Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Rainy Sunday, or something

Did you know Gina Gershon has a CD? My friends gave it to me tonight. It's not what you would expect, well, it's not what you would expect if you were me. I was expecting rock. Instead it's ballads. Just in case you wanted to know.

Meanwhile, I was going to write my next 5 stories of the year. But it hits me that no one is going to read this tomorrow. So I've decided Wednesday, 2008, will be a final look at 2007. Instead today a clarification about one of the last five.

In response to my #2 point the last time, I received a few emails about the fact that in many ways theater is now at the forefront of culture. (There is a comment below that speaks of its popularity with young people, that's along these same lines.) That is true--Ugly Betty goes to Wicked. We're witnessing the return of the movie musical... My contention is that the majority of it is theater for the sake of amusement rather than art. That sounds very pretentious and those of you who know me know I'm not at all pretentious... (One of the big Broadway producers always refers to me as a "populist," which I'm not sure is a compliment, but, whatever.) What I mean is, it used to be an art form all on its own. People went to the theater to experience something truly special. They dressed up, they wouldn't dream of eating popcorn while a show was going on and talking was rare. Now a lot of people treat a Broadway show as a live movie. And while it's great that so many people are going and buying tickets--and I'm very happy attendance is up--theater is simply not as cherished as it used to be. Does that make sense? I mean, people go and they love it. Those people would probably miss it if it went away. People cried when it did go away this year! But less and less people care about it as its own individual art form. Many of you remember The Times' Friday theater column. In my very first year in this business, 2000, I knew non-theater people who read it because they wanted to know what was going on in the "world" of theater. By the time it went away, 4-5 years later (I can't remember now), I didn't know any non-theater people who read it. The drop-off in readership among theater people could be related to the websites, but the people I'm talking about didn't read the website news. They only read The Times column to begin with and then they simply stopped reading anything theater-related. You could blame that on the person who was doing the column, but a lot of it is that people stopped caring about what is going on in the theater "world." They choose individual shows to see, or they buy subscriptions to certain non-profits, but they care less about the art form of theater.

Attendance would be up on Broadway if all we had was stage versions of recycled movies. This is because it's a combination of people wanting to go to something special--it's expensive and thus a treat--but many not really wanting to see something special. That's why I don't think this is about attendance or the fact that people who have latched on to specific shows. It's a general statement about how few people truly care about the theater. I deal with these people everyday and, I'm telling you, the numbers are growing.

I hope all of you have a happy holiday. (I really want to say: "I've had a good life, I've hope all of you have good lives too." And for the 2 people who get that very obscure Broadway show reference, there, I've said it.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Isn't The Greatest Post Ever

Nine people have found this site by searching "The Black Suits." I find that odd, but I do support Joe Iconis so there we go. Meanwhile--it's time for the year in theater. Well, the first half of my list of my personal top stories. These don't have anything to do with anyone else. It's all about me. And they are in no particular order. I like the random.

1. The Strike
Yeah, whatever, we all know.

2. The Decreasing Import of the Theater
The theater is becoming less and less important as an art form. What do I mean? Ticket sales are up, you say? Wicked is selling out everywhere! We have huge hits! Well, yes, but most people go now because its like going to an amusement part except with no rides or activities. That didn't really make sense, but I think you all know what I mean. People eat popcorn. They text-message during shows. OK--I hear my friend Don now, "You think? Carajoy, no one has cared for years. And you're just realizing this now? NO ONE CARES!" And of course he is right--I've known for years. But this year it really hit home for me more than ever because of the increase in bad viewing habits and because of the strike. During the strike, I kept talking to average people who didn't even know it was still going on... and didn't care when told. New Yorkers in general just didn't care all that much. When the musicians had their strike, people seemed more fired up. This time the people most fired up were the families that weren't getting in to see Ariel swim.

3. The Frankenstein/Mermaid Mishap Overlap
Just as Broadway shows do not open the same day, big Broadway-bound musicals don't tend to open on the same day out of town. But Young Frankenstein and The Little Mermaid did. My friend at Disney thought this was great because the NYC vultures would all be camped out in Seattle and would leave them and the Rocky Mountains alone. Indeed, Young Frankenstein invited the New York press, while Disney wanted to have their tryout in peace, the old-school way. But sadly for Disney this didn't work out so well. While Campbell Robertson and Michael Riedel might have made the trip to Denver regardless, I highly doubt Variety chief theater critic David Rooney would have travelled from New York to there just to see Mermaid. But he was going to Seattle and just tacked one more stop onto his trip. His scathing review really hurt the public perception of my most highly-anticipated stage musical. I don't think I've ever gotten so many calls asking me if I read a given review. (I did read it, though I still refuse to internalize anything bad about this show and am counting the days until I see it.) So, producers, place your openings far apart. Meet. Decide these things. Help me help you.

4. No Grosses, No Problem
Young Frankenstein caused a big uproar by refusing to report their grosses. (Yes, I know a "big uproar" in our world means that 122 people were on it. Moving on.) For years I've heard people complain about having to report them, mostly because people like me use them as ammunition. But there are positives to it--people believe the numbers, so if you're a hit, it shows and being a hit builds future ticket sales. We all know you want to see what everyone else is seeing because you want to know why everyone else is seeing it. Duh. Also, it is a good way to see industry trends, which can be helpful to producers as well as writers. So there are those producers who believe in the reporting. But many other producers believe the bad outweighs the good--they do it begrudgingly for tradition-sake alone. They do it because they think they need to do it. Now a few are thinking they might not 100% have to do it. And I believe tradition doesn't suffice as a reason to do something you don't believe in. So I'm with them there. On the other hand, the only reason critics wait until opening night to put up reviews is because of tradition. When there were reduced-priced previews it made logical sense, but now it's just a tradition thing. Readers would rather critics went first performance. Producers wouldn't want that. Do they want an end to all tradition? Because they shouldn't be able to just pick and choose what they want to keep--all or nothing I say. (NOTE: I could do a YF ticket price post but I refuse to give them another entry.)

5. Jeffrey Richards
For those of you who don't know, producer Jeffrey Richards is also press agent Jeffrey Richards. So he's someone I've dealt with for quite a while. (Fun fact: A very long time ago, Ken Mandelbaum worked for Jeffrey in his press office!) But, as a producer, his first three Broadway shows were Gore Vidal's The Best Man, A Thousand Clowns and Enchanted April, which wasn't exactly a great string. However in recent years Richards has been on the rise. And currently he is a main producer on four Broadway shows. Really. Four. And two of them, Spring Awakening and August: Osage County, are hugely acclaimed. Plus, he is the subject of this month's Playbill feature. So it's been a pretty sweet 2007 for Mr. Richards. He has all of Broadway talking about his great taste. (The fact that he also produced things like Trailer Park is so forgotten.) Young producers talk about him like he is an idol. I'm not alone in thinking that his high level of success is a major 2007 story.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I want you all to expect that I am going to be a huge supporter of the Alli Mauzey Tony campaign. I don't know her personally but she is genius in Cry-Baby and I am going to go out on a limb and say, while I have not seen either A Catered Affair or South Pacific, she probably deserves a nomination more than anyone else. (Even if people in those shows are giving the best performances ever, she still should get in. I am going to be very depressed if a mediocre performance from a better known performer a mediocre performance in a better known role takes Alli Mauzey's nomination away.)

We live in a community where this was considered a "starry" cast by a legitimate internet journalist: Will Chase, Ashley Brown, Noah Galvin & Christiane Noll. Seriously. I mean, I'm a big Will Chase supporter, but.... yeah.

I finally read Time Out's big blogger feature. In it, Linda Stasi said that the word "musings" in a blog was the sign of bad writing. I was thinking of sending an email to Linda Stasi mentioning how writing things like "I wish I hated this cheeseball show as much as I used to. But damn, if it ain't a hoot and a half." isn't a sign of a genius writer, but I thought better of it.

I am going to add one name to Playbill's Dancing in the Dark (which the Weisslers are in theory bringing in) cast list: Patrick Page. I rarely report things like that, but I thought I might as well... If they are reporting scattered unconfirmed people, I can too.

I turned on the TV today and I saw Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal speaking and I thought, "What the hell movie were those two in together?" Then I heard him say: "Mathematicians are insane." Then of course I knew--but what was striking to me is how much that movie clearly made absolutely no impression on me. Oh, well.

My friend Billy, who is smarter than me, read the comment about the Morton/Dunagan split and came up with precedent for splitting a mother/daughter in such a way. In The Beauty Queen of Leenane both Anna Manahan and Marie Mullen could have been considered lead, but they were split. Both won, so it was a good strategy.

I wasn't sad at the Drowsy closing announcement (it had a nice run and this way I know Alli Mauzey will have a venue to show everyone her Tony-worthy performance) but I do feel sad that Cindy Williams closed it. So much for "we're gonna do it!"

Was anyone else excited about the Joan Rivers supporting cast? Yosefa Forma, Tara Joyce and Adam Kulbersh! Yeah, I have no idea either.

Poor Brad Oscar, replacing the unknown Jeffrey Kuhn who replaced the unknown Steve Rosen. Being the next Monster would even be better. Though he will get to work with Clay Aiken, which is I'm sure every Equity member's dream.

IBDB, my favorite Broadway database, has now started linking to for CD/DVD purchases of related titles. It feels a little less like an information source now and a little more like a not pretty sales forum.

I don't think I saw this in the stories I read about From Up Here--it's author, Liz Flahive, is best known for being a beauty editor at Lucky and Teen People. That doesn't say anything about the play, I just like those fun facts.

I am so happy Christian Borle is no longer doing Catch Me If You Can. I never understood why they thought he was right.

I was saddened a couple of weeks ago that The Times' head theater reporter wrote a story in the theater section about how busy impersonators are during the holiday season. I'm the first one to applaud tacky white suits and sequins, but this story was a bad sign. Clearly the legit theater has gotten too boring.

I'm not sure I think Jack O'Brien is the perfect choice for a Phantom sequel, but I suppose that is a much better idea than Joe Mantello doing 9 to 5.

I almost forgot--the big news of late was the League's name change to The Broadway League. That was huge. I'm sure it was huge news all throughout the country. Why report about baby Spears if you have stuff like this?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I'd like to thank... Woody Shelp for our wonderful hats...

Quick, who said it?! Who thanked Woody Shelp in his/her Tony speech?! He/she's a possible nominee this year... And who else is a possible nominee this year, you ask? Well, let's see. It's a little hard to tell right now, as there will I think be a lot of category juggling this year. But let's try and take a stab at it, shall we? Remember, people, it's not who deserves it, it's who Tony's fickle, sometimes slightly deranged finger will point to.


Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Charles Edwards, The 39 Steps
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Morgan Freeman, The Country Girl
Rufus Sewell, Rock 'n' Roll


Eve Best, The Homecoming
Laura Linney, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Frances McDormand, The Country Girl
S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton, August: Osage County


Daniel Evans, Sunday in the Park with George
Cheyenne Jackson, Xanadu
Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights
Paolo Szot, South Pacific
Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair


Kerry Butler, Xanadu
Patti LuPone, Gypsy
Kelli O’Hara, South Pacific
Faith Prince, A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park with George


Dylan Baker, November
Brian Cox, Rock 'n' Roll
Byron Jennings, Is He Dead?
James Earl Jones, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Jim Norton, The Seafarer


Sinead Cusack, Rock 'n' Roll
Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County
Martha Plimpton, Top Girls
Phylicia Rashad, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Rondi Reed, August: Osage County


Harvey Fierstein, A Catered Affair
Christopher Fitzgerald, Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines, Gypsy
Shuler Hensley, Young Frankenstein
Matthew Morrison, South Pacific


Laura Benanti, Gypsy
Leslie Kritzer, A Catered Affair
Andrea Martin, Young Frankenstein
Alli Mauzey, Cry Baby
Loretta Ables Sayre, South Pacific

We shall see what we shall see...

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Mid season Tony predictions!


August: Osage County LOCK
Rock ‘n’ Roll LOCK
The Seafarer

The Farnsworth Invention is dead in the water. Mauritius will be forgotten. The buzz on November went from zero to positive in the last week – Jesse Green in the Times claims that it’s hilarious on paper, and he actually has taste. There’s still the question of where Is He Dead? will end up. A case certainly could be made for Best Play eligibility, especially with all the press David Ives has been getting. I suppose The 39 Steps will have similar eligibility questions, so we’ll have to wait on that too. I have hopes that that Edward Albee play Me, Myself and I will be wonderful and transfer from the McCarter. If so, it will certainly be a contender. I also have hopes that something else will pop up Off-Broadway or beyond and sweep to Broadway. Something usually does. Dead Man’s Cellphone, anyone?


A Catered Affair
Cry Baby
In the Heights
Young Frankenstein

I think the first three are looking increasingly more likely, but they can’t yet be called locks. Talk of Jason Robert Brown’s 13 has diminished. It was never very loud to begin with, but should that change, it could contend. That fourth slot could go to Xanadu, though I worry Xanadu might have trouble hanging on through the winter and without the opportunity to go back and see it again, the nominators might forget its charms, which I think are considerable. Yet it didn’t even sell out during the strike. What was that about? As for Passing Strange, I smell disaster. The ghost at the Belasco claims another victim!!! As for the mermaid at the Lunt-Fontanne, I hope she’s good… The pictures have been looking more promising… We’ll see…


The Country Girl
The Homecoming
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Top Girls

might be coming-coming, and if so, it certainly could be nominated-nominated. I suppose Cymbeline or Cyrano or Come Back, Little Sheba could be remembered. Or not. As for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof… Its leads will certainly do better than Ashley Judd and Jason Patric five years ago, but the Debbie Allen of it all… Call me crazy, but I need to wait and see.


South Pacific
Sunday in the Park with George

Can I officially ask – no, beg – the Tony people to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, for the good of all things Tony, PLEASE allow this category’s slots to be reduced. If there are only four shows eligible, reduce the category to two nominees, three if necessary. But if only four musical revivals open and all four get nominated for Best Musical Revival, that’s not award-giving, people!!! That’s attendance-taking!!! And when one of those shows is this God-awful production of Grease, it’s criminal. Please? I’m begging. In the meantime, I refuse to put Grease as a nominee.

On Wednesday, acting predictions! Lots of category juggling to do there, but I’ll do my best.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bitch of Living

Someone emailed me that they used Givenik. Yay!

On another note, we were supposed to have a guest-blogger tonight but I am actually here. Why? Because something annoyed me so much this week I felt the need to address it.

I love gossip--as a child I actually wanted to be a gossip columnist when I grew up. And at some point I was close... So I don't mean to attack gossiping, but at some point, individual rumors should be stopped. And with that in mind I really need to address one rumor that upsets me--Ken Mandelbaum did not leave that website I don't like to name because he got caught videotaping a show. This week I got 3 calls asking me about Ken because this week that rumor was AGAIN on the message boards. It is a renaissance of a rumor I was hoping had died. It is 100% not true. You can believe but you want, but I was there when he stopped working at said website. I know this rumor isn't true. It's not my place to say what happened (it's not my story to tell), but I can promise you the split did not have anything to do with videotaping a show. (Has anyone noticed the change in editorial content there?) I don't know how that rumor got started--it's not based in reality. Ken Mandelbaum is also not a total recluse. That is ridiculous!!!! I was talking to him last month at the Hilton Theatre. Who is saying these things? I mean, come on. I know some people don't know any better.... And I know that some people genuinely miss Ken and are concerned. I appreciate that. I'm not accusing you folks of anything. Hopefully you'll be happy to know that the rumors are not true! But to the people who do know better and are saying this crap or letting it be said, I ask you to remember that this is about a member of the theater community. This man really cares about the history of theater--that's very rare. I know a lot of times when I have a question I think "Ken Mandelbaum is so the only one who would know this..." (And I ask and sometimes he answers and sometimes he doesn't--just the same as when people email me, sometimes I know the answer and answer right away and sometimes I tell myself I'm going to think about it and then fail to respond by accident.) So whether you personally like him or not, you have to respect that. And these kinds of rumors don't show respect to him and his level of dedication.

Ok, that's it. Though another thing that annoys me--as long as I'm on a roll, is this ongoing Charles Isherwood drama. I mean it even inspired a magazine cover... And people are still talking to me about it. And I just don't get it. Honestly.... I'd like someone to explain. I mean, if it was just about that one story, I get that, but, of course it's not. It's more "he should be fired/he sucks." What makes him worse than any other critic? I would understand if he didn't support anything, but he does. I mean, not only does he support some obvious critical darlings, but, look at his Xanadu review. Is it that when he doesn't like something he's mean and some other critics are more wishy-washy (some people call this "understanding" but I'm more blunt)? Is it that these people just don't agree with his opinions? Because, overall, I rarely agree with him, but, then again, I rarely agree with any critic consistently. So I don't get why he is being attacked more than anyone. Is he anymore responsible for the fall of Rome than anyone else? I mean, I guess you could argue that that story triggered it all.... but... eh. I mean, again, our tastes aren't similar, and I'd like if every critic had my tastes (that way my shows would get more play), but that is never going to be the case...

Last thing that annoys me--"???? star ?????" when the person has hardly been in the show/was barely in the movie. For example, Playbill recently wrote ""Lost" and "One Tree Hill" star Blake Bashoff will make his Broadway debut later this month as the ill-fated Moritz in the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening..." I watch One Tree Hill (because of my love of absolute crap) and I don't remember ever seeing him on it. I looked it up, he was on it twice, but, my point is taken. (Note, I do remember him from Judging Amy, totally. There he had a big role.) I mean, as a writer, I'm sure I've done this sort of thing myself. But that doesn't make it cool.

Guest blog on Sunday/Wednesday! Huge! Wait for it! Lose sleep!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Time For Cheer

And the world goes on, as does the writer's strike. As much as the stagehands strike threatened the Broadway season, now we have this to deal with too. Actors' schedules are all screwed up, thus altering casting for spring/summer productions. So, in other words, we're losing people we should have had.

On the other hand, thinking ahead, the possible SAG actors strike, might give us people we wouldn't ordinarily get. For instance, in February (the time Speed-the-Plow is in London), Jessica Alba and every other leading lady in Hollywood will be rushing to finish all the movies they had on their schedule before shut-down threat time. But this summer they may be free. Alba said on Regis & Kelly that her involvement in the possible Speed-the-Plow Broadway revival was based on whether there was going to be in an actor's strike when a bunch of SAG deals expire June 30. (She also said "it was just talk" and she was "freaked out" and she didn't know if "audiences would want to see" her on Broadway. As for the last point, I personally think she'd generate attention at least. Clearly Jeffrey Richards thinks that too.) I am actually somewhat surprised we're getting SAG stars at all in the winter/spring. Like--shouldn't Terrence Howard be capitalizing on his recent success and fitting in some film just in case? (On an unrelated note--does anyone else think Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose are not really a hot combo when you picture them as Brick and Maggie?)

Anyway, I love the idea that a bunch of theater producers are sitting waiting for there to be a SAG actors strike. It's really genius. I have zero idea if there will be an actors strike--I suspect no one knows until after this WGA mess is settled, but, let's muse. (I should say that I personally don't think there will be a SAG strike, but, I'm often wrong.) The question remains--what can it mean for us? If the west coast is heading into the summer with a real threat of another strike, they'll be a rush to get things done and then there could be a scheduling hold. If there is no strike or if it's very short, the question remains how fast the actors will be needed back on that other coast. But, my feeling is, if there is a strong possibility of a strike, you'll suddenly hear a lot about July/August productions of plays with Hollywood stars. I say plays even though I wish this meant we'd see like James Marsden in a new musical... I say plays because plays are easier to put up quickly/cancel without much loss. Of course, another issue becomes the theatre situation. Will we have the houses to fit in a bunch of random limited runs? Only a couple? If we don't have the houses or the strike duration is super uncertain, will we see these people as star replacements? Certainly, the people at Hairspray and Chicago are so keeping track of this. When is Debra Monk leaving Curtains? Maybe some Hollywood person could go in that!

I know a lot of you out there think we shouldn't be waiting on Hollywood folk, but, these people often bring in business. That's the end result. Some are good and some are not. Some sell and some do not. Though even the lowest rent film star would sell more than a Broadway look-alike. But it's all sort of a crap shoot, a sad one at that. And, actually, I find a lot of it ridiculous, but, that's the business we're left with. If only the people who read this blog could sustain the theater industry I assume we'd have a different industry. (If I alone could sustain the theater industry, I would encourage every producer to cast Anne Heche. For real. But apparently others of you have an Anne Heche limit, so like after the first production with her they'd be good for a year or so.)

Anyway, I have other work to do. Work does not stop during blog night. Alas. And even if I could ramble on--would you care? Also--unrelated--does anyone care that the Givenik site that Jujamcyn is acting like just went up was up at least since May (which was the first time I saw it, though it may have been up a while before)? I guess not. A good cause is a good cause, whenever they get around to promoting it. I myself created an account, though I was a little sad to see the big sold-out shows only were offering groups through the site. So like I'd normally tell you all to get Little Mermaid tickets that way--you could support Ariel and a charity of your choosing (though I sort of don't get why my high school is on the list of possibilities) with the same purchase--but, alas, you can't. But buy your A Catered Affair tickets through it. Might as well. Support.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Killer Strike?

Well, good morning Baltimore. Or whatever. (Did I post here before that, during the strike, I found the giant "You Can't Stop the Beat" billboard hysterical?)

Since I last wrote you, we got the grosses for last week. So, what we saw was the big shows were big, despite the strike. If they were effected by some group cancellations, they clearly made it up in single ticket sales. Shows that you would expect to be middling--or worse--were, well, worse. Notably the Xanadu average ticket price went down a good amount from where it was during the last two strike weeks. (Though it's still at $80.58, which is substantial and way better than any experts predicted it would be six months ago.) Really, I found the grosses sort of uneventful. Which I guess is good? Well, not good for the blog, but good for theater. Of course we still have to deal with January and February. On that note--did anyone read all the way down in Campbell Robertson's Friday post-strike analysis piece, because it ended with Kevin McCollum saying: "The months of January and February historically have been more devastating than any strike." Umm... So my take on that immediately was "Hey, it's good to see this many shows back on the boards, but don't get used to them." Great? Though of course we all know the harsh winter is particularly hard on tiny people, like me (though I love the cold, I may blow away one day), and Broadway. So it's not like he was delivering shocking bad news.

And with that in mind--let's talk about Broadway's straight plays, particularly August: Osage County. We're in a little bit of a crunch, more shows are opening now than should be. This means that each show gets to soak in the sun a little less. Does it matter? August: Osage County (which has a title my friend Kevin Manganaro described last year as "the best thing ever") got across-the-board amazing reviews. The best play Broadway has seen in years! Rush to the theater! Buy full price tickets! Of course that's exciting. Really. Genuinely, as a theater person, you so wait for that.

But August: Osage County was the third Broadway show to open in as many days and tomorrow another show opens. This can't be good for August. And here we're talking about a straight play with a random title and an unknown cast, so, it needs help. And this backlog is not helping it. But how much is it hurting it? That's harder to say.

You know, outside of the community (containing people who would be going to see the play anyway), it's not like plays are buzzed about for days. They get their big reviews in the paper, people read them and then the next day they read something else. They've made up their minds if they are going to buy tickets already and that is that. So if you look at it that way, the effect isn't horrible. That being said, there is another argument. If Play X opens on a Sunday, gets rave reviews and then nothing opens for a week, if someone thinks to themselves on Wednesday, "I want to buy tickets to a play," they're probably going to go buy Play X. Now if Play X opens on Sunday, gets rave reviews then Play Y opens on Tuesday and gets just somewhat good reviews (though not nearly the raves X got), Play X might lose some of those Wednesday ticket buyers to Play Y. The question is: How many of those Wednesday ticket buyers exist and how many of those that exist is Play X losing? And there is sort of no way of answering that. My instinct is that isn't not that huge a problem. I talk to a lot of average theatergoers and, at least the people to, make a decision the day they realize Play X is the play to see. Now Play Y could alter that decision, but I don't think we're talking about a devastating result there.

But, the thing is we can't look at recent precedent really. Typically we do have a little crunch now and a big spring crunch. But that crunch doesn't usually involve 5 straight plays. And, additionally, during that crunch we don't typically have an unknown--to the general public--play that critics tell you to drop everything and go see. (If we do, it's a spring opener and spring is a different time audience-wise as it heads into summer, considerably better than heading into winter in terms of box office.) So we can't really look at 2006 and say, "Well, when this happened then...." It's all speculation. And there is never going to be anyway to tell because, well, it's not like we have one August: Osage County opening in its own week and another one opening this week. There is no control group. Sadly. But we will see what the grosses look like in the coming weeks and maybe that will tell us a little something.

Of course, I hope they are sky high. And if they're not, we're going to be hearing that critics don't matter anymore. But, eh, I'll never buy that. They matter less than they did years ago, but they matter. The question I frequently hear discussed is whether they matter in terms of full reviews or they just matter for ad pull quotes--in other words, whether the average consumer is reading Isherwood's review or they are just buying based on the pull quote in the ad. That's another issue that factors in to this whole date analysis, but I'm ignoring it because I think it's related. (Can you get your full page ad out when you're the only big ad? If you have 5 big ads you know someone is going to find quotes for each one.... which therefore minimizes the importance of the quotes in each...)

Anyway, something to muse on. Let me know what you guys think. Support August: Osage County and straight plays in general. (My friend, genius aspiring playwright Billy Finnegan, is so going to love this post because of that last line.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Part of My World

Well, Broadway was back. Yet I went to see Enchanted because I was supposed to see it weeks ago and felt I needed to. Enchanted, which I loved (I'm a big sap, if you didn't know), supported my belief that theater snobbery is often bad. I'm a snob and yet I say that. Why? Well, Amy Adams was up for the leads in at least two Broadway musicals (which shall remain nameless here because I value my life) and she was turned down in favor of theater vets who, well, ended up not being right for their part. Now, I'm not saying Amy Adams necessarily would have been the best musical theater lead ever, but, she's so clearly amazingly charming. (I knew this before seeing Enchanted, but Enchanted reinforced it.) Now you can say, "Hey, that is screen charm, which is different." But, well, I called a person involved with one of the decisions (I can sometimes do that sort of thing, even though I shouldn't) who said to me: "She was great, so lovely, but I wasn't confident she could sing 8 performances a week." That is a real fear, but, well, it also smacks of theater snobbery. And I hate that sort of theater snobbery.

But, that being said, I was so excited to see people heading to the theater. I didn't head myself, but I was excited to see the lines. Of course I also got calls that not many people were heading to the theater. This is to be expected, even though it is December. I mean--despite all the news attention to the end of the strike, word takes a while to trickle down. So of course the crowds weren't big at Les Miz on Thursday. Duh. And a lot of group cancellations simply won't be made up. Alas. That's the way it goes.

Yesterday The Daily News came out with a story that seemed to be written to blame the strike for coming increases in ticket costs. Then it said the pending rise wasn't because of the strike. Then it said it was. Ummm... Hmmm... OK. Well, I guess it's good to present arguments on both sides. I want to say, that, as far as I'm concerned, the price hikes will not really be a direct result of the settlement. They will partially be because, simply, the price of doing business always goes up in general (this being just a very little bit of that overall picture), but, also, because you charge what you can get away with charging. That's our market economy. That's the American way.

I'd talk about the Busker Alley announcement, but, well, that would be giving it too much credence. Speaking of giving things too much credence--during the strike an article I loved came out and I didn't talk about it because the damn strike was more important. But, now... Playbill's Ken Jones wrote a story about a possible London production of Grey Gardens, in honor of the fact that some of the team, and Ms. Ebersole, headed to London to talk to producers and theater owners. The story started: "A London production and a national tour were mentioned as possibilities for Grey Gardens when the musical was still running in Broadway in spring 2007, but those prospects now look to be vague." Umm.... were the prospects ever less vague? And, if they were, "mentioned as possibilities" isn't the right wording to get that across.

Anyway, off-Broadway League spokepserson David Gersten (who i love), had been sending out "Off-Broadway is still open" releases every week during the strike. I hope he continues to send them. After all, off-Broadway will need more publicity now.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day 19: The Final Frontier

The Little Mermaid will "swim" again!!!!! I genuinely am so excited.

I have to say--I had heard hardly anything from the room all day. And I got worried. Then I left messages for some people not in the room who know stuff and no one got back to me. And I got confused. And then I decided I didn't like people. THEN, before I headed into the St. James for tonight's performance of The Grinch, I heard almost everything was settled other than some drama over what the retroactive pay rate would be. So I thought, "I know they'll announce the settlement during the 4th reprise of 'Who Likes Christmas'." But, they waited until well after all the Whoville had shut down for the night. But, that moment finally came.

If there was no settlement tonight, I was going to offer my mother's theories about what the compromise should be. (They somehow involved confusingly involved maintaining the status quo for current members but creating new rules for new stagehands, which doesn't make any logical sense, which she eventually admitted, but she really sold the idea, and over half the time that is what matters.) But all the talk of what could be done seems irrelevant now--what is done is done. And that's why I'm not going to talk figures or anything because 1) it would be based on random rumors and 2) that's the job of Campbell Robertson or Gordon Cox.

I will say how fascinating this strike has been to me. First of all, it shows you how few press people actually cover Broadway. You had like 5 reporters who knew what they were talking about and then reporters asking Local One members questions like, "What do you do, just raise and lower the curtain?" (I heard that. Seriously.)

Then, and here was my favorite part, depending on who a person's sources were, they had completely different outlooks, especially this week. On Sunday night, when I wrote the blog, random people kept calling and telling me "settlement," but when I spoke to people in-the-know the picture was less rosy (obviously with good cause). On Monday, when I spoke to more people actually involved, everyone on the producer's side was like "we're so getting it done tonight." That's why you had a story in Tuesday's New York Post being like "Mamma mia! - the shows may go on tomorrow." That was sourced primarily by producers, I'm 99% sure. Now, for me, Monday, I heard from producers that they were close but then I also spoke to union guys who were like "umm, no way." I'm sure that is why The Times stories were all more cautious. Of course, you always get different stories depending on who you speak to. That's obvious. But this was one time when actual written reports were so flat-out different. If you read the writers strike reports, it's not as like that (in my opinion, at least).

So this brings to an end our weeks of tumult. (Well, assuming union approval in 10 days.) Let us all chill out. And so I am cutting this short to catch up on TV. I figure it doesn't matter because not so many people are going to read this blog on the day after the strike because they are going to have so many fact-based strike stories to read. As it should be. Feel free to email me at with questions or if you have anything you want me to touch on Sunday.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a moment from my night. At The Grinch the ENTIRE middle F orchestra row was empty. So my friend Mikey says to me: "Is it an emergency row in case Angelina Jolie decide she wants to bring the children?"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day 16: Enough Already

Poor Playbill. Really. Lets all take a minute to mourn the career of the person who put that "strike over" story up today.

Over it?

OK! Well... what do I have to say? Really nothing--this will be lame. I heard very little from the room today. Then again, instead of paying attention all day, I went to Cymbeline. Seriously. I gave up on caring the one day some progress was actually made. All I've heard since I got out of LCT's pretty three-hour epic (after the initial flurry of "it's over" and then "oh, wait..." messages) was that we very well could be in for a settlement. (Though I'll believe it when I see it.) IF it happens--who won't cheer? I mean, there will be those members of both the League and Local One who don't think whatever compromise they work out is a good one, but those people will barely be heard over the cheers of others. As it should be.

And I feel lame writing this without knowing if there will be cheers. By the time, you read it, there could possibly be, so everything I'll write now may be pointless. Nevertheless, I'll write for a bit, but don't count on genius.

IF (I caps that) there is a settlement, the question then becomes: Will this strike have a long-lasting effect on Broadway? This hasn't been the best PR for our little community, of course. But I don't think it will have a long-lasting effect. For a couple of weeks, attendance will be down as compared to where it would have been had it not been for the strike. But that's about it.

On the other hand--will it have an effect on labor relations on Broadway? I think it will. I think the League has shown they can act tough, but the unions have proven they can stand firm in solidarity. I've been very critical of Jeremy Gerard's pieces in the past, but people emailed me that they liked his most recent column, "Questions for Dim Bulbs Keeping Broadway Dark," so I read it. He raises some valid questions, but I am going to answer one right now. The question went to John P. Connolly, executive director of Actors' Equity Association, and it asked: "Do you seriously think Local One will get your backs if you walk out for two weeks with no end in sight next summer when your contract expires?" I want to say, first of all, let's hope there is no strike in 2008. (Those of you who believe in a supreme being, please pray.) But, then, I want to answer, "yes." Here is why--remember back when Local 802 had their strike and there was all that talk that the show would go on with 'virtual orchestras' if Equity would cross the picket line. For hours we were sitting at Equity waiting for them to decide what to do--then came word that Local One would not cross the picket line, so Local One made the decision for Equity. If they were willing to stand behind the musicians firmly, I believe they would be willing to stand behind Equity, especially after this. But, again, I am going on the assumption that no one will need to stand behind anyone next summer (other than those randomly dancing in a conga line, that is).

You know, normally, I'd fight against anything that brought back the current revival of Grease and, yet, I'm so beaten down now I will applaud its return. That's what this strike has done to me. Alas. I just want to be able to see The Little Mermaid. Is that too much to ask? Really?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Day 12: Who Is Happy in Whoville?

I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.

John Lloyd Young played his last performance in Jersey Boys tonight.

Oh, wait...

Anyway... I can no longer count what day we are in on two hands (you of course know this if you know me and know my hands are not freakishly deformed). I'd say "things have gotten nasty" but, of course, they were nasty before this block of time, the general public is just seeing more of the nastiness now.

Let's discuss how genius a PR move this Grinch thing was for the union. They agreed to remove the picket line knowing Jujamcyn wouldn't let them in. That's so obvi. And even though I consider something odd about The Grinch actually coming back (I still believe there is something decidedly unjust about it), by lifting the strike lines the union pulled the PR momentum away from The League. And I've discussed how essential PR is a couple of posts below. Plus, the fact that Jujamcyn lost in court is a big actual hit. Note that for all the hype, I don’t think the decision has much consequence on the whole deal, but, it’s still really something.

So the grosses came out for last week and the Broadway shows that are open weren't all sold out. Partially I think that is because very few people know that any of Broadway is open--the headlines all read "Broadway dark" not "All but some shows dark." I sort of wish people involved with currently running shows would make their own signs and march, or at least stand. Like someone in Xanadu could stand near 45th and 8th (in the image in my head it's Xanadu press agent Pete Sanders, but feel free to invision Douglas Carter Beane or anyone else there) with a sign with a big red arrow that says: "Some shows are open! Xanadu is Thataway!" But, also, it's a result of what is currently running. Notice Mary Poppins is basically selling out. That's because it's family friendly. I made the point about Mr. Alabama, saying that it was almost impossible for him to make alternate plans at this stage for his family. The reason is--no good tickets are available for the family-friendly shows. Is a family going to see The Ritz? A non-family friendly show will obviously see a lower leep than a family-friendly show would in like circumstances.

What grounds the Nederlanders are suing on, I'm not quite sure. I know what they are saying, but, well, legally, I don't think that argument holds much water. My favorite part of it is the picket sign part. Did everyone hear/read this? Part of the Nederlander "proof" is that the picket signs say that the union is protesting against the League and the Nederlanders are saying: "But our agreement isn't The League agreement! So that shows we shouldn't be involved!" OK, well, they do have a different agreement. But, umm, they are members of the League (and of course their contract with Local One is expired also). So I'm not sure what the sign evidence is really getting them, but I can see complaining that the signs should be more colorful.

Anyway, the producers had this big hope, left over from last week, that Equity would really be the ones putting pressure on Local One. Equity hasn't been obliging. However the Equity execs know that some of the rank-and-file is getting a little edgy, so they've made an effort to really clarify the points of the strike. In particular, members now have available to them a Myths v. Facts sheet, which I love. The thing I love about this document is that the first page directly counters League points, but by the second page it goes a little beyond its purpose (and randomly brings in some Young Frankenstein-related color). For instance, page one talks about the mopping payments, the flyman requirement, the alleged real truth about Local One salaries, etc. But then check out two examples from page two:

MYTH: The League came to the Stagehands with honor, respect, and good faith, and the greedy Stagehands have walked out on them.
FACT: The employers continually attack the Stagehands in the media. They don't treat the Stagehands with honor and respect. Instead of continuing negotiations in October, the League walked out and unilaterally imposed non-negotiated work rules. That's usually seen as a declaration of war on a Union. The stagehands went to work under these rules and kept pressing to re-open negotiations which began again on November 7th. See Next Fact.

MYTH: The Stagehands walked away from the table.
FACT: Local One stayed to negotiate until 2 a.m. in the morning on Thursday, November 8, only to be told that the League was "too tired" to start at 9:30 in the morning. Thursday night, the League negotiators felt that preparing for the opening night party of "Young Frankenstein" was a bigger priority than negotiating. The League also reneged on compromises that had already been agreed upon, undermining the entire negotiating process. The producers knew that their final offer would result in a strike.

I mean—isn’t this stuff more worthy of a strong statement letter than a Myths v. Facts sheet. I’m just saying… I’m also just saying that I spoke to a big contract lawyer today and he agreed with my reading of the Equity Production contract. So that clearly will be legal battle #52 to result from this thing.

Meanwhile, on this Thanksgiving, I wish I was thankful for the progress that has been made in this battle, but, sadly, there has been none. I’m also not sure how the talks will resume with a Nederlander person at the table. Like: “Hey, I’m suing you for $35 million, but please let’s talk like civilized people.” Also—does anyone know how they got their damages figure? Because I think $30 million is a better number. It’s all about the evens man.

Well, instead of going to see theater this weekend, I’m going to see Enchanted. I need my musical fix! I wish all of you a happy Dead Turkey Day. I hope you all celebrate it with a vegetarian feast.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day 9: What will become of us?

On Friday, I was not as optimistic as some of my counterparts. They thought Disney magic would make it all go away this weekend. I hoped with all my heart they were right. Sitting in the Westin Hotel today before talks broke down, I sensed dread, yet I still hoped that some progress was going to be made. When I heard talks broke down I just thought: "So now what?"

Really. That's my question. The League announced that shows would be cancelled until Sunday, November 25, meaning Broadway theaters will surely be dark through Thanksgiving, one of the most profitable times for the industry. Prior to the announcement, while I didn't honestly think we'd be seeing a re-opening by Thanksgiving, I held out a tiny little hope that somehow the mayor would bang his way in and do something. That hope is now gone.

The pertinent part of the statement read as follows: "Out of respect for our public and our loyal theatergoers, many of whom are traveling from around the world, we regret that we must cancel performances through Sunday November 25." I have a little issue with this statement. Lets start with the first part--do we really believe anything about this whole mess has to do with "respect?" I think not, but, moving on...

Supposedly the announcement was made so that tourists could make alternate plans, but that doesn't make sense to me. I don't really have a better justification; I just think it's crap. If, lets say, Mr. Alabama is flying to NYC with his family and part of their plan is to go see Wicked on November 23--if Alabama cancels now and decides to stay home, he is going to be charged extreme airline fees, so that isn't very practical. So, Alabama is coming anyway--what kinds of alternate Friday night plans is he making? He is going to make a later restaurant reservation based on this info? Now, of course, some notice to Alabama is better than no notice. But is giving him this notice really worth 100% guaranteeing that no progress will be made in the next few days?

Also, "we regret we must" is very misleading. They didn't have to cancel performances through Sunday. They could have waited to see if something happened in the next couple of days, they chose not to do so. At least own up to it as a choice.

My question remains--why make this choice? I don't know the answer. Did they do it so Thanksgiving weekend could no longer be held over their heads? Was it to get a leg up in the public perception war? (I can see the coverage now: "Stagehands force League's hand and ruin Thanksgiving.") I mean I can see it being like a "we'll show you"-type thing... But isn't that where my grandmother would use the "cut off your nose to spite your face" expression? I just don't get it.

Plus, I think, and this is pure speculation, this might cause an odd salary wrinkle. The producers don’t think they have to pay the actors because of this clause in the League contract: “If the company cannot perform because of fire, accident, strike, riot, Act of God, or the public enemy, which could not be reasonably anticipated or prevented, then the Actor shall not be entitled to any salary for the time during which Actor's services shall not for such reason or reasons be rendered…” Look at the “could not be reasonably anticipated or prevented” worded. Well, last week, the producers probably couldn’t have “reasonably anticipated or prevented” the strike in the legal sense. But, given this announcement from the League, what about the coming week? Just something to think about.

Anyway, my source from the negotiations this morning told me he was "bored" in the room. I assume that is because both sides feel like they're hitting their heads against a wall. From both sides I heard tonight: "We made concessions, we had a good plan, and they won't meet us." Well, that seems like the same thing I've been hearing for weeks. So no wonder it's boring. The Disney guy apparently didn't hurt negotiations, but both sides said he wasn't as helpful as they'd hoped (which is obvious at this point). So now what?

I wish I felt like anyone was dealing at a rational level at this point. All the union guys I speak to feel like the producers are treating them like they are stupid. The League thinks they are being bullied. As I believe I've previously said on this blog, I believe the producers' tough-talking rhetoric from the beginning was a mistake. This is not a union you want to piss off--this is not a union (like some of the others we have in this industry) that you can bully. On the contrary, I think this might have been a time that the producers could have attracted more flies with honey. (Though I have no idea why you'd want to attract flies, but, still.) Apparently in the room this weekend the producers again claimed the Broadway failure rate was attributable to the union. On the other side of the table, a union guy said to me today: “Well, you have to understand, these people are rich.” So? That doesn’t matter. What does that have to do with anything really? I just don't see how those kinds of things are helping anyone. It just makes both sides dig in. So we have a bitter stalemate. It’s a situation where, in a way, an average observer sort of can’t be pro either side, you have to be anti both. The issues are so confusing I can barely follow them and both sides seem sort of ridiculous. That’s bad for us. And until the posturing stops, we’re not going to have a solution. And we need one. Soon.

Speaking of soon, it's in The Times that The Grinch producer is saying that his show will be up and running again on Tuesday because of some special arrangement The Grinch has with Local One (needed due to its souped-up schedule). This makes no kind of sense to me. I understand the sort of "We're already paying them more, so, our deal isn't the one they are striking over" aspect of it and, yet, still, overall, it doesn't make sense to me.

First of all—why didn’t he bring this special deal up to begin with? Isn't that something he would have realized? Secondly, my understanding has been, and clearly I’ve been wrong before, that the strike was sort of venue-related. So, for example, Disney is not a member of the League, but its shows in Nederlander houses are currently dark. If The Grinch in its Jujamcyn house comes back on—-why not The Lion King or The Little Mermaid at their Nederlander houses? After all, Nederlander was technically just observing in this negotiation, so shows in its houses should be more likely to get a break. Is it that when Disney went into those theaters they assumed the terms of the standard League deal but Grinch couldn't because of their schedule? And, if that is the case, what happens if Disney says "We'll give you extra money if you just reopen Mermaid"? Would that be cool? It just makes no sense to me that we’d see The Grinch on Tuesday. We might, but it would just be odd. If the union is coming back for them in their Jujamcyn house—-where does it end? This is another thing I just don’t get. I can’t even talk about this stuff anymore it’s all so ridiculous and confusing.

Last night, a Yale graduate student died striking down a set. My understanding is that the Yale practice is to have people do all-night strikes. So they were taking down the set from the Rep production of Trouble in Mind and something hit this student. It's so unbelievably sad. The person who told me about the incident said that he hoped it would draw attention to the odd and unsafe practices at Yale Rep. Except, instead, we’re all talking about The Grinch.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 5: Oh Mi God You Guys, It's Still Going On

You know, I didn't want to officially cover the whole strike because, well, after getting home from sitting shiva, I just wasn’t in the mood. (Not to mention the fact that I missed 3 deadlines.) So I helped out a paper on Saturday by doing some reporting from the lines and then I thought I’d put it behind me. But I get 20 phone calls a day about it, so I feel pretty much like I’m officially working on it. And, in that spirit, I’ll of course talk about it. Because what else is there anyway?!?!

I hope everyone read this as a basic primer unless, well, you yourself or in the negotiations or are getting reports straight from them:

Now… Does everyone remember that, after the Local 802 strike, it seemed like the producers won? I kept telling people “no… not really…” Because, let’s think back, the whole time during that negotiations, the producers kept saying “We will not accept musician minimums in any way.” Yet, we still have them. They are lower than they used to be, but they are there.

We had a situation where a bunch of producers were saying “Well, we’ve agreed to these things for years, but we never should have. They don’t exist in the West End, and now we don’t want them to exist here. We need to change this industry!” They failed to do that. There is an argument that Rome wasn’t built in a day (a cliché argument, but an argument nonetheless) and the concessions the producers won then began a dissolution of the system, but, basically, in a very significant way, it didn’t work out the way the producers wanted. (There are those that say the producers knew all along they’d never get eliminate the system, they wanted just what they got, but, let me tell you, I worked on it 24 hours a day and I think that is crap.) Yet somehow the public thought the producers won. Everyone I spoke to thought that. Why? Is there some kind of thing that we assume if a striking party makes any concession they lost? Was the world anti-union at the time (and, if so, are they now)? It never quite made sense to me. I think a lot of it has to do with media spin. It was all “Musicians agree to reductions, go back to work.” Now, that’s a valid characterization of events, but it sort of leads consumers to the wrong mental conclusion about the underlying battle.

Fast forward to 2007. We have a sort of similar situation in a lot of ways now. There are a bunch of producers and theater owners saying: “We’ve been doing this for too long. I remember why we did some stuff to begin with, but not others. And, anyway, it’s all not valid now. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. We need to change this industry!” Now, those of you who know the theater, know that it doesn’t exactly embrace change on any level. So there are those, outside the producers’ room, who are supporting Local One because, well, they support tradition. But, I’m not going to go into such things in depth. (I will say there is a certain “The producers made their bed”-type argument. For the union to agree to a lot of these things in 2007, after the producers have been going along with the previous system forever, it would be costing stagehands jobs. That sucks for Local One membership and it also sucks because then Local One leadership has to go to IATSE and say “Hey, we agreed to cost our members all of these jobs.” This is where the union’s whole “We need an exchange of equal value” drama comes in. But, this is all to in depth for this blog post.)

Anyway, getting back on track. Just like we had after the musicians strike, we have a little problem with semi-misleading coverage. This is playing to the public like an anti-minimum fight, just like the musicians strike was. I believe this is because all the talk about featherbedding makes it seem like “We have to hire all of these people we don’t need.” This is especially enhanced by the whole “We need to pay a flyman $160,000 a year even if there is no fly work in the show” sexy producers tidbit. So normal people think the issue is that producers want to eliminate existing minimums. In fact, this isn’t a fight about existing minimums because there aren’t technically stagehands minimums, beyond the hiring of one flyman (and maybe some other random assorted things like that). Read Campbell Robertson’s Times story linked to above and you’ll get a better idea of the actual battle points, but know that the general public, those that won’t read and really analyze Robertson’s story, is hearing something else. They’re hearing minimums and payment for mopping. And it’s going to be interesting to see how public perception plays out post-strike based on what the public is thinking now.

Why does this all matter? Why do the unions care who the public thinks won after a strike is done? There are a bunch of reasons, but I’ll give you just one. It’s true, no one is going to remember the exact settlement (or even what they thought it was) of this Local One settlement by the time the next Local One negotiation rolls around. But they will remember this spring when Equity starts talking to the League. And, even though theater is so insular in a lot of ways, a union is still helped a lot by public support. When a union negotiation is made so public, it in many ways lays the groundwork for another union’s negotiations. So if the public is really, really only pro-producers and thinks the producers made Local One cry, the producers have a little more leverage going into the Equity negotiations. If, on the other hand, the public thinks producers are rich evildoers and just keep trying to beat down working people, the producers know that Equity has the sympathetic momentum going into the fight. In the latter case, the producers are also going to fear that people eventually won’t want to support them.

Oh my god, this is so long I’m not even going to be able to get through it myself. Sorry about that. Stopping soon. I just want to say a couple of major last things: 1) I’m so happy that they’re at least going back to the table. 2) If it isn’t going well that first day, if I were running the stagehands and I wanted to swing public support a little, I’d give in on some of the sexy points and then hold a press conference. Of course, Local One is on muzzle mode and so this probably won’t happen. But, honestly, this negotiation is so not about flymen and mopping, that I might say, if I were a stagehand person: “Well, we eliminated the mopping charge and the flyman requirement and still the greedy producers want MORE, MORE, MORE.” This would also be something to show Bloomberg they are trying, incase somehow city leadership does become involved. Again, I don’t think that will happen, but that’s the Full Force musing on what I’d do if I were James Claffey. (Though hopefully we’ll amazingly have a settlement quickly and then if I were James Claffey I’d play “We Got The Beat” and dance.)

It’s 3am, I've lost track of whether this makes sense and I must go to sleep now. Know that I had an extra 30 minutes on my way to Young Frankenstein tonight and I decided to make my mother (who was with me) walk around so I could see what was up on the lines. There were a lot less people than there were Saturday, which I suppose is to be expected. But know that the cheeriest stagehands seemed to be outside Grease. I share incase you are in the mood to chat with one.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day 2: The Terror Continues

Well, huh. I don't want to talk about the specific points on either side, but I of course will talk about some strike-related things. This is a difficult situation, with a decidedly different feel than the musicians strike had a few years back. You know, the thing about the Local 802 strike was that it didn't seem quite as bitter beforehand. Also, it didn't seem like it would last that long. So though picket lines are never fun, the musicians were seemingly more laid back, chatting with people who passed and talking to the press. From what I saw yesterday and today (and my experience is by no means comprehensive), Local One has closed ranks, giving the general public very terse responses ("read our statement" is a big one) and making it a policy not to talk to the press. And consequently there was a more ominous feel on the streets today than there was some years ago.

I want to share one from yesterday. Patrick Paige was one of the actors nicely singing to people outside the theater. I mean I honestly thought that was genuinely kind (some other actors did likewise at other theaters). Yet someone, with two children in toe, passed him and called out "You really are The Grinch!" Now, you could take that two ways, but, as she had unhappy children with her, I don't think she meant it to be complimentary.

The difference today as opposed to yesterday was that there were many more actors on the picket lines. Apparently there was some miscommunication yesterday as to whether they were supposed to full out picket, so some did and many didn't. A bunch yesterday were just standing around. Today, with the clarification that they were encouraged to picket, they snapped into the march. But, alas, there was also a harsher feel out there today, maybe owing to the tough-talking producer's press conference of yesterday or the primarily pro-producers media bent. (If you didn't know anything about the situation and simply saw tons of kids crying on the street--wouldn't you want those losing strikers to suck it up and go back to work?) Claffey is of course not bending and that toughness is seeping down.

I thought the unions came off well in their press conference today, but the producers had more catchy sound bites from their press conference. They said sexy random things like "we're paying them extra to mop!" Those are hard things to counter-act public perception wise. People don't usually feel bad for producers, but then you hear them saying the average Local One member gets paid like $150,000 and, though your heart may not bleed for the producers, you also, if you believe this figure is accurate, sort of think to yourself "why should they get more?" So, there you go on that media-related front.

I feel one thing that hasn't gotten enough attention is this refund policy. The big line is to go to an open show if your show was cancelled, but there is a problem with that. Because the only way to get an instant refund is if you paid by cash or check at a box office and happen to find that box office open, it leaves a lot of people with tied up funds. So if you have a credit card with a low maximum and you charged your tickets online, to the sum of over $600 for a family of five, you don't get credit for days. Then maybe you cannot afford to go to a new show now. I think this whole "Well, you can get tickets to these lovely open shows..." mentality is a little faulty at times.

So I had tickets to Duran Duran last night, tickets I had to call in some favors to get. As most of you know, Duran Duran was scheduled to end their Broadway engagement this Tuesday. They have moved all their remaining shows now to Roseland, which, well, is certainly not the Barrymore. And while they are honoring tickets for last night at Monday and Tuesdays Roseland shows, it's not going to be the same. So I know the feeling a little bit--though certainly not to the same degree--of the family who is in town for two days and has tickets to see The Little Mermaid and cannot see it. (Let me say again how excited I am to see The Little Mermaid--I have a Little Mermaid calender and everything--and I'm not joking--so I do completely understand the tears a family shed over missing Mermaid, while I did not cry for Duran Duran.)

But this raises an issue beyond my lost Saturday night plans--what about Duran Duran's equipment?!?! Is it stuck in the Barrymore? Even if non-Local One people could get into the theater, it seems to me they can't move the equipment, as that is a Local One job. Now I guess they have backup equipment, but the stuff they were using at the Barrymore must be the cream of the crop. Did they remove it Friday knowing of the strike? It seems hard to believe... I mean, it's one thing to take your personal belongings outside a theater, it's another thing to convince stagehands the night before a strike they want to move equipment out... I don't know the answer to this, but I raise it as a curious point.

Also curiously, I got yelled at today on the street by someone who didn't like something I wrote on this blog. Ummm... People need to stop taking things so seriously. Let me issue a general disclaimer, this blog represents my musings. It's generally written after midnight, which means it is especially free-flowing. On the blog, I say what I am thinking at the moment, but it's not intended to be a declaration of fact. That doesn't mean I don't stand behind it all, I do. It just means I don't think anyone out there should be taking it that seriously. (You know, this is why for like my first year in this industry I didn't like to meet people. My theory was, if no one knew what I looked liked, there would be no public animosity... and I could spy better. I think Michael Borowski was the only one to meet me for like a-year-and-a-half. That was okay because he knew I loved him and thus he would never snap at me.)

Ugh--this strike ruined my planned post about how I think Rock 'n Roll is being given such a brilliantly staged production. (Now that I know people are taking this blog so seriously, it might have been nice to one of my favorite press agents had I been able to write that, but, alas.) I will just end with two more things. First, I rarely promote things written or created by people I know. But, I can, and so I will this time. For those of you who are Fire Island Pines people, I want to promote this documentary, When Ocean Meets Sky, available on It is an interesting documentary on the history of the Pines and it features a bunch of theater people, including Mart Crowley, Jerry Herman, Larry Kramer and Sara Ramirez.

Secondly, I want to send my heartfelt sympathy to anyone adversely affected by this strike and to the people who are covering it. Strikes are sometimes necessary, but they always suck.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


So I’m back. I’m behind on work, theater and television, but, I’m back. I want to thank everyone for their well wishes while I was gone. And now I sense the need to discuss some things that happened during this time.

A League survey came out that said approximately 65% of Broadway tickets sold were sold to tourists. I have no basis with which to contest that factually, but I do want to point something out about this figure that makes me not 100% believe it. This figure (and others contained in the survey) was based on “extensive survey data gleaned from audience questionnaires distributed…” That means people had to fill out questionnaires left on their seats (or whatever). Isn’t it more likely that tourists will do that? I took an informal survey of 20 non-theater industry New Yorkers today and only 2 said they’d fill out a questionnaire put on their seat and hand it in. I didn’t also ask tourists (damn non-scientific study), but I think the number would be somewhat higher if I went to midtown and asked tourists going into The Grinch. Again, I could be wrong… just something to think about.

Meanwhile, I’m very excited about a Take That musical coming to the West End. I believe now is the time for that ‘N Sync musical I’m sure people have been working on. On a non-boy band front, does anyone know what happened to Colour My World, the Chicago musical? I keep thinking about it. I have no idea why.

Also, today Riedel wrote Jessica Alba for a Broadway Speed-the-Plow, whereas I had written London. Broadway makes less sense to me—-another Speed-the-Plow?!?--but I’m all for the random and unexpected. Its possible talk of one grew out of the other, but, whatever the case, I’d be happy to have Jessica Alba on Broadway. I am, as I just said, all for the random.

And, yeah, this union/League crap. As most of you probably know, everyone has been told to keep taking their stuff home until further notice. Negotiations today did not go well, but, well, that’s nothing new.

On a final note--adios Spelling Bee. I’ll miss your cute TV commercials, if nothing else.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Cara Joy

Due to a death in the family, Cara Joy will not be posting today or Sunday. She will return next Wednesday.

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's raining men

Am I the only one who is impressed over the amount of press Rock 'n Roll is getting? I mean, I never thought it... And I don't understand it really... but there you go! Huge national breaks for it! Huge! I just hope I understand the show. I've received a primer so I have faith.

I was going to write about how glad I am that Roger Rees is gone from Williamstown (has anyone previously buried a theater company that quickly?), but instead I feel compelled to respond to the Variety article about female playwrights. I’m all for the rise of the woman—I am like the proudest Wellesley alum ever—but I feel this story is a little odd. It is title is “Women scribes boost play cache” and its subtitle is “Writers seeing gain this season,” these things said to me that this story was going to be all about how many women are having off-Broadway plays produced this year. That’s a valid trend story. But a major thrust of the story is actually that women are not well represented in terms of new plays on Broadway, but neither is anyone who is not white and male. Why are we having this discussion about women and not about everyone non-white? Because women are actually not a minority so it is all the more striking? I just don’t get it. I can’t even address this point anymore because I so don’t understand it.

Let’s imagine however that this story were a valid trend story just dealing with off-Broadway. The story quotes Playwrights’ Tim Sanford as saying he does think having a woman playwright on his season schedule is important. Playwrights is doing four shows with female scribes this year. Now, I read the script for Sarah Treem's A Feminine Ending before Playwrights decided 100% that they would do it and I thought “this show will never get produced anywhere—it is so bad.” Then Playwrights announced it for their season. I hope it wasn’t because the writer was a woman. I’d like to think that the Playwrights people just have bad taste and thus would have produced it if it were written by Samuel Treem. I hope that. That would make me happier. Because producing crappy work by women does nothing to further the cause of women.

That said, I'm all for the advancement of women. So I cheer any good new play on Broadway, but I indeed may secretly cheer a little louder if the good new play was written by a woman. I feel like Lynn Nottage is the big hope in this area. I look forward to seeing a play by her at the Biltmore.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Dark Angel Fans Out There?

I thought the blind item from Sunday was the easiest blind item ever written, but apparently I was wrong. That makes me think a lot of you need to watch more bad movies. Bad movies are very important. Really.

Speaking of bad stuff, I think we all need a minute of mourning for Viva Laughlin. I watched the first episode with my friend, super manager Jeremy Katz and he couldn’t really get through it, but I was sort of transfixed. I mean—come on. Who thought this would work? Starting with that horrible lead guy, it was all so misguided. But, of course, I am drawn to ridiculous musical numbers. I believe the experience of watching it was similar to the experience of watching In My Life. Speaking of In My Life, Joe Brooks is doing a new New York reading of his other musical, Metropolis. This one opened in the West End in 1989 and has played regionally. Brooks gave a bunch of interviews in 2002 saying it was Broadway-bound, but, well, we got In My Life instead. But fans of Metropolis have no fear—he is apparently still trying to get it here.

I was supposed to be covering the possible strike for an outlet and last week, when my first story was about to run, they showed it to me and I told them that I wouldn’t put my name to it. Because, practice what you preach. How many times have I complained about biased reporting on this blog? I complain about it because I think it sucks. I don’t want to put my name to a story that sucks. Plus, I want to be able to call out stories that suck and not feel like a hypocrite. Like I am going to do right now.

So you don’t think I just pick on Bloomberg, I have to call out the recent “League Begins Implementing Terms of Rejected Stagehands Contract” on It DIRECTLY comes from documents sent out by the League. Thus, while it could be argued that what is presented are “facts,” they are certainly spun facts. Now, I’m not saying they can’t be used, but they need to be credited to the League. And here they aren’t so they seem like un-spun (if that was a word) facts. That’s why I think this story sucks.

People, I’ve said it here many, many times: believe nothing. Maybe you don’t even believe that, but, well, I can’t get into a philosophical circular reasoning argument.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Your flavor's hot!

So, as you may have noticed from my posts earlier this week, I've fallen totally behind on all things strike-related. Thus this post will not be about that.

What shall I speak about? Let's talk about revivals. Recently I've heard around town that a certain Invisible Woman, let's call her, I don't know, Honey, is in talks to do Speed-the-Plow in the UK. I hear it might actually happen, which is more than I can say for Mr. Spacey's other attempts to get Hollywood stars out to appear with him. Remember all of those Philadelphia Story rumors? Who was actually reported as fact? Calista Flockhart? I certainly think Honey would be more of a get than Flockhart would have been. (Of course, Flockhart is a stage actress and Honey isn't, but, we all know I'm in favor of random celebrities taking to the stage.)

Anyway, this is a big year for Speed-the-Plow. I mean, it's a big year for any play that has Alicia Silverstone in a production of it anywhere. And I gotta ask--why? Is this a play we've all been thinking we need to see again? I mean, I feel like "been there, done that, moved on." Though, if you've all been waiting for it, congratulations. But there was just a big production of it in London in 2000. I don't know...

Godspell has got me thinking about this. I feel like, I just saw Godspell. I saw it off-Broadway. I saw a concert of it. I saw it at Paper Mill. Wait, so, I did just see it. Well, maybe not just, but.... And the thing about that Paper Mill production was that it was cleverly staged but it no way made me think "Broadway." Actually, the clever staging made it more comical and lively, but, um, it also made it seem more minor. It seemed small. So, yeah, sure, Adam Epstein is giving all of these quotes about how he was shocked to know it hasn't been on Broadway in a long time, but--who cares that it hasn't been on Broadway in a long time?!?! There are tons of people out there that love Godspell and I'm sure they'll enjoy this production... But have you all been sitting out there thinking "I need Godspell at a Shubert theater NOW!"? Honestly, tell me if you have, because I'm really curious. And, for those of you who are excited about it, do you think it will succeed without a star?

You know, there are things that don't seem great on paper but end up being huge hits. Maybe this is one of those. They are billing it as "From the composer of Wicked" because we all know people go see shows based on the composer. That happens so often. So, yeah, that's the way. But let's forget about that for now...

This doesn't look good on paper to me. I just don't see it working in a Broadway house for an extended run. If it gets great reviews, then they'll be good, but, for that to happen, I think they are going to need a very tiny house. And can you run a musical for profit in a very tiny house? These are the things that have to be assessed. With Xanadu's great Times review and low, low running cost, they still probably won't recoup. Unless Godspell somehow becomes a Rent for young Christians (which is a possibility), I don't see it happening.

Again, there are things that just happen magically on that stage. Stay tuned for that.

Meanwhile, yes, today was the union strike vote. Authorized. Duh. Supposedly no strike until December though. Yay? I know I said this post wasn't about that and it wasn't, but, if you are too bored to read more Times coverage (I only recommend Times coverage on this subject), there you go for the big update.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I've come undone...

It's a never-before/never-again emergency blog post. I was wrong about the Nederlanders (as my new 12 messages tell me). They apparently will be exercising their power to not join the League in imposing the new contract on the union. This is a blow to the League the implications are tricky to assess. I have something due so I don't have time to go into it, but, the two arguments are: 1) This is a BIG hit to the League in terms of public perception and it could also affect theaters on the fence (I'll discuss what I mean by that in just a second) and 2) It has little practical implication in terms of what will be going on next week and will only effect things if there is a strike. More on this on Sunday. (Not only do I have something due, but I've turned off my phone so I actually knowing NOTHING. I like it too.)

Now, you'll note in the releases today that they sort of made it sound like "Well, Nederlanders are with the League but they CANNOT use this strategy." Ummm... I don't think that is true. Even though they have their own contract, my understanding (and indeed every one's understanding) was that they could do just about anything in solidarity. And they are clearly choosing not to do anything in solidarity, other than allow some odd statement to be released using their name.

Meanwhile, the answer about the Helen Hayes is that each of the individual theaters can still choose what to do. So, as of yesterday, the unions thought the Hayes may go along with the League. But I'd say that's unlikely now. But that's just me.
This is what I mean by no one ever really knowing what is going to happen in these types of things... Everything can change in an instant.

If you want to destroy my sweater...

I previously thought this week was going to be quiet in terms of negotiation talk. But, in what surely is a sign that if there is some controlling being s/he hates theater journalists, it hasn't worked out that way. I went out last night, I turned off my phone and I turned it back on and had a dozen messages. Now, while my personality is very winning (a fact I continually tell press agents), I usually don't receive twelve calls in 2 hours and 40 minutes. But, apparently I do when the mayor gets dissed by a major broadway union and the League makes a big threat. That combination does it. Hopefully it won't occur too many times again.

So, meanwhile, I had wanted to talk about why i think Steven Pasquale will be a good Cable or the campy Orfeh-replacement rumors (I would be SO HAPPY if Kathy Griffin, Clay Aiken and Chaka Khan were all on Broadway at the same time--especially if Bruce Glikas could capture them all in a 'family portrait') or why I believe this Godspell revival is a bad idea, but I guess that will all have to wait because, considering I have 42 emails about the latest developments, that is clearly what people want to know about.

Some quick hits based on today's emails:

Yes, the Nederlander theaters do operate under a different contract and the Nederlander Organization isn't technically supposed to be negotiating. However, they will abide by all things happening and Nederlander theaters will be effected by a strike. My understanding, and I am by no means swearing this is true, the only theaters not effected by whatever happens will be the non-profits (Biltmore, AA, Studio 54, Beaumont) and individually-owned houses, the New Amsterdman and the Hilton. The Circle in the Square and Helen Hayes haven't really been mentioned much in this shuffle and both have shows currently running. I actually hadn't thought about it until recently (sorry--I have a lot of other things on my mind) and I don't feel like calling people now, so, I'll get back to you on this point on Sunday if it still remains unanswered. I will say I know the info the actors originally heard did not list either of them in the "show will go on" department, but they are indeed both independently owned... Campbell Robertson in The Times listed the Circle in the Square as one of the theaters that would not be effected. That makes sense to me, except then I don't know then why the Hayes would be effected... So, yeah, I'm no help here. (If I were to have picked only one of them to be strike-free it would have been the Hayes, as the Circle in the Square is under the co-direction of Jujamcyn President Paul Libin, so has a stake at the table, but, clearly that theory would not have served me well.)

Yes, I do hate the Bloomberg theater coverage. I've complained previously about their big news stories and now comes this irresponsible coverage... Apparently Jeremy Gerard's stories are editorials because they are in the "muse" section, but they are written like news and presented like news. It's really, really shady, especially considering Gerard is a reporter and is writing for an outlet that is reporting on this situation. If they put "EDITORIAL" in big letters up top or he kept saying "In my opinion" but neither of these things are present in the articles in questions, so, basically, they read like news and they are not. Making this situation worse (though through no fault of Bloomberg) is that, in our little world where there are less than 10 media outlets covering this "huge" issue on a consistent basis, people are believing the things presented and its firing some up.

No, we are not on a daily strike watch. Despite the huge rhetoric, this is going to drag out for a little while longer. Shows will go on this weekend unless some union member does something horrible (I won't give anyone ideas) and the League suddenly decides to have a lockout in retaliation. But, as that is highly unlikely, I believe we're safe. Now a bunch of you have asked about the 10-day gap supposedly required after the strike vote and before the strike. I'm sure all of these emails were from people concerned LADIES NIGHT OUT ON BROADWAY would not go on as scheduled next Wednesday. That gap is supposedly 100% required, but I'm hearing about it less and less for whatever that means. So, I don't know...

Yes, I do think the union will try to avoid the mayor as much as possible and will succeed in standing tough way better than Local 802 did. I've previously explained why I think this is so... I hate to repeat myself. Well, that's not true, but, still...

Yes, I did hear that the mayor told Claffey that the partial implementation would take place on the 17th. I have no easy reasoning to explain that.

No, partial implementation does not mean salary increases will be going into effect next week. These implementations are purely pro-League.

That's it. I am indeed too bored to go on. To the rest of you who emailed me, I'll try to get back to you individually tomorrow. Until then, the balcony is closed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What do we know now?

So last night, I went to see The Ritz then went briefly to my friend Bret's birthday at The Ritz and then returned home and got yelled at by a producer. Sounds like a fun night, right? You may ask: "Why would anyone want to yell at Cara?!" I mean, I'm very nice. But, alas, some people are blind to my charms. This particular producer took issue with the "no-win" stance I presented in my last post. He kept saying this new "force a strike" strategy would be the way the producers would win.

So, yeah, let's talk about that. Thursday this was the big brainstorm that went sweeping around town. I didn't pay much attention to it because it seems to me like it will take a lot of guts to implement and, well, I just wasn't sold it would happen. BUT, I will say from the producer's standpoint it is a wise strategy, smarter than a lockout would be at this point. Once we're talking about a strike, we're talking about a completely different thing. The headlines will be "Stagehands Walk Out! Stop Broadway!" It also gets rid of the thorny legal issue related to paying the other unions. If there was a lockout, the other unions would show up, expecting to be paid. The League wouldn't pay them, thus setting up a legal battle. This way, the other unions probably won't cross the picket line, thus meaning they are striking too... (Equity has authorized funds to go to its actors in any work stoppage eventuality.) Along with the pros, there are of course obvious cons to this producers' strategy, but there are major cons to every strategy either side could come up with at this point.

You know, as I said previously, it is hard to know what the truth is in these situations. Everyday you hear something new and very few people know the real deal. The best sources can let you down--not because they are protecting their side, but because they think they know the truth and they don't. Right now, it's 100% certain that, if there is not a lockout, the union strike vote has been scheduled for next Sunday. That's about all we got that I believe. This whole Local One-Iatse split would be very bad for the union, if it is true... but.... who really knows? And even if it's true now, it may not be tomorrow.

This producer, while yelling, asked me whose side I was on. And of course I responded that I'm impartial, which I am. But really, even if I wanted to pick a side (and I do not), I don't know enough to pick a side... and I know more than most! Which is why I say yet again: "Believe nothing." That sounds very like I've turned goth, but have no fear, I was wearing a pink blouse today.

Wednesday, unless there is a lockout, I will post about something not related to this issue. Even I'm bored by it. Actually, I was bored by it a long time ago. On Wednesday, I could have a whole discussion over why these things don't really close shows, even though that is what the spin is, but... I'd rather discuss why I hate CD box sets that have like two original songs and special edition DVDs that come out shortly after the original DVD; or something maybe theater related, to go along with the title of this blog.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Where are we now?

People keep saying to me: “Aren’t you excited about the lockout? You’ll finally have something exciting to write about!” UMMMM… yeah, no. Covering a lockout or a strike is not exciting, it’s tedious and tiring. I just thought I’d get that out there.

So where are we now? Well, what I hear is meeting tomorrow. From all appearances this is sort of a Last Stand at Sardi’s. If there isn’t significant progress made, lockout Friday.

What does this all mean? I was at a Local One gathering yesterday (I am very equal opportunity and totally would have gone to a League gathering, had I not been afraid of being physically removed that is) and there was a lot of strong talk. A bunch of things were said against League Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin who has put her name on a bunch of strong anti-Local One statements and many see as having no knowledge of how the theater industry works. Note, though I did not say anything yesterday, I do not believe Charlotte St. Martin has had anything to do with these negotiations—I think she’s just sticking her name on things, as the public face of the League. But, regardless… Let me say, I don’t think the union folks are in a very flexible mood. And they have the advantage at this point.

I did back down and read the Bloomberg article. I wasn’t happy I had. This wasn’t written by Boroff, but, in my opinion, it was not solid journalism. I believe it was sourced by people on only one side of the aisle. By just crediting those folks as “two people involved in the negotiations” and not “two producers” or something of the like, it made it seem like a more balanced report than I think it actually was. I don’t think there was really a big “yield” on Thursday night. I think what happened was like “OK, you can hire less people like you want, but you need to give us giant theater masks in platinum and diamonds.” Of course, that is not EXACTLY what I’ve heard, but you get the idea. There were some foreseeable advantages to portraying the union as if they were truly buckling--I don’t think any of those panned out (and I actually think the move may have backfired), but it was a respectable try.

OK, I’ve complained about that enough all day today, let’s move on to what position I see the producers being in as of now. If there is a lockout, they appear evil and lose lots of money. If they go back to the table and back down from their tough “final offer” stance they seem weak. So it’s sort of a no-win for them unless the union totally buckles. (In my ideal world, there would be some sort of "does anyone think we can spike their drinks?" discussion going on.)

You know, one thing the producers have going for them is, if Manny Azenberg went to someone on the street and said: “Hey, they make us hire 10 people even if we only need 6” a bunch of people would totally think, “That is completely unfair.” I tried to explain it to my grandparents today and my grandmother said: “Unions are inflexible. This is what makes the theater so expensive!” I’m sure if the producers went to every person and appeared charming (hopefully they’d know to only send the nice ones, there are nice ones) and explained their side, they’d get a lot of converts. Sadly though, they aren’t going to do that. Instead, normal folk will get the story from the media and that story will be that they are locking good, hard-working people out of their jobs; that they don’t want to pay the other unions who did show up to work.

I have spoken to 4 producers in the last 2 hours and they all know they are in trouble. Much more than all the public perception crap I just droned on about, they fear their shows closing if there is a lockout. Meanwhile, the union people I speak to think, “Hey, if this doesn’t work out tomorrow, whatever.” Those attitudes show something.

Again, time will tell. I always opt for the show will go on, but I honestly can’t decide what will happen. I’m confused. I don’t know much—-I know very little about what the actual points and terms are at this juncture. So I can only share with you limited observations. Like the rest of you, I look forward to reading a Times story with the details. Hopefully on my way to a Broadway show.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I'm a bad motherfucker now but I once was cool...

I wonder if anyone reading this knows what that title line is from. It's totally unrelated to theater.

Anyway... I’m back! And, while I’m not caught up on everything in the world quite yet, I couldn’t sleep well if I did not discuss the Local One/League negotiations.

So Local One and the League have agreed to another negotiation session to take place on Tuesday, October 9. That’s where we are.

I’ve heard from a bunch of people that there is a Bloomberg story saying the union is bending, but I’m not reading that story (a previous Bloomberg story completely misrepresented where information came from, so, for a couple of months I just won’t read that outlet). I’ve heard from my people on both sides of the aisle that there has been some agreement, but things are still very, very contentious. This is what we heard at this stage during both the 802 and Equity negotiations, so, you can’t really predict what will happen based on what is coming out of the room. (Remember, employment minimums, a main point in this negotiation, is what also killed the pre-strike 802 negotiations.) I could report to you all I’ve heard on detailed points—but would you care or even be able to follow it? It would be sort of pointless.

Instead, I need to discuss the difference between a lockout and a strike. The musicians had a big fat strike. That means that people coming to the theater from, let’s say, Kansas, arrived at Mamma Mia! to find that the people who play the instruments were refusing to work. Some of those Kansas folks understood, but some yelled at the musicians. Public perception-wise, the musicians were the greedy ones. (Though, of course, there is always the perception that producers are greedy… but, during that strike, it just about evened out…)

In this case, we’re talking about a lockout, which would be the producers not letting Local One members work. This move would effectively shut down the theater for a period of time and some shows would likely not survive. It’s true that the League has been shoveling away money for just this eventuality, but, that won’t save certain individual shows. But, that’s beyond what we’re talking about tonight.

So, the public this time is going to be for the union. They already see producers as fat cats (despite the fact that some have had to mortgage their houses to keep shows running). Now these fat cats are going to be seen as taking food off a stagehand’s table. That’s a big problem for them. It’s a problem not because people will immediately stop buying tickets to Wicked because of the lockout, but because the League wants to be perceived as a shiny happy organization reaching out to everyone. They want the city--and, especially, the city’s mayor and council--to see them as people trying to contribute to the city. The League does not want to be perceived as an evil organization. League members know they don’t want to piss off city brass—they will eventually need them. This is especially true now—with Equity negotiations just around the corner. League folks know they need to be strong before those start up.

So why lockout? Some League members say that exercising their lockout power will make the producers stronger; still others say what they lose power-wise is more substantial than what they gain. So we need to move past this one dimension of the issue.

Local One has been working without a contract since August 1, 2007 and the union is still making tough demands. If it were the case where, let’s say, the union was only asking for more health benefits, a lockout would be completely ineffective. In that case, it would pay for producers to keep living under the old contract until the union was fed up and decided to strike. But here we have the producers asking for something—they want to have to pay less people. So they know it doesn’t pay for Local One to strike. If they want their thing, they have to go out and get it. Many League members believe a lockout will put enough pressure on the union that they’ll buckle on key issues just to get their people back to work with a paycheck. They believe any heat will be worth it in light of the concessions they’ll gain. I personally disagree with this strategy because I think it underestimates the strength of the union they are up against. 802 is not the strongest of unions; Equity makes so many concessions on a daily basis, there is some assumption that a concession is coming even before talks start. Local One is different. IATSE is a big tough force. The union has its own money to help out its members and a lot of its members could get jobs in film and TV if a lockout were to persist. Of course a lockout would never persist because the mayor would get involved. He might not be able to get everything solved as quickly as he did last time, but, it’s not like we’d be sitting here in December only able to go to off-Broadway shows. The League is also well aware of this--they may get some of their demands by being obnoxious because once they mayor steps in, there will be some sort of compromise.

Yeah, so, if anything happens, we’re talking lockout and not strike and they are very different things. That’s basically what I wanted to say. Note, I am not expressing my views about who is right issue-wise because, well, they are too complicated to express in under 2 pages. This post is just to explain things as I see them strategy-wise.

To end, I just want to touch a little bit about what the other unions would do if there is indeed a Local One lockout. The majority of unions (maybe all) have no lockout/no strike contract clauses, so, if Local One is locked out, the likelihood is the other unions would not strike. On the contrary, they’d show up to work knowing full well they cannot work because, well, then they’d get paid. This won’t be seen as crossing a picket line because Local One is all for it. Get the producers to pay the other union folks for not working. Why not? And it won’t be like crossing a picket line because Local One members won’t object and, besides, all they’ll have out there is an “information line,” not a real strike-like picket line. Note, I have no idea what the difference in appearance is between an information line and a picket line…. But I’ve heard there is a difference. Hopefully, Campbell Robertson’s next Times piece or a Gordon Cox Variety story will clarify. I think Riedel will probably call it a picket line because that name is more colorful. Though, again, I always assume settlement. Always. So, as far as I'm concerned, we won't have to worry about any of this.