The Playgoer: more on NYTW downsizing

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

more on NYTW downsizing

The Times makes it "a story" today.

Meanwhile, Stage Directions--a magazine specializing in the Design/Tech scene--has some fresh updates on their site about the laying off of New York Theatre Workshop's entire full-time production staff. Also, an official statement from NYTW:

According to NYTW spokesperson Richard Kornberg the termination of the production staff is “fiscally responsible, not reprehensible,” and referred to the goings-on at NYTW as a “fluid situation.”
Don't you get it? We're being "responsible"! Not reprehensible. Gee, why don't these techies understand!

Okay, sorry. Unfair paraphrase, perhaps. Just sounds so corporate.

Also from Stage Directions, this sad detail:
[I]nterim managing director Fred Walker informed the production department employees of their termination behind closed doors. The staff was in the midst of teching the Elevator Repair Service adaptation of Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury (which began previews April 15) at the time.
If Sound and the Fury is anything like ERS' Gatz, then it might seem deceptively low tech, and also made NYTW feel they could afford to cut at this time. (After tech rehearsal, of course.) Yes, I know the termination isn't effective till May 31, but as SD notes, production manager Michael Casselli "was also offered a deal to walk off the job immediately without losing pay through the official termination date at the end of May."

Meanwhile, most interesting news from the Times story is that the cutbacks are indeed directly related to the closing of NYTW's B'way cash-cow, Rent.

Look, we all know the challenges to running a solvent theatre company in NYC these days. And, yes, NYTW will continue to hire production staff, albeit as freelancers.

But these freelancers will probably be younger and less experienced. And the six individuals who had built careers in their field, and devoted much of those years to this institution are now out of a job. They'll get other jobs, you say? Not if the trend spreads.

And--just to get really cosmic on you--don't look to Broadway either for those jobs! What do you think that little strike was about last fall? Permanent companies have production departments; Broadway shows have "stagehands." But either way, no matter what you call them, they're the people loading in the sets, hanging the lights, hooking up the electricity--basically making the thing run.

And what we see here is an exact mirroring of the bottom-line, take-no-prisoners strategy of the League of American Theatres and Producers. Namely: "why are we paying these laborers so much money when we don't need them?" The reason they're not "needed" anymore is the shows are getting smaller and smaller, the production values cheaper and cheaper. And that's no coincidence.

Defining production levels downward save you costs not just in materials, but in labor. But, alas, cutting "labor" in the theatre, means diminishing yet again the number of people who can make a living in it.


Anonymous said...

Yes, reprehensible. Theaters acting like every other cold, greed-driven business: the defining ethos of America and the death of non-profits in general. (And don't think for a second that this isn't the same reason we don't have universal health coverage in the US.) This is terrible for theater - but it's not just about theater. Newspapers, museums, you-name-it: anything that used to be about the public good, but is now about nothing but the bottom line.

In any case, my hope is that the tech staff was LAID OFF during the summer that will be dark at the theater so that they can collect unemployment benefits and then in the fall, be RE-HIRED - -but nobody can say that or they won't be eligible for unemployment. Wishful thinking -- but let's hope it's the plan.

Anonymous said...

Prediction: Nicola will be out within a year. He has lost the confidence of his funders, many theater artists, and now his staff.
-- G Lane

Anonymous said...

Yes, awful, deplorable, etc. HOWEVER: Does anyone reading this have an actual suggestion about how NYTW should save $1 million a year/cut its operating budget by 25% WITHOUT any human cost whatsoever? Should they find a corporate sponsor to underwrite their costs? If they do, will you promise not to sneer when it's renamed the Kotex New York Theater Workshop? Should they pay actors and directors less? Have shorter runs? Fewer productions? Much higher ticket prices? Because the money issue is real, as is the recession, and without presenting a legitimate alternative, this is all just easy talk. And saying "They should just raise more money" doesn't count as a thought-through legitimate alternative.

Playgoer said...

Totally legit question/challenge, Mark. I absolutely don't think the NYTW leadership is evil. (Gosh, how's that for a compliment!) They are clearly responding to a dire situation--a situation we all are getting to know really well now.

We would be equally upset if they raised ticket prices, produced only crowd-pleasing money makers, or just folded the tent entirely. (The latter at least would gain them sympathy.)

Yes, cutting a million dollars from your budget can't be easy. But dare we ask: wow, how did you get to a point where your board tells you "Cut $1 million. Now." It's insanely hard because it's, well...insane.

I'm curious, for instance, WHY the board demanded this now. Was the financial analysis made on a corporate model or did it consider the mission of an arts institution?

Anonymous said...

Already missing the Rent gravy train? Reminds me of the chaos that The Public endured when the original A Chorus Line closed. Coming back to reality is tuff stuff indeed.

Anonymous said...

Bad planning and too much management turn-over. Plus they haven't had a big hit in a few years. They thought that RENT would pay the rent forever...