folks like Todd Collis off, because ole Todd thinks he's doing the right thing. He is keeping the theater up and running. Hence the conflict, Daisey feels the actor is the whole reason the theater exists, and to be honest, he's right. Todd, sees the actor as a whiney baby who will never be satisfied with what they get. Todd has to have his staff so that the actor has a place to perform.
It's an interesting discussion, and I for one hope that Mike takes HTFA out every year so that every year theater producers both large and small get a good ole kick in the nutsackeroo, and have to look themselves in the mirror and think, "Hmmm without actors I have no product. If that's the case, why do I treat them like shit, and I lick the buttocks of my marketing guy, who got us 100 more subscribers this year." It's the theater equivolent of which came first? The chicken (the actor) or the egg (the theater staff).
What Daisey isn't pointing out here, and I think I'll be the one to talk about the Actors White Elephant... there are WAY TOO MANY ACTORS! With the market of 'product' available to producers (i.e. the actors) glutted the producers can continue to pay low wages or no wages to actors, who are willing to take them because it's all that they can get. I'm not calling for a UNION, because, Lord, knows we have several and they all suck. What I am calling for is a thinning of our acting herd. There needs to be less of us out there, because if we continue to offer up a smorgasborg of talent, there will never be enough pieces of pie to go around.
Oh, and this great deal SAG worked so hard to get? Looks almost exactly like the one on the table in January. Shocker!
So, I expected to go onto sites today and hear all kinds of Membership First Vitriol about the new deal, and blah blah blah. I am sure five 'hardliners' for membership first are 'protesting' their little hearts out somewhere in Hollywood today, wearing their 'I Heart Alan' t-shirts. I swear, I think the membership first people are more in love with creating drama and doing 'Uniony Stuff' like picketing than they are in love with making money and getting a shot to audition in more than 2 Feature Films this year. Back to the original point of the paragraph, I expected a lot of HATE today, and the reason there isn't a lot of hate, is because the ding bats in the 'moderate' group decided to let the Membership First yahoos deliver a 'CON Statement' to coincide with their 'PRO Statement' in favor of the contract.
However, some folks feel that despite a fight that still needs to be waged by the membership over the vote, the fatigue of this long... whatever the hell it was... (negotiation?) will result in a very narrow ratification.
The losses in revenue to SAG members personally is well documented. What isn't is the millions of dollars Alan Rosenberg and Doug Allen squandered in trying to control the message about the negotiations and de-rail the current negotiation task force's efforts to get a quick resolve done.
The damage to SAG financially and in spirt, is so vast, I doubt that SAG can ever recover from this botched contract negotiation. Hopefully this will all run it's course now, and end. Then we can all get back to work doing what we love.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Here is a quote from Variety's article, quoting a letter Big Dumb Al wrote in the official SAG magazine, "I truly believe we would have had a deal last summer if this faction had not undermined our efforts and de-leveraged us against our real opponent: management." The faction he is talking about is the Unite For Strength folks, and their 'efforts to de-leverage' are a reference to the anit-strike vote campaign they launched as well as the aggressive efforts that lead to Alan Rosenberg's own faction, Membership First, losing seats on the National Board.
Alan fails to realize that when going 'into battle' with the AMPTP over the new contract SAG had no leverage to begin with. Hollywood had endured a 100+ day WGAstrike that poked a lot of holes in the wallets of many actors in the guild. Those actors didn't want to strike, and everyone on the planet (except Big Al, and his partner Dumb Dumb Doug Allen) knew it. There was no way that strike vote would have ever passed. Guess who also knew it? AMPTP. So, they were quite comfortable to sit on their hands, do nothing and wait for SAG to rip itself apart internally, which, shocker of all shockers, has happened. NOTE TO ALAN: If you believe you have a strike vote in hand, you don't let your contract expire and tell the members to keep working. You strike when it expires, Dumb Ass! When you didn't do that, everyone with half a brain knew that strike would never come. So, you can blame UFS as much as you want, but the members (outside of Membership First) are not stupid. So, don't try to re-write history. Don't try to Crown yourself Emporer and walk down the street naked, thinking no one will notice.
He also shoots below the belt when calling out those who are sitting on the Board today, "A slim majority of members, most of whom have not worked much as professional actors, and do not live in Los Angeles, hold a slight majority and call the shots for those who are working and who rely on SAG wages and residuals to support their families," Rosenberg said. Wow, now he's calling out the careers of the people sitting on the board. Nice. (Full disclosure: Rosenberg has consistently worked throughout his career in television and film).
Rosenberg has now let his ego soar so high, he's rallied his 'troops' at Membership First, who blindly follow him as some Messianic Prophet to their own wage earning deaths, to vote no on any ratification of ANY DEAL proposed by the current leadership, no matter the details of the contract. The shear stupidity, stubborness, and ridiculousness of this type of maneuver rates so high an the retard scale, one would wonder if the Memebership First hardliners are simply a mass of mouth breathers, who need assistance each morning to tie their shoes.
Notice that Rosenberg has never ever discussed the amount of wages lost during this contract stalemate. Notice he hasn't said anything that for actor living in Los Angeles, it must be tough to make any money when all the productions are leaving town due to this freaking stalemate, and that in the fiscal 2009 year, only 2 feature films have been shot by studios. Notice he isn't talking about the millions of dollars of lost revenue that SAG members will never ever get back. Notice he isn't talking about the fact that more and more Primetime television shows are moving over to AFTRA contracts. He isn't talking about this, because it's on his watch. He will go down as the SAG President who completely bankrupted the Union, and he doesn't have the decency to admit that his term as SAG Prexy has been by all accounts a dismal failure.
What are Unions for? Are they not to protect the wage earning ability of the members in the best and worst of times? I site fellow entertainment Union IATSE as a somewhat fair comparison, as they are 'working class folks', whose only major wage earning difference is that below the line talent (grips, sound techs, set builders, etc.) are not eligible for residual income. IATSE has not been on strike nor have they blustered in the media about how terrible the AMPTP is, etc. etc. etc. They simply negotiate better rates for their members each and every term without having to make empty threats or striking.
So, if a successful Union keeps it's members earning more money at every contract even in hard economic times, what does that say about SAG and Alan Rosenberg? SAG is a Union who has operated on an expired contract for close to 9 months. A Union that has lost far more revenue than it could hope to gain by chasing the myth that there is tons of money 'on the internet'. It is a Union in financial trouble, and it is a Union about to lose it's premier status to it's sister Union AFTRA. This all happened while Alan Rosenberg was in the hot seat, while he was in charge. He can point the finges al he wants, but at some point doesn't the buck stop somewhere?
Monday, April 6, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Mike Daisey himself picked up on the chatter my response in a post here last week about the post show round table discussion I just had to attend, following Daisey's performance of "How Theater Failed America." He was kind enough to repost on his website.
I did forget to share with you all my favorite quote from the Round Table that was somewhat inspiring. One of the audience members (very passionate, man) said this about the state of theater in Los Angeles, "This is our Fucking Church, People. We better start telling people about it." So, true. So, true.
So, Come on, folks! TELL ME WHAT YOU'RE UP TO!
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Your Friendly neighborhood Art Blogger actually does more in his spare time than rant and rave about the state of acting and the like in this country. I'm a bit of a gamer,as I'm sure long time readers know. It's one of my hobbies. I recently started playing World of Warcraft or "WoW" to the initiated. And, yes, I can confirm you can actually play the game casually and have a great time. No, need to devote your life to it.
Recently, I was asked to participate in a bi-monthly podcast about WoW called, "The Starting Zone". I recorded episode 1 and it is available via iTunes, or you can check it out at the website, www.thestartingzone.wordpress.com.
You're probably saying... How does your gaming Lifestyle jive with your whole approach to the arts and the like... my answer is... it just does. I think the word Artist and Nerd pretty much go hand in hand.