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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Important Thoughts from The Playgoer

This post is definitely worth a read, from the ever-legitimate Playgoer.

My quick two cents:

Off-Broadway is dying and Broadway is a circus. What does that leave? Off-Off Broadway is increasingly "what is happening" in NYC. That means to me:

1) Off-Off Broadway must be rebranded.
2) The Showcase Code needs to reflect the economics of theater in NY and help producers and actors, not help to shut down the momentum of most alternatives to Broadway in the city. Actor's Equity should be focused on helping (not harming) the economic viability of the art it is designed to protect.
3) Theatre must create a new audience.

9 comments:

Zack Calhoon said...

I believe that this tendency for theatres to only cast "stars" or "name talents" is only a fad. The trends of this business move back and forth on a swing of a pendulum. This isn't new. The Booths and Macreadys were the stars of their day. Once you start casting A-list celebrities as a producer where do you go from there. Because audiences will want that level of celebrity in every show. Whose bigger then Denzel? World leaders are.

Pretty soon they'll be trying to cast Bill Clinton or Tony Blair or Mikhail Gorbachov in the Scottish Play on Broadway.

Also movie studios are starting to reassess whether name talent is making them any money. I bet this shifting of the entertainment business paradigm will trickle down to theatre in the next few years.

Ian said...

Wow, that's really interesting. I don't have any answers yet, but I do think that it's critical for everyone in the theatre to remind themselves, every day, of what they stand for, artistically. I watched the premiere of "Project Runway" last night (keep reading, I'm going somewhere with this). The judges on the show keep on the contestants about the importance of expressing "who they are" as designers. Now, "Project Runway" aside, we can all take away an important lesson here: at the end of the day, who are you as an actor/director/playwright etc. I don't mean who do you wish you were, or who do you want to emulate, or who does everybody say you look/sound like, I mean: take any ideals having to do with wealth or fame out of the equation. Why do you do the work that you do? What do you stand for? As an actor, I can testify that it seems many many people in theatre have no idea how to answer this question. Actors, for instance, are so caught up in trying to be what Joe Casting Director wants, or making Timmy TV Producer happy, that they long ago stopped seeing themselves as beings with any creative voice at all - they're too busy seeking approval. And you can make a lot of money that way, if you're lucky, and you won't have to deal with pesky questions about your own artistic agenda. You gotta know what you're about, people, and it can't just be about booking that Burger King spot.

I think Freeman's right about creating new audiences, and so I propose starting a new company. We shall call it "Theatre...For A New Audience"!

Oh, crap, wait...

Joshua James said...

I don't think we need to create new audiences, our audiences are there, they just don't have access to us and we don't have access to them - our audience is reading graphic novels, playing xbox online, watching movies via netflix and starting interactive websites - they don't know there is work that speaks to them in theatre - they look at theatre and see stuffy, pretentious plays set in drawing rooms at the turn of the century where every speaks with an arch tone. They don't see that as worth their time and money and neither do I.

Our audience adores Fight Club, as we do, and wants work that speaks to that kind of soul. Right now that happens only on an Independent level and the sad thing is, such shows open and close in less than a month due to the shitty showcase code and the cost of promoting a show. By the time one hears about it and gets their schedule open to go, the show is gone.

But the audience is there, I believe. We just need to invent a way to find each other.

david d. said...

I have mixed feelings about Showcase Code in New York City- I do think that there could be more middle steps between Showcase and the Off-Broadway contract, which is currently too large of a gap.

But I do feel like this question needs to be posed: I am not trying to put myself out of work, or-- well out of Showcase, at least-- but as Showcase Code keeps being raised as the Bugbear of the indie theatre scene, I think we need to stop and ask: Why do you have to have Equity actors in your show? If the play or the theatrical concept (I suppose the latter term I am using to cover things like Improv or Alternative comedy stage shows), if what you have for the audience is original and interesting enough to carry more than 16 performances and the production is not being produced just to Showcase actors seeking representation or paid work but rather to launch a new play or piece, then why not do it without Equity members? I have a talented friend in Chicago who has been involved in performing and producing all sorts of theatrical and comedic shows, scripted, improv and etc. Some long running, twice-a-week type, some more traditional runs. Many of these pay something- not a living wage, sure, but enough to add incentive for people to stick with it.

Now, I know New York City probably has more Equity members than it NEEDS, especially in the case of members who joined early in their career but are not really no longer pursuing Theatre as a profession, but still performing avocationally and maintaining their active Equity membership even though- I would argue- they no longer really need it. So I know that the problem of finding adequate people, particularly of a certain age or experience level, is most likely more difficult than it would be in Chicago, Boston or perhaps Seattle.

But I am sure it is not impossible- we all now very talented and experienced actors, young and old, who are either not yet or never intend to be Equity members. If the Showcase Code is hamstringing the growth of Indie/ Off-Off Theatre, could more time and effort invested into the casting process avoid the issue? Do you have to have Equity members for your play or piece to be heard?

Again- I am not saying this is the magic bullet, nor should it take the place of discussions and negotiations between Equity and Producers towards amending the Code, but I think it is a question to be asked-- If actors such as myself bring with us such limitations to the production, why not do it wihout us?

david d. said...

PS- (I should have previewed before posting) When referencing my friend in Chicago, I failed to say that she is non-Equity and the various plays and long-running comedy alt theatre shows she has been involved in are entirely non-Equity. Without mentioning that, it doesn't make much sense why I raised her as an example.

david d. said...

Um... PS Again- And please disregard other, typical touch-typing blunders like "now" for "know". Next time I will edit before I post, so as not to 'Sound' dismissable. Sorry for the sloppiness. B-

And my margins appear to be less than 1" on each side, but there is nothing I can do about that.

Freeman said...

Dave,

I guess you're right. Off-Off Broadway could start not hiring union. That's a whole lot of people suddenly not working.

Not much a "Showcase" for the talent if it shuts Equity actors off the small stages of Manhattan.

Essentially, if the only way to produce Off-Off is to hire non-union, and there's almost no Union work to speak of because of the economic realities of producing here, then Equity has essentially shut down all but big money producers from hiring almost all the actors that pay dues to them.

Seems counterproductive to me.

Of course, there's also the fact that some of my favorite actors in the city would suddenly be unavailable to me.

david d. said...

But, to me- the question comes down to what the piece is being produced FOR. My sense is that, in the many times that the problems of the Showcase Code have been raised not in relation to the pieces that are just being done to showcase actors to the industry, but rather that the 16 show, publicity and budget caps are hamstringing the development of plays that are being done to feature the work of the writer, or the artistic goals of a company.

And the question, as I look at it, is- if more exciting companies or writer/producers- whose goals are loftier than just showcasing actors to industry- were to consistently develop and employ non-union actors in long-running productions, then the effect might be two-fold: It might add some clout from the producer side towards getting some middle steps between Showcase and Off-Broadway re-negotiated and it might also make a person who carries their Equity Card year to year, but is no longer truly pursuing acting as a vocation consider whether or not it is time to retire their active membership if all they are ever using their card for is with the company they've committed to doing showcase after showcase with. Traditional showcases themselves- ones that are about showcasing actors to industry- would still exist, so it is not like there would be no acting for an Equity member in New York to do while pursuing professional work, but if enterprising non-union indie companies established themselves as exciting places to be and were getting press and crowds for their long-running shows- as you see with many Chicago companies- then perhaps they would be in a better position to try to get Equity to make a contract for that New York City company that is positioned in the middle step between Showcase and Off-Broadway. Perhaps one that allows some pay without having the go the big nut of paying for health & pension.

Again- I am not looking for a way for someone like me to suddenly not be considered for productions of your plays, but I have been wondering in all the Showcase Code discussion that comes up here whether the question of "Can We Just Do it Without Equity Members?" is one that producers and writers have asked themselves.

david d. said...

PS-

I should note, I am not presenting my idea to see whether or not people think it is a workable solution, but rather I think it would be more interesting to discuss the larger question of whether or not committed indie theatre companies and writer/producers have considered doing it without Equity actors.