Friday, October 19, 2007

Class Struggle, The Post and Oxymorons

From Michael Reidel’s COST OF CLASS STRUGGLE column in the Post.

If class struggle is being mentioned in The Post, odds are the result will be at best, inane.

Rich people can be awfully sentimental about the working classes.

Actually, Mike, rich people think the working classes suck. They don’t want their smelly factories in their hometowns so they ship those nasty, damn things and their crummy unions off to overseas. There our little brown and yellow skinned friends can work in the smelly factories and become consumers themselves. The rich have convinced themselves that they have their own economy, the financial economy, separate from everyone else’s and that theirs is the ultimate expression of American might. Wait, Americanism is déclassé. Real people, our people, the wealthy, are citizens of the world, multinationals, whose expression is the ultimate example of the might of wealth. Our wealth.

Broadway has turned its back on the working and middle classes.

Again, Mike, not so much. Broadway has never really embraced the working and middle class. As a stagehand I've studied this a bit. Vaudeville and burlesque were it entertainment for the masses. Then radio and film. Then television. Now it’s the Internet. To say Broadway has turned it’s back on the working and middle class is like saying the Metropolitan Opera turned it’s back on the same audience. They were never invited to the party in the first place. The fact that the grosses on Broadway have risen so high speaks to the rise of tourism in Times Square and the loss of elitism on Broadway. An elitism the League of American Theatres and Producers is marketing and cheapening at the same time. Broadway is becoming more common rather than less. The aspiration of the middle class for an exposure to culture is main factor driving greater attendance. However, the topicality of the productions also speaks to that lack of understanding of the power of theatre.

The majority of US soldiers killed in Iraq are from the Rust Belt of the Upper Midwest. There are no jobs, no future and the only way out is through the Armed Forces or interior immigration. Hundreds of thousands of people are in the US illegally from all over the world and we don’t hear their stories? Single parent families dominate our society and commercial Broadway theatre ignores the implications. Off-Broadway and smaller spaces will take these issues on but their exposure is extremely limited. Adaptations of movies and revivals of past hits indicates the comfort level of both Broadway investor and audience is quite low to risk while the lack of new dramas and musicals telling powerful, modern stories says that audiences and investors have no appetite for challenging subject matter.

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. Karl Marx

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reducing The Odds

The League is linking shows closing to the cost of labor. Somehow "Ring of Fire" was more expensive than "Jersey Boys". "Festen" and "The Pirate Queen" were more expensive than "Spring Awakening". They all loaded in with the same size crews. The only real difference is that some were hits and some weren't. The Producers are telling each other (and their Investors) that if only we could reduce costs, we would have hits, hits and more hits. The way I see it is that this like going to a casino and telling the waitress that brings you drinks she needs to work for less because you don't like the odds at the craps table.

The head of the League, Charlotte St. Martin (formerly of the hospitality industry where they know how to treat workers. According to a Pew Study, 17% of all illegal Mexican immigrants work in the hospitality industry.) takes a chapter out the old union-busting handbook and makes illusions to what had been known as "featherbedding" (being forced to hire workers for jobs that don't exist any more due to technology). There's a saying in my business. "A lack of planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an emergency on my part." If the production team for the show doesn't have it's act together and wastes time, this is my problem how, exactly? On the shows I've worked, this poor planning is found more frequently with less experienced teams, with less experienced producers, usually in shows that are done on the cheap. Shows that close quickly but have generated income for the Producers in preproduction, at the expense of the Investors, for months if not years.

By lowering the bar for production, you'll lower the bar for production values. The Producers will take Investor's money for weaker and weaker shows (Batman, The Musical, Abie's Irish Rose, The Musical). By lowering production values, you end up with lifetime work for Producers, greater risk for Investors and a cheapening of the brand that is Broadway.