Will the Casting Directors be next up to go union?


If you follow me on the ol’ Twitter, then you probably caught my tweet last week about the recent flare-up between the Casting Directors, who are now repped by the Teamsters, and the Broadway League.

The CDs want union representation.  More specifically, from the sound of this article, they just really want some health insurance (and maybe some retirement benes as well).

(On a side note/rant – do you know how many fights in this country could be avoided if we just had a health insurance program that focused on wellness instead of turning a profit?  We should start calling it Wealth Insurance, for goodness sake.)

I’m not going to get into the debate of whether or not the CDs should get a union pin because I’ve got a lot of learning to do on the subject first.  But since their press release came on the heels of the announcement of Broadway’s record-breaking year (smartly timed, Teamsters, smartly timed), I can’t help but draw attention (or re-attention, actually) to my blog about those end of the year grosses.

See, Broadway is crushing it in terms of ticket sales.  No question.  It’d be foolish for anyone to deny the super-sized grosses that some shows are getting.

But the proof is in the recoupment, not in the overall box office totals.

And the fact is, shows are not recouping more often or faster than they ever have.

So what’s happening?

The blockbusters are getting more profitable.  Or, to put in political speak, the already-rich are getting even richer.

The rest of the market is struggling . . . and struggling like it never has before.

What does that have to do with the price of tea in a Casting Director’s office?

Because it is time to realize that a massive Mason-Dixon line is forming on Broadway, drawn between two sides:  the have multi-million dollars a week grosses . . . and the have nots.  And when deals are cut based on only looking at the top of the market . . . the middle of the market, where the gutsy stuff by newer artists may be happening . . . gets squished.

It’s too bad there isn’t a way for deals, with unions, vendors, creatives, et al. to be predicated on success.  If you hit a gusher, you pay more.  If you struggle, you pay a fair wage.  You know, like how taxes should be.

Yeah, it’s too bad that isn’t possible.

Wait.  Someone tell me why that isn’t possible again?



Podcast Episode #20 – The Perspective from the Other Side of the Table with Local One Pres., James Claffey.

One of the reasons I started this podcast is because I was getting tired of the sound of my own voice typing.  I wanted to hear other people’s perspectives.  And I wanted you to hear other people’s perspectives, as well.

But I didn’t want just other Producers.  That would be too easy.  And you never learn anything from one point of view.

It’s important when studying any subject, from Broadway to Biology, to get all sorts of opinions on the state of the state, and all sorts of ideas on how to improve its future.

That’s why I so very much wanted to interview James Claffey, Jr., the President of Local One, the powerful Stagehands’ union.  And I was super excited when he said, “Absolutely.”

At first thought, you might think that the head of one of the most powerful unions in the country would be “the opposition,” but the fact is, as you’ll hear from “Jimmy” in this enlightening podcast, we’re all on the same team.  Listen in to hear . . .

  • How one becomes a Stagehand and how you can, too.
  • Why he responds to emails he gets right away, even at midnight.
  • The one myth about Stagehands that he can’t stand.
  • What the 2007 Broadway Stagehands Strike taught him.
  • The one crisis that is crippling all unions and all companies, including Producers.

It’s easy to assume certain things about people, companies, etc. you don’t know (I see this on message boards all the time).   I urge you all to get to know people that you think are on “the other side” of whatever issue you’re working on.

And you should start with James Claffey, Jr.  (Oh, and maybe soon, an agent!)

Click here to listen.

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And give me a rating, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

Click here to read the transcript.


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Look who’s upset over actors getting paid more.

There’s an interesting controversy brewing on the left coast, and it’s not about whether there should be a Sharknado III.

No, this one is actually about theater.  Yep, they not only have theater in Hollywood, they have troubles with the theater in Hollywood, just like we do.

So what’s the brouhaha all about?  (And a side note:  isn’t brouhaha one of the most fun words on the planet?  Say it with me.  Brouhaha.  Brouhaha.  Hehe.)

Here’s what happened.

Actors’ Equity tried to do what unions are supposed to do; work for better conditions and salaries for their members.  See, the current 99 Seat Plan in LA doesn’t even pay minimum wage, so AEA proposed an agreement that got their members increases for performance pay and compensation for rehearsals (there is currently none).

No brainer, right?

Then why did everyone, from Producers, Actors (including high profile ones like Tim Robbins) and even critics come out and say, “Don’t do this or you’ll kill what little theater there is in LA”?  One article’s headline was . . .

“Has Actors’ Equity Sounded A Death Knell For Small L.A. Theaters?”

See, it turns out that the majority of the Producers of 99 seat productions are actors themselves.  Many of them produce these shows to showcase themselves, so they see their compensation as visibility.  And since they are already losing money on these shows, additional salaries would just lose them more money.

But still, shouldn’t minimum wage be minimum wage?  Could ticket prices go up to pay for it?  Should the Producers find a way to raise more money to provide the actors with this poverty level compensation?

It has turned into a pretty big fight, with lawyers involved, and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out, especially since New York City has its own version of the 99 Seat Plan, called the Equity Showcase, where lots of Actors, Producers and Playwrights get their start.  The compensation for the Showcase Code is under minimum wage too . . . so will AEA propose changes here too?

Only time, and probably what happens in LA, will tell.

What do you think?  Should the pay go up?  Should the pay go down?  Comment below.


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What I want from Santa Claus this Broadway Christmas.

My Mom is the best.

I’m in my 5th decade now, and still, every year right after Thanksgiving she shoots me an email and says, “What does my boy want from Santa this Christmas?”

Gone are the days I wanted the newest Nintendo game or the latest Dungeons and Dragons adventure.  Now mostly what I want for Christmas has to do with Broadway and how it can get better in the coming year decade. In the spirit of the old saying, “you can’t get what you don’t ask for,” (one of the simplest of lessons when raising money for your show, by the way), I thought I’d make public my Xmas wish list in the hopes that Santa or the Theater Gods would grant me one or two or all ten.  Because I’ve been a very, very good boy.  I promise.

Here goes, in no particular order.

1.  Tax Incentives for Broadway Investors

I gave the government one idea yesterday, and I know the Broadway League is lobbying away for something for the folks that fund our shows, but we could use this gift stat.  Otherwise, except London to start stealing some of our shows.

2.  A New Broadway Theater

With all of our Broadway theaters booked like tables at Per Se, thanks mostly to our long running shows, we could use another space for a medium to large scale musical.  Because right now, the line of shows waiting for theaters is longer than the line for the women’s restroom at a Broadway theater.  (And I’ve got 2 shows waiting, Shuberts, uh, I mean, Santa, so see what you can do about that parking lot you bought, will ya?)

3.  Profit Sharing Union Deals

Everyone knows the costs of some of our union deals is onerous.  Except when you’ve got a hit, then the deals look cheap, right?  (And in the unions’ defense,  that’s one of the reasons we’ll never scroll back these rates, because Producers can still make plenty when the stars align.)  That said, what about the shows that struggle to find an audience at first, that have to close too quickly because of the high costs of labor in our fair city?  Oh, Santa, I know it’s a dream, but wouldn’t a profit sharing deal that paid bonuses on the big weeks, and less on the little ones be beneficial for all?

4.  A Redo of the .045.

Speaking of onerous costs, one of the biggest budget bustin’ leftovers involves some tax and pension legislation from 1963 called The Burton Turkus Award.  I talked about some of the issues of this Award here, but just know this – because of the changes in the Broadway industry over the last 50+ years, the Award is all out of whack and has Producers paying more than they should into union benefit plans.  It’s time for fix it, although it will take a Christmas miracle.

5.  A new play by Aaron Sorkin 

Did you watch Newsroom like I did and dream of a new play by the words-slayer, Aaron Sorkin?  It’s hard to imagine that he’s only had two plays on Broadway, but it’s time for a third, Santa.

6.  Week long golf camp with Jim McClean

Sorry, Santa, but had to slip this one in.  All Broadway and no golf makes Ken a dull boy.

7.  A “Chatter” gets a reviewing post at a prominent NY paper

Sure, sure, chat rooms are chat rooms, and can be filled with a lots of bluster, gossip, and misinformation . . . and that’s just from the Producers who post!  Hey yo!  But if you read ’em thoroughly, you’ll also find some super-smart and insightful reviewers, who love the theater and who all stay for the second act!  Hey yo x2!  Wouldn’t it be great, Kris Kringle, and a sign of our shifting times, if one of the people got a job as a critic?  I’d be the first to want to know if he/she liked it.

8.  More diversity in our audience and on our stages.

Almost 80% of our audience is white.  While that’s just sad, it also means that one of the ways we can expand the Broadway audience is to get to the minority theatergoers out there.  You can help, Santa, because you speak all languages.  And so should we.

9.  Health Insurance Redo

Employee contributions to union health plans are too high.  Obamacare is too confusing, and no one wants to take it.  And small business insurance still keeps going up every year.  Oh Santa, what do you do when you’re feeling under the weather?  You know what I do?  I don’t go to the doctor.  And that’s not good for me or anyone around me.  Heal Health Insurance, Santa.

10.  All Broadway Discounts websites get hacked by North Korea.

Hehe.  I just wonder what would happen if discounts weren’t so easy to find.  A wealthy theatergoer just told me yesterday that she “never bought tickets to any Broadway show without getting a code from INSERT DISCOUNT SITE.”  Would she and all the others like her stop going?  I doubt it.  Only one way to find out.  Kim Jong-un?  Get this, Un!  I hear a few of our discount sites want to do a Broadway musical about your life.  It’s gonna be called, North Korean Cuckoo Bird The Musical, and it’s going to feature a song called, “In A Few Years, My Waist Line Is Going To Be Bigger Than My Country.”  Hack at it!


That’s my gift wish list . . . what are you wishin’ for this Christmas?  Comment below what you want for Broadway, and maybe, just maybe, Santa/Mom will slide it under your tree.

Merry, merry everybody.


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There’s no labor in Broadway. But there’s no Broadway without it.

To most people in the US, Labor Day means one thing.  A day off.

It’s a day of BBQs that signal the end of summer, back to school, and no more summer Fridays.

When I first entered the Broadway work force, Labor Day meant another thing:  Holiday Pay (As an ATPAM member, we got a little extra in our paycheck on certain holidays – the theory being that unlike the regular work force, we didn’t get a long weekend – since the Broadway eight show a week schedule remains the same no matter what week it is).

But Labor Day isn’t about a day off, and it isn’t about a few bucks in your pocket.

It’s about the Labor Movement . . . or groups of people coming together for a common goal.

What’s funny is that’s what the theater is about, isn’t it?  Groups of artists coming together for a common goal.  Groups of audience members coming together for a common goal.

Often Labor and Broadway are seen at odds (although since the Stagehand Strike of 2007 I’ve noticed that new contracts seem to get settled much more quickly and quietly these days), when in fact we’re just not.

We’re all working in a industry that we love; an industry that while appears to be boomin’ has got significant challenges ahead if it’s going to continue to survive, and provide for all of us that work within it.

So as a proud union member myself (two and counting), I want to say thank you to the incredible folks in our unions, especially those behind that scenes that work with us to keep the lights lit, the actors dressed, and the tickets sold.  You are the foundation on which the shows are built.  And like foundations, people may not be able to see you.  But if you weren’t there, the house would simply fall down.

Happy Labor Day to all.


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