One of the common gripes amongst Producers like me is the high costs of labor on Broadway. And it’s easy to point the finger at the unions for driving those salaries way up (in my opinion – why things get expensive are not the rates themselves, but the work rules that govern those rates – and the benefits . . . oy, the benefits!).
But no griping here . . . yet. In fact, I’m going to start this blog from TheUnionsPerspective.
Here’s why the rates are what they are . . .
First, this is the Major Leagues of Theater. We’ve got the best in the world at what they do in our theaters. So yeah, when you’ve got the best you gotta pay for the best.
Second, when a show makes money on Broadway, it makes a lot of money. And unions have to negotiate rates for their members that take the biggest hits into account, so their members don’t feel like they’re gettings @#$% if they’re working on a show that is making $3mm+ per week.
Isn’t that how you’d negotiate too? I would.
But there is a problem with this perspective. It doesn’t take into account the majority of the market. The majority of the shows are NOT making that kind of money. And the “middle of the market” is paying first class rates, when their income may only be second.
This is the problem with fixed rates across the board. In some cases, union rates don’t take into account play or musical, revival or new, star or not.
So to use an example . . . if you’re opening a new restaurant that serves casual American food, you might have to pay the same for your kitchen staff as the fanciest of French places in town.
Some might have read this far and say, “That’s Broadway, Ken, you hit it big or you’re out.” Ok, maybe. But I think that’s sad, because it means that more original shows by unknown authors with no stars may not get a chance to penetrate the market because they can’t attract enough of an audience fast enough to cover the higher costs.
What to do?
Well, I wondered . . . what if there was a bonus system? Over 50% of all companies out there in the world pay end of year bonuses . . . why not Broadway? What if shows that fit a certain classification got a reduced rate on a weekly basis but had a guaranteed bonus built in based on gross (not even on profit!). This might allow shows to run longer, gain traction and build an audience instead of closing before their time.
A similar model is working in the touring industry, why not here?
Something should be done because I worry that Broadway will become a place of only theme park-like juggernauts someday unless we do more to allow the middle of the market a better chance at being seen.