We should walk in each other’s shoes.

The industry has a lot of big negotiations coming up in the next year or two, including Local 1 (stagehands) and 802 (musicians).  We’ve had a tough last decade, with both of those unions going on strike after impasse was reached.  And when someone goes on strike, guess who wins?  Nobody.  Guess who loses?  Everybody, especially our audience.

So, as chatter starts up about the upcoming sit-downs, I started thinking about ways we could make the talks go smoother.  And the first idea to pop in my head was to . . . well . . . trade jobs for a day.

That’s right . . . I’m proposing that 3 months prior to a negotiation, League Members should switch jobs with a member of the union that they are going to negotiate with (or at least follow them around for awhile).  So a producer should work a load-in, and a stagehand should try to find a star for a play.  A producer should go on a call back, and an actor should try and get someone to invest $100,000 in a show.  And so on.

One of the first rules of every negotiation is to try to imagine the other person’s position . . . this would give the negotiators the actual experience of the “other man’s shoes” and hopefully create empathy on both sides.  And then, if all goes according to plan, agreement could be reached just a teensy bit faster, and with less angst.

It’s simple and a bit hokey, but hey, so are half the musicals out there, and we’ve got no problem with those.

 

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What can Broadway learn from the NBA lockout?

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve been foaming at the mouth and ornery to everyone you know for the past couple o’ months, as you’ve suffered through B-Ball withdrawal thanks to the lockout.

Fear not, however, slam dunks and double-dribbles will return on Christmas day as a present to you all, now that a new 10 year agreement has been reached.

First class labor disputes in sports always catch my eye, because of the major similarity between the two sides of their negotiating table and the two sides of Broadway’s table:

  • Most of the owners of professional sports teams made money in other industries before getting involved with athletics.  (Sound like a lot of Producers you know?)
  • The players are the best in the world at what they do and can’t be replaced by others without weakening the product (Sound like a lot of actors/designers/directors/technicians you know?)

The specific causes of this year’s lock out stems from the claim of the owners that they were losing $300 million a year.  What’s interesting to me is that if you dig deeper and you find out that those losses come from 22 out of the 30 teams.  In other words, 74% of the teams were losing money, while 26% were making money.

Hmmmm . . . It is estimated that 20-30% of Broadway shows make money, and 70-80% lose money.

Coincidence?  Pareto’s Principle?

The owners sought to reduce salaries and salary caps, and after a ton of back and forth and the loss off two months of games, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars, a settlement was reached . . . but not until the players dissolved their own union so they could be rep’d by individual lawyers and sue the League for an “illegal boycott.”

What a mess.

And that’s where I hope the similarities between our industries end.  Because no matter who won this dispute or any dispute . . . I can guarantee you who lost . . . The Fans.  And sure, the rabid mouth-foamers aren’t going to switch from B-Ball to baseball because a couple of months go by before they get to watch a game.  But those aren’t the fans I’d be worried about.  It’s the casual fan that they could lose.

And it’s the casual fan we could lose if we ever find ourselves in a situation like the above.

And that’s why all sides of our industry need to remember that there are no sides when it comes to our industry’s survival.

 

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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.

 

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And the winner of this negotiation is . . .

NEGOTIATION_HANDSHAKE_LOGO A lot of folks out there on both sides of the bargaining table think that negotiating an actor deal or an artist deal is the same as buying a house or a car or a fake rolex on Canal Street.  You try to "win" the negotiation by getting the best deal you can, and then you're done.

But negotiating contracts in the entertainment industry, especially in theater, is different.  Remember, the people (and yes they are people, not "parties") involved in these deals have to work together day in and day out for a long time.  Everyone on both sides of the table has to do their best work in a difficult industry in order to achieve success.  You think that's easy when one side of a negotiation thinks they got screwed?  

Producers, agents, managers, actors, authors—all of us—need to remember that the only way a negotiation is won is when both sides are equally satisfied.  And the job of everyone at the table is not to just "get the best deal" . . . their job is to make the deal.  

Because that's the only way you make sure there are more deals in the future. 

 

 

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3 More Things I Learned While in London.

If you follow me on twitter, you know that I spent the weekend in the UK, taking in some new shows and some bland food (seriously, I love London. I don’t have to feel guilty for eating fast food, because I know I’m not missing much).

As is usually the case whenever I visit Broadway’s Step Brother, aka The West End, I walked away with a few observations about our similarities and our differences.

Here’s what I discovered this trip:

1.  The ushers in the UK are all young.

The average age of the ushers, ticket takers, and bar staff at every theatre I went to had to be about 23.  And each one of them was bubbling over with excitement and passion for the show that I was about to see.  They weren’t showing me to my seat.  They were priming me for an experience.  I’ve always thought that these positions were ideal for students of the theater . . . and even more ideal for the audience.  NYU should start a work study program with Local 306 (the ushers union).

2.  What time is the show again?

It was a light theater going trip for me this time ’round. I only saw four shows in the three days I was there.  And not one of those shows was at 8 PM.  I saw shows at 7:15, 3, 9:30 and 7:30. And I almost went to a Friday at 5.  While I was constantly checking and re-checking the curtain times all weekend because I had no idea which show started when, the alternative start times allowed me to see more theater in a shorter time.  I still wonder if a Friday at 5, during key tourist times here in the States, would work.  I’m dying to try it.  And someday I will.  Or maybe you’ll beat me to it.

3.  Times Square looks more and more like Leicester Square every year.

Everyone knows that Bloomberg has had a man-crush on the Mayor of London for years.  So many of the changes we’ve seen here seem to be inspired by successful policies there.  The AirTrain and the Heathrow Express Train, Congestion Pricing to reduce traffic (which never passed here), and now, the pedestrian walkways where streets used to be.  Heck, they even have people selling tickets to comedy shows in Leicester Square!  I’m all for it.  Leicester Square is a pretty exciting and safe place to be, drawing more crowds than ever.  If we can continue to create a more conducive environment for visitors to spend time in Times Square, just steps away from our theaters and the TKTS booth, our metaphorical boats will all have to rise.  It’s what I call The Times Square Tide.

And here’s a bonus!

4.  They drive on the ‘wrong’ bloody side of the road.

At every major crosswalk, an instruction is written on the pavement:  LOOK RIGHT or LOOK LEFT.  Why?  I can only assume its because people like me, who naturally look in one direction before crossing the street, need to be retrained to look the exact opposite direction if they want to avoid getting run over by a truck.

What does that have to do with theater?

If you’ve got a show that is working in the US, you might naturally think that the next stop is the UK.  Well, just because the folks there speak the same language (sort-of), doesn’t mean that their taste in the theater is the same.  In fact, it may be the exact opposite.  They literally may come at things from a totally different direction.

So before you cross the pond, make sure you stop, and look RIGHT instead of left . . . so you’re not hit by any oncoming traffic just waiting for you to step out into the street.

Because health insurance may be free in London, but producer insurance is not.

To read some of my past observations about London theatergoing, click here and here.

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