Before the bankers and brokers coughed up this massive furball of a financial mess, the common wisdom in the theatre was that “people will always need entertainment” and that we were recession proof. There would be shows and music and we would bring a few moments of joy to a suffering public. As long as one never took a long, hard look at our history as an industry, this was comforting. The Federal Theatre Project existed simply to give the Marc Blitzstein background for The Cradle Will Rock , nothing more.
Now, however, the interconnectiveness of it all is starting to become clearer. Right after New Years, headlines predicted the collapse of Broadway (OMG, 11 SHOWS CLOSING. SELL EVERYTHING!) while failing to mention that 9 shows were scheduled to open by March 1st. They may have been more correct than their short attention spans would have indicated. When the pipeline of new work emptied out of the scene shops and the theatres reopened, everyone looked over their shoulder to see what was next. There wasn’t anything. The shops that had hired 40 to 50 went down to minimal staffs and now there is a just smattering of new work coming in. What’s missing? The two things everybody in this business needs, money and credit. The money is for the landlord and the credits for the resume. Now the real world has intervened and things have gotten switched around. Bankers aren’t giving credit to shop owners and the rest of us aren’t getting any money. Shop owners play a key role in keeping this business afloat by carrying producers and fronting them material and crews to built the sets. There is certainly upfront money needed for each show but tools, buildings, plywood, screws, etc are all bought on credit, the shop owner’s credit. Some shop owners have better credit and cash flow management techniques than others. Like the ones whose payrolls don't lag with the producers checks and weeks pass without the crew getting paid. Don’t get me started.
Why isn’t there credit for scenery? Because bankers, like Toby Keith, are vowing that they will never smoke dope with Willie again. They partied long and hard and ended up in the fetal position with drool on their chin. “Just one more credit default swap and I’ll be good, man, I mean it.” The bankers and brokers are like those who are new to recovery and are just a little itchy and scratchy. “Credit? No, man, I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t go there right now. I gotta meeting I got to go to, otherwise I would. Maybe later.” Meanwhile we, the toiling class, have to start a national Alanon meeting for those of us whose lives have been directly impacted by those with an addiction to money.
Things will loosen up. Money will start to flow again and we’ll go back to churning out entertainment. I don’t think there will be that “Quinn The Eskimo” moment when everybody jumps for joy, but we’ll get better. Just will just happen one day at a time.