Saturday, November 17, 2007


Yes, as through this world I've wandered I've seen lots of funny men; some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen”
Woody Guthrie

One of our own died last night on the picket line. He died because an irresponsible commitment to improving margins. He died because of inflammatory rhetoric. He died because of a lack of compassion and a misplaced sense of entitlement.

But he also died because of his own drive to see the fight thought to the end. He died because of his commitment to improving the life of his natural family, his extended family and his community. He died for all the right reasons and all the wrong reasons. We, as his coworkers and fellow union members are filled with sadness at his loss, his loss for all the wrong reasons. We are also filled with admiration for his care, his love, his drive.

Black armbands had spontaneously appeared on the line throughout the day. Most were made of nice pieces of velour from the ladies of the wardrobe union. Some made from duvateen from television studios and other sources. Duvateen is a simple black cloth that is used for masking sets, a tool. Today that simple tool was turned into a symbol of mourning and resistance.

Tonight we gathered by his stagedoor. It was a brief time for him and for us. The solemnity of the moment was marked by its quietude. We, as a group, tend towards volubility, a love of talk, chat, gossip and verbal gymnastics. There was none of that in the breezeway tonight. His loss fundamentally changed the nature of our struggle. This fight stopped being a fight over money and became struggle for our dignity.

Our Pastor, who has stood by us, said the classic prayers. There were a few words from union leaders and we quietly drifted away.

Whatever happens with the contract, whatever happens to the conditions and the money, his loss and how and why it happened will be remembered for a generation.

Normally we would expect this event to simply end up on a paragraph in the back of the tabloid with a headline, ”Stagehand Dies In A Fight Over Money”. But his passing and how it happened will be written large for us for a long time. It will be burned into our hearts and taught to those who follow us.

Friday a stagehand died in a fight over money. Don’t ever forget.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

League, Thy Name Is Hubris.

"League officials said that the current contract was far out of line with industry practices in the rest of the country and that they would not sign another one with these provisions."

This doesn't exactly sound like something I'd be bragging about. Imagine a stagehand anywhere seeing this contract detailed for the first time. If the stagehands in NYC have provisions that protect crew size, that have provisions that protect the safe operation of the theatre, that have a viable middle class wages with benefits and I was a stagehand at a venue in a smaller market and I didn't have these things, I'd be pretty honked off. Right to work state or not, ticket prices aren't scaled back that far in most of these tour barns. What do you mean I can't have what the Local One in New York City has? Why the hell not? I’m doing the same work and you’re charging New York prices. The lowest guy makes $1200 a week and I’m making $800 for the same hours? Screw you! Overtime after eight. You bet. You mean that they can’t break the yellow card early? I want that. An extra hour just to mop and so we don’t have to do preset on a wet deck? Not anymore! And they’re getting all that support from the other unions. Maybe I’ll go talk to the Equity deputy and the musicians and see what we can do together”

The League may have just set its world on fire.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Clearly Channeling a lot of crap.

From comes a story that is sounding a little familiar.

"For 34 years, Bill Trowbridge was a sign hanger, one of those guys who puts up billboards."

"Five years ago, the media conglomerate Clear Channel bought the company and tried to make a profitable business more profitable. They offered buyouts that cut the 48 employees in Local 391 of the sign workers in half. But that wasn't enough.
Last March, Clear Channel told the remaining workers that they were unilaterally changing their hours, wages, and benefits. Men who were making $24 an hour, working a 40-hour week, were told they would be paid $15 per sign and would have to hustle to do as many signs as they could, safety be damned, with work hours set arbitrarily by management."

In 2004, the AFL-CIO commissioned a report on Clear Channel by Cornell University, It said, "The study also details at length Clear Channel’s growing web of influence in the political arena, a troubled history of adversarial labor relations and pattern of scofflaw behavior that has resulted in Clear Channel being sanctioned by federal and state agencies. Chelli Penigree, president of Common Cause, singled out the report’s examples of the Clear Channel money trail “which details a carefully crafted, money-driven development of insider connections not only with George W. Bush but with the rest of the Republican-controlled federal government as well.”

The entire report can be found at Clear Channel Final Report. In the Labor Relations section on Page 28, it says that "Clear Channel's business model is based on providing low cost media and entertainment services. The company typically seeks overall labor reductions by consolidating operations and eliminating positions, introducing labor saving technologies, concessionary bargaining with unions, and even pursuing union decertification. These strategies have a negative impact on employment and labor standards in the industry segments where the company operates. "

Are you a Springsteen fan? You won't hear his new album on a Clear Channel. From Fox News. "Bruce Springsteen should be very happy. He has the No. 1 album, a possible Grammy for Best Album of the Year for "Magic," an album full of singles and a sold-out concert tour.
Alas, there’s a hitch: Radio will not play "Magic." "In fact, sources tell me that Clear Channel has sent an edict to its classic rock stations not to play tracks from "Magic." But it’s OK to play old Springsteen tracks such as "Dancing in the Dark," "Born to Run" and "Born in the USA." He's being "Dixie Chicked"

What;s this to do with our little set to? Want to know who's driving this bus? IBDB has the list of shows Clear Channel has done on Broadway, either it or SFX. The SFX that was started by, sold by and bought back at fire sale terms by,Bobby Sillerman. NYT. "Grosses? You don't need no stinkin grosses." This from the NY Times article about the sale. "David Miller, an analyst at Sanders Morris Harris, said the executives had stated on conference calls and in visits with investors that "they were committed to the entertainment business for the long term."Mr. Miller added that "ultimately, what did them in is, the Clear Channel Entertainment brand name doesn't hold a lot of good will in the live entertainment community." This guy Miller has a degree in understatement.

My guess that Clear Channel is quite comfortable with fellow Texan, Charlotte, fronting for them. And just as comfortable that we're out on the street.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tiger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide.

The labor dispute on Broadway reveals again just how far we as a society have gone from in putting the needs of the moneyed ahead of all else. The wealthy piously speak of a need to get a good return on their investment at the expense of the society around them and demand that this outlook should form our own. We are told that our core as humans is about commerce rather than community.

What is art? Is it an experience or an investment? The actors in The Lord Chamberlain's Men had shares in the company. Did they create Shakespeare’s greatest plays for profit or the joy of storytelling? Did Pirandello take over the Teatro d'Arte di Roma because he was a Fascist or because Fascism and Mussolini allowed him his self-expression?

Bertolt Brecht believed that it was the duty of theatre to educate. "It is the noblest function that we have found for 'theatre'". He wrote "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" because he thought operas had become too full of ritual and bereft of substance. Yet could he have come to that conclusion if he had not lived in decadent Weimar Germany? Could he have survived in East Germany if he did not have the income from the Berliner Ensemble?

Who will inherit the mantle of O’Neill, Miller, Mamet or Shepard, the hard, American playwrights? What investor will step forward and say that the duty of theatre is to teach and create a collective experiment for both the artist and audience? We have our own wars, dispossessed populations, people making hard choices about family and life and death. Who is telling those stories? And why aren’t people watching? Or is that they simply cannot find an outlet?

I would be a lot more willing to make the sacrifices that I’m being told to make if the stories that were being told had meaning beyond a return on an investment. If audiences came out of the theatre with a different outlook on life instead of with a smile and some merchandise, then I could feel that I’m involved with something resembling art.

I’ll help sell your tickets and help promote your entertainment but your cause is not my cause. You may hire me as and consider me to be no more than menial labor but I spend far more time in a playhouse than you and consider its forms. This is my home and I have seen the power of the performance so ephemeral that it disappears with the first burst of applause. I've felt the audience respond with rapt attention and an explosion of joy.

The power of the art form is in the message not the profit. Speaking for myself, your cause is not my cause.