Monday, April 20, 2009

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When Mike Daisey unleashed his monologue "How Theater Failed America" it pretty much set the theater world on fire. Many folks working in theater felt unjustly vilified or indicted by the piece. Many felt that finally someone was speaking out against imbalances and stupidity that had been running rampant through out the world of theater for years. The result of the impassioned points of view??? Lots of discussion, debates and yelling via the internet occurred. So, it was no surprise that some craziness was about to crop up after Daisey took HTFA out for a nation wide tour a few months back. You will recall we had a little heat in the theater blogosphere due to our comments on the Round Table Discussion held after Daisey's L.A. performance.

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.

34 comments:

dennis baker said...

Good thoughts. The one problem with the "too many actors" thought is that every actor that says that has a reason why they should be an actor and others should not.

Mick Montgomery said...

Dennis,

My argument is simple Math. The more actors there are for Producers to utilize, the less they can be paid. It's that simple.

My statement is not one of opinion, where I feel there are too many under-qualified actors spoiling the work pool for the qualified. There are too many qualified actors period.

It's hard for Daisey's argument against actors not getting paid enough to ring true, when the actors put themselves into a position to where the price point of their work can be reduced to pennies, because the competition for jobs is so high, good actors have to drop their pants just to get roles sometimes.

To quote a line from Daisey's Play, "They're paid in Cheese."

If you want further proof quiz and AD or PD producing sub 200 seat theater, and ask them who is paid more per show, the stage manager or the actors. You will be saddened by the answers you get. But why do SM's get paid and the actors don't? Because it's hard to find stage managers, and you have to entice them with money to sit in that booth and call the show.

dennis baker said...

I am agreement with you that their are too many actors.

I also agree that when actors begin to work for nothing or "cheese" than it is hard to argue for actors to get paid decent wages, because an AD can easily find an actor who will work for less.

Maybe a show needs to be written explaining to actors why it really hurts everyone when they work for "cheese".

Mick Montgomery said...

I will do a monologue in L.A. to actors thinking of coming to L.A... it will be called "Stay the F**K away from our jobs!"

Travis Bedard said...

Were I making your point I would nudge it away from "too many actors" to "too many actors sitting around waiting for people to need them."

This all stems from where I am in my own philosophies on producing... but if you're not working? Make some.

It's easier than at any point in history to make and distribute filmed work inexpensively, and while stage is more expensive it can ALSO be done inexpensively.

"But folks aren't going to make a living that way." Excellent point ghost arguer, but they're not making a living or a Name for themselves now. 50% is better than nothing.

Passivity is death, and martyr complexes are boring.

...and I'll say this for Todd Collins. He has huge brass balls, and good for him.

Mick Montgomery said...

I do commend Todd for attempting to stand in the wrath of Mike Daisey and his pen.

And I agree Travis. I myself took my art out of the hands of producers and started self producing theater and media projects (that I could participate in) about 5 years ago.

I took control of my career as an artist and as as business man. I agree there are many who do not do this. However, I am still not even talking to the 'sit on their hands and bitch' actors of world or even including them in my 'Too Many Actors' point. To me, the bitchy, whiney actor who isn't auditioning but wails about the state of acting is simply an annoying voice on the sidelines.

I contend that there are way too many talented, trained, refined, gifted and motivated actors trying to exist compete for these deteriorating wages. We can push out alternative earning strategies as an artist or simple alternative artistic fulfillment strategies, but the old Model of actors auditioning for roles (theater, TV, or Film) is still the prevalant means of finding work. And because 500 people in Hollywood audition for a single role, the Producer can pay them whatever they want (and now not even their Unions can protect them).

You or I or Mike Daisey, may have found our way to independent earning and art crafting, but too many folks are not going to and are not capable of the independent thought necessary to break the current wage earning problems for actors. Yet, there they sit in the same broken system contributing to the problem.

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Take note that some Bingo houses don't allow food but some do, so it basically depends on the venue. Policies vary among different venues. For instance, some bingo halls allow reservation of cards, while others don't allow it. Some allow people to leave the venue in the middle of the game, others forbid it. But there are general policies observed in all bingo houses, such as disqualification of tampered bingo cards. There is no way you can get away with a tampered card because the walkers are adept at identifying authentic cards from tampered ones. You could be banned from a bingo establishment if proven liable of tampering a card. Hence, you should play honestly.

Interestingly, some venues offer special bingo games for kids although some halls don't allow players to have companions while playing. Suppose you bring kids with you, don't let them run around the venue and bother other gamers. They should behave well whilst you play and the game proceeds. Play quietly and don't recite the numbers you desperately want to come off because you'll be much of a disturbance if you do. Decorous playing is expectant of all players, even those who play roulette at casinos. Also, having a valid identification is important because you don't know you might win and need to present credentials.

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