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02/09/2010

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John Longenbaugh

Hey Paul:

I'm going to get my comment in quick to avoid the potential volley of brickbats headed your way from stagehands and others:

The 5th Avenue does indeed do touring shows, but they're only a percentage of what we offer our patrons each season. This year for example we've welcomed the Tony-sweeping production of Lincoln Center's "South Pacific" and will soon see the national tour of "Legally Blonde," but that's only two shows out of our seven-show season. The rest of them, including the world premiere of "Catch Me If You Can" and the upcoming "On the Town" and "Candide," are all produced here--and primarily with local actors as well.

We are the largest single employer of theatre artists in the Puget Sound, and I'm proud of The 5th's record for local hire. Our stagehands, as well as our technicians, set carpenters, prop and costume shop workers, actors, and directors all enjoy year-round opportunities for employment--including shows like "Catch Me" that are indeed world premiere new works. So if any of them are "getting fat" off of the work we provide (and by the way, is this to imply that tours are somehow LESS work than locally produced shows? Because if you think that, maybe you should come hang out when "Legally Blonde" does its load-in, two days after "South Pacific" closes) it's more likely to be a locally produced show that's filling their fridges than a touring production.


Paul Mullin

John, thank you as always for your thoughtful comments and for setting me straight about how the 5th Avenue is an avid producer of locally grown work. I had no idea that Leonard Bernstein and Voltaire were Seattleites. It is amazing what I learn doing this blog.

And most especially, bless your heart for even daring to imagine that any self-respecting stage hand is reading this.

John Longenbaugh

Hey Paul:

Maybe you've got a full-cast musical sitting in your voluminous writing trunk (somehow I picture it as banded metal painted in military olive drab), but most Seattle playwrights I know of don't. Aside from Chris Jeffries, Chad Jennings, and Richard Gray, I don't think I can name more than one or two Seattle-based writers of musicals. Those that are in the region are well-served by The Village in Issaquah, whose size and mission statement make it suitable for small-scale musical productions and workshops. (Though our Adventure Musical Theatre, which tours schools across the state, is traditionally written by local writers.)

And if I've misjudged you and you have a show that you're confident will fill a 2,100 seat house for a three week run, that will out-perform Grease and Les Miserables, well then, send it along! I'm sure David would love to see it!

Paul Mullin

John, I suppose we could keep on playing dueling sarcastic banjos, but what is it you're trying to say? That the Fifth has some dog in the hunt outside the NYC-centric hub and spoke model? 'Cuz, I ain't feeling it. And I doubt I'm the only one.

Now I got no particular ax to grind with the 5th. So you're striking me a bit like Jim Jewel did a month or so ago crying foul that I didn't go after the Children's Theatre with the same vim as I did ACT, the Rep and Intiman.

As far as I'm concerned, as far as every playwright in this town is concerned, the 5th Avenue might as well be located on . . . well. . . . 5th Avenue in New York, right next to St. Patrick's for all it means to us. But you know that as well as I do, being just as much of a local playwright as I am. You just want to talk, don't ya?

Well, hell, John, pick up the phone, and we'll figure out a time to raise one (or 2 or 3) at Zig Zag. You can talk my ear off.

John Longenbaugh

Hey Paul:

Happy to talk over a beverage of your choice. But all my talk here was in response to a smackdown you were doing of stagehands, not playwrights. There are enough people OUTSIDE of the theatre-creating community who don't understand that The 5th does primarily local productions, that it causes me an eye-roll when someone like yourself, who really should know better, refers to us as a touring house.

And personally, I just wish we as playwrights had a Union with the power and backbone as IATSE. Just think--"sorry, but we can't allow you to use this stage solely for classical revivals--by Union contract, 33% of your work has to be new, and 50% of those plays have to be local. Oh, and we need a playwright in attendance at every performance to ensure scriptual fidelity." Man. Now THAT would be Power to the Playwright.

Paul Mullin

John,

Where did I refer to you as a touring house? I said you offered touring shows. Am I wrong about this? Was this factually inaccurate?

And do you really need MY blog to set that record straight in any case? You would think the 5th had more powerful public relations machinery at their behest.

But feel free to extend this pointless wishful back and forth. Just know that it's pretty much you and me in the room.

Patrick

Thought you would like to know others are in the room.

I'm not in Seattle, or even in the West coast states, but I am in IATSE in a major theatre city, and I have over 20 years experience in doing live theatre, small and large, both union and non-union.

I don't know what the PONCHO contract says, or if it is even a separate section of Seattle Rep's contract. I also have no idea what the pay rates are. Contrary to popular belief, every contract is different, as are pay rates.

I doubt you will find many union stagehands that really would rather work their 80th performance of Les Mis instead of working on a new play. New work is fun and has new challenges to tackle. While IATSE pay may tend to be higher than non-union pay, you still need to enjoy working on live entertainment to do this job. Those that don't, don't last very long.

Chances are good, as the Rep is a non-profit, that the stagehands that would be running the shows in the PONCHO would be Rep stagehands, not just random IATSE members. This means they would have a vested interest in the space being used. You very rarely find IATSE members at non-profits that just want the paycheck. Resident theatre requires work. The higher pay tends to be at rock concerts and touring shows, which don't tend to require as much of a time or effort commitment while still paying the bills.

You want to do performances in this space. With an audience. Not just a reading. Full performances, and I assume multiple performances of the same production as part of the process. So my question is: who is going to run it?

Lights need to be hung and focused, and you probably want them to actually work each night as well. Do you want some cues? Maybe fade down on one side of the stage while fading up on the other? A nice special to heighten the tension between the two main characters? All that requires someone to take care of it, preferably someone that knows the space and the control board already (time is always too short, so you don't want to waste time with a new person learning where everything is). It is never as simple as "merely turning the lights on." Never. No more than writing a play is just scribbling some words down.

What about sound? Background sound, effects, mics? Turning on stage monitors for backstage areas? Someone has to do that. Scenic changes? Prop running? Wardrobe running? All of these things need to be done by somebody.

The fact the contract might only require 2 stagehands for a performance seems like getting off easy. How much could 2 stagehands cost for each performance? While I don't know the rate, I doubt it is as high as the rates for a for-profit theatre. Few shows ever need less than 2 stagehands/operators. If you can't afford to pay anyone, why not find a different space? Why does it have to be this one?

The stagehands have a union contract to protect them. It guarantees a rate of pay, and employment when the work that they do is required to be done. It protects the theatre by ensuring that only people the theatre trusts will be operating the technical systems. Just as a playwright wouldn't want the props guy rewriting the opening scene of their play, no stagehand wants to find out chorus member number 3 was flying scenery or programming the light board.

The argument that this contract obliterates revenue seems to go against your goal of developing new work. Simply working on fine tuning the play before an audience shouldn't require generating a profit. And if the point of developing the work is to sell it to larger theatres, than aren't you just trying to do the same thing the stagehands are: make a living working in theatre?

Finally, while IATSE is an international organization, contracts are written by the Local that has jurisdiction, and the employer. There are no puppet strings to some secret office in New York or Los Angeles that make the stagehands work, or dance, or eat doughnuts. I am 99% sure that this contract was written specifically for the Rep and its needs, using the input of the Local, the employer, and the Rep stagehands that would be covered by it. If you have a beef about it, take it up with them. The head office has better things to do with its time than run roughshod over every single contract.

Or even better: take it up with Seattle Rep. They do the scheduling, not IATSE.

Paul Mullin

Patrick,

With a comment as thoughtful and informative as yours, I am even more delighted than I might normally be to find out that I’m not, in fact, alone in a virtual room with John Longenbaugh (who knows I love him despite our quarrels.)

This kind of conversation was just what I was hoping to spark with my stagehand friends in Seattle, and I can only further hope that one or two of them show up to the Outrageous Fortune discussion so I can make good on that drinks promise and figure out with them how we can get the PONCHO back open in a way that makes everyone happy.

And finally, it really does this sorry playwright’s heart good to hear that there are stagehands that care about new work. I always hoped such might be true, but the sad fact is, there is too little commerce between the writers who conceive the stories and the men and women that provide the knowledge and labor to make them reality.

I hope you’ll keep tuning in from afar and add your insights as you see fit. Everyone knows we can’t do it without stagehands. But we do need to hear from more like you who seem committed to preventing the museumification of our beloved art form.

Sincerely,

Paul Mullin

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