The incongruity of our contracts.

For those of you reading my Godspell Blog, you know that I’m in the midst of teching Godspell.  Techs for Broadway shows can be some of the most expensive and time consuming events leading up to a show’s first performance.  A big musical can easily spend more than $1mm in labor alone just getting the set in the door and up on its feet.

But that’s not what this blog is about.

As I have watched yet another tech, I couldn’t help but notice how our own industry has established a system that is counterintuitive to delivering the best product.

I’m talking about how the contracts for the participating unions are built on different structures .  Some unions are paid hourly, others weekly.  Some employees can work in four hour chunks, others in three, and others in five.  Some folks are paid on holidays, some are not.  Breaks are different.  The actual “end of day” is different.  And so on.

And all of these different rules and regs actually leave a producing and creative team with strange schedules with nooks and crannies of time that can’t be filled . . . which means minutes during this very expensive period can be wasted . . . which means shows have less time to put their best foot forward.

If the union work rules were more in sync (and know that I’m not talking about anyone getting paid less), more work could get done in the same amount of time, and the shows would be better.

Better shows = happier audiences = healthier theater.

I realize that the work rules are the way they are because the lives of the different artists who come together to create a Broadway show are so different.  But in tech and in previews, for those final few weeks when shows are readied for their big unveiling, it would seem to be in everyone’s best interest to be in a little more alignment.

Can we do anything about it?  Honestly, probably not.  We’ve done this to ourselves over the past few decades. The foundation of our contractual house has been built, and we’re reaching up several stories by now.  And it’s hard to futz with a foundation when your other floors have been built.

The only way we’d get back to our foundation now is if there was a disaster of some sort.  And no one wants that.

But honestly, if we don’t get other elements of our industry in order, we could be starting at that foundation, whether we like it or not.

 

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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Comments
  • It would be wonderful if all the unions could get in a room and discuss the workday throughout the production process. I doubt that hours and days per week or breaks were addressed in the October 4th agreement between Actors’ Equity Association and the Broadway League, but we’ll see once the agreement is ratified.
    I believe that the Local 802 strike of 2003 and the Local One strike of 2007 principally addressed minimums in Broadway houses. Perhaps if discussions among the unions were strictly limited to the structure of the workday, and minimums and salaries were avoided, some consensus could be reached.
    I’m curious as to the extent that certain regulations impede the creative process. Do you know how often are shows shortened to avoid paying overtime for crew or musicians?

  • Mozz Mendez says:

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with you. I think something CAN be done. I don’t think you need to dismantle an entire foundation. All you need to do is build a sturdier foundation, at a new location, and then have all those unions move into it. (does that analogy make sense.)
    all I’m trying to say, that given the National economic crisis, given the times we live in, isn’t it time we reinvented every aspect of every business. Especially those aspects that are not working.
    Should all artists “Occupy Broadway.” and see if we can make some positive change happen.

  • Margie says:

    PROBABLY NOT is NOT an acceptable answer. Especially coming from you, Ken. Get all the actors and producers and directors and playwrights and musicians’ unions to all demand SAME time slots for ALL unions & players. YOU can do this if anyone can.

  • Bryan David says:

    Dear Mr. Davenport, et al:
    It is ALL in the contract. Words are important. I work with one of the BEST & Brightest Attorneys in all of New York & possibly the world. If ALL parties agree to the terms that are negotiated at the get go, then you can avoid much of the conflict.
    “Whitechapel” ©
    The Life & Times
    of:
    ‘Jack The Ripper’
    A Musical Love Story! ™
    http://www.myspace.com/jacktheripperwhitechapel1888
    Options & Inquires:
    Thomas P. Lane, Esq.
    tlane@winston.com
    Winston & Strawn LLP
    200 Park Ave # 4511
    New York, NY 10166-4500

  • I graduated from the College of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. It’s hard to believe a consensus on hours and work schedules couldn’t be reached – when everyone will benefit. MIght I allow one of the major professors at the college look at this blog? Also, My friend and classmate is a former dean of the college and one of the loveliest people you could hope to meet. Might I show it to him?

  • Barbara says:

    This makes the most sense to me. Look at what has happened to the music industry…. and the rules have changed.

  • Barbara says:

    I meant Mozz Mendez made the most sense.

  • Lisa V says:

    If everyone’s goal was to keep costs down so the production could be viable, potentially make $, lead the way to future productions etc. then I’m sure accommodations could be reached… how many unions does that sound like to you? Unions care only about their own members–perhaps some thought should be invested into creating more common ground between unions or figuring out a special contract for people from various professions to work under while working on Broadway so that their collective demands aren’t so destructive…

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