The Playgoer: Off B'way Shake-Up #2: NYTW

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Off B'way Shake-Up #2: NYTW

Tip of the Hat to Isaac for bringing to our attention--by way of tech-mesiter Mike Lawler's blog--a saddening story that broke over the weekend.

In short: massive layoffs at New York Theatre Workshop. Essentially, their entire senior production staff.

Lawler has the inside story from one of the downsized. Let him tell the story:

The entire production staff of New York Theatre Workshop will be eliminated as of May 30th, 2008. Reason for our dismissal-Board mandated a 1 million dollar reduction to the operating budget so of course who goes first? Production. Season will consist of 3 main-stage productions and an ancillary program of musicals to follow the model of the Encore series basically a bare stage and many performers remounting off-Broadway musicals. So of course production can be handled by either seasonal hires or show by show hires. People have lost their livelihood through no fault of their own and the shortsighted planning of people who really don’t understand what it is production does...
Hey, remember what I said recently about that "Encores" model? Don't say I didn't warn you all...

(We might have suspected something was up when NYTW announced that idea just 8 weeks ago.)

Lawler estimates the savings for NYTW from these dismissed staffers at $280,000. "I wonder what the AD and MD are earning?" he asks. Funny, I just reported that some days ago.

Also funny/pathetic is the observation that the company's plans for a multi-million dollar new tech facility (also reported here last year) go on full speed ahead, regardless:
What may be most confusing about all of this is NYTW’s seemingly unabated plans to build new scene and costume shop facilities according to LEED standards that were to be up and running sometime next year. What’s the point of having such facilities if there is no production manager, no technical director, and no costume shop manager? “The ground breaking ceremony for our LEED certified scenic/costume shop is slated for May 14th, though now there is no staff to run it,” Casselli [soon to be ex-NYTW production manager] said.
Above mentioned Michael Casselli is Lawler's source, and today he provides an "open letter" from him as well.
It is sad that an institution like the Workshop has devolved in such a way. I am angry, sad and more than a little bitter at the treatment the whole of production has been put through. What is even more enraging is that none of the individuals responsible for making this decision were present at our termination - Artistic Director Jim Nicola, Managing Director Billy Russo and Heather Randall. These were the people who, according to their messengers, were responsible for this decision.
I'm aware I'm linking to the words of an understandably upset and angry employee. But tell me if this whole scenario doesn't sound eerily familiar (or even prophetic) of what's to come in our nonprofit theatres--even our "moneyed" ones.


Sarah McL said...

Not just what's to come - remember when MTC closed their scene shop in Queens two years ago? That entire staff got laid off, too. They at least were notified like 6 months in advance.

Anonymous said...

Mike Lawler contacted the NYTW and got a comment from them as well, along with a few more details about the move. He wrote it up for me on -- you can link to it here.

Scott said...

Do you think there's any correlation between their budget crisis and the anticipated loss of their RENT subsidiary rights income?

Anonymous said...

This is, from what I understand, a direct corollary to fallout from the Rachel Corrie brouhaha. They lost a ton of funding and support from artists, and it pretty much decimated the morale of the entire staff.

While I understood, to an extent, the points people like Chris Shinn and Jason (and a bunch of others, but they seemed to spearhead it) were making, I do think it became a bit of a witch hunt in the end. I feel kinda angry about this, as my life and art was forever changed by the work they did -- work btw that NO mainstream nyc theatres would touch - except for maybe BAM, and now St Ann's. INCLUDING Racel Corrie (which, btw, was the most overhyped and dull piece of theatre Id seen in some time, but that's another matter).

I'm not surprised that Jim and Linda weren't around to fire their staff -- they have NO SOCIAL SKILLS and can't deal with confrontation...this was also one of the core issues around R.C. -- they had no idea how to deal with it, to talk about it, and it just mushroomed...

I hope this doesn't spell the end of NYTW; that would make me really sad...but it does seem like they are losing it!

Anonymous said...

Some enterprising reporter should ask them about the status of their supposed endowment. Something's missing from this story.