Author Topic: Too many sick days on Broadway.....  (Read 6606 times)

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loebtmc

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Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« on: Aug 20, 2009, 03:56 pm »
the producers are getting peeved and understudies are replacing in fulltime....

http://www.nypost.com/seven/08192009/entertainment/theater/west_side_substitutes_185329.htm

hbelden

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #1 on: Aug 20, 2009, 05:40 pm »
That article made me furious.  Here's the comment I left:

"What a trash article.  This is incredibly one-sided.  Where are comments from the union and the performers?  The union has been working for half a century to a) force the producer to hire understudies; b) add cover for life events like births, deaths, marriages; c) continue pay for an actor when through no fault of their own they miss a performance.  The industry wants to chew through performers as quickly as they can, but the cast is trying to maintain a lifetime career of EIGHT SHOWS A WEEK, SIX DAYS EVERY WEEK, not just get through this particular performance.  To all the commenting performers busy stabbing their colleagues in the back with comments like "the show must go on" or "what happened to professionalism": were you a triple-threat in your day?  Because triple-threat is the baseline minimum for even understudying on Broadway today.    Back off and support your union brothers and sisters!"

I'm still spitting nails about that piece.
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nmno

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #2 on: Aug 21, 2009, 01:05 am »
Okay, I will concede that the article was one sided and I know nothing about this particular situation other than what I've heard as gossip - however... 
I have experienced problems with this first hand. Let me start by saying that most of the people in my company are great, only call out if they need to or would suck it up and come perform if we really need them.  But I've also had actors who call out because they are hungover, because they hurt themselves doing a non-show related activity, because they strained their voice by not warming up, (not to mention: because they booked their flight too close to 1/2 hour and didn't allow a reasonable cushion, because they were out of town, because they were going to be late and it would be their 3rd offense and didn't want to be docked $75...)  Yes, you have sick days because people get sick and if you are sick you should stay home, get better, and not infect anyone else.  But you are also responsible for being proactive and taking care of yourself: eat well, get sleep, before performing WARM UP YOUR VOICE AND BODY. 
It seems like it's a problem with vets who are sort of over it and really should move onto another show, and young people who were given too much too fast and didn't learn/don't have the work ethic.  (Also part of the problem is producers who continue to hire these people.) I'll also say that when you know how much some of these people are making (some of the principles on my show literally make 2x what I make as ASM - and they're not even "above the title") it makes you want to shout "SHOW UP TO WORK!"

Tale goes that on Hairspray, Harvey Fierstein was annoyed at all the people calling out sick so he said that anyone using less than a certain number of sick days (I forget how many.  Less then him?) he would treat them to a fancy steak dinner. Even with the bribe and a cast of 32, it was a very intimate gathering.

KMC

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #3 on: Aug 21, 2009, 08:50 am »
Naturally the performer has a tough job with unique demands compared to other lines of work; I don't think you'll find anyone on this site who will argue otherwise.  We're all understanding of that, we have to be.  The way I look at it though is fairly simple.  If I call out sick or miss work enough at my job enough where it's a problem, my boss is going to deal with it.  He might let me hear it in a meeting, try to whip me into shape, and if that doesn't work he may just replace me.  I don't see why it should be any different for a performer, especially on that calibre stage.  Quite simply if a producer is paying you to perform, they expect you to perform.  Of course there will be legitimate sick days, but when people start to abuse the system you've got to expect a reaction.

Heath - I appreciate your passion on the issue.  Admittedly I am somewhat removed from the subject matter as I haven't called a cue in three years now, but that may actually help ground the debate on my end.  You mention the union has been working for ages to put these protections in place, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees with their necessity.  When people start to abuse what's in place to protect them though it's actually going to hurt the union's cause.  If producers see certain processes being abused, it's going to come up next time there's a contract negotiation.  Certain things may be curtailed or re-written to be more strict and prevent abuse (even if only perceived abuse) of the system.
Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

hbelden

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #4 on: Aug 21, 2009, 01:56 pm »
When people start to abuse what's in place to protect them though it's actually going to hurt the union's cause.  If producers see certain processes being abused, it's going to come up next time there's a contract negotiation.  Certain things may be curtailed or re-written to be more strict and prevent abuse (even if only perceived abuse) of the system.

That's completely true, and it's what motivated my visceral response to the article.  Most of my anger was directed at the newspaper, which told the story from the producer's point of view.  This is anti-labor propaganda, designed by corporate producers to weaken the union's negotiating position.  Is this abuse?  The newspaper would have us think so.  We are left with the impression that all those lazy actors just want a personal day, without any real investigation of what's causing all those outs.  What's the injury report on that show?  Did an epidemic of flu go through the cast?  Is any audience member aware that only one day off a week is so much less than they get at their day job?

My cool(er) response to the article, having slept on it, is that these Broadway producers needed to do their job in hiring understudies up to the task and paying for them to be rehearsed and put into the show.  It's not like there's a dearth of quality union performers who would take the job.

I think I read someone complaining about a swing going on as a different chorus role each performance in a week.  Well, that's the job of the swing.  If the job is too big for any one person, then the producer needs to hire more than one! 

As someone who's never worked on Broadway but hopes one day to get there, I don't think I'm going to accept at face value what the producer has to say about understudies or care one bit about audience members appalled at the number of inserts in their program.  When I do get to Broadway, I'll do my part to make it better.  When I stage manage shows now, I don't allow anyone's poor work ethic to affect the show, and I come down hard on people who think that the show they're on is beneath them.  I totally recognize the responsibility we all have to maintain the professionalism of our productions, and the necessity of discipline when appropriate.  But to see it splashed across the papers, to invite the public to weigh in on something they know nothing about, and to hear support for the producer's position from other union members... (*slams head against wall*)

There's too much anti-worker sentiment in this country for union members to be going around in public forums like the Post all "the show must go on" and "I went on with broken fingers in my day, what's wrong with these kids". 
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"I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right." - Sondheim
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MatthewShiner

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #5 on: Aug 21, 2009, 04:48 pm »
The issue is complicated from a producers’ standpoint – and that was the perspective given in the article.  (Please note, this has been an issue on several shows, including, as I remember, Spamalot.)

Let’s assume that the producers have good understudies, and they are well rehearsed – after all it’s in their best interest to have that be the case.  (Although not always done on shows, including long running Broadway shows.)  AEA does require understudies and does require a certain amount of rehearsal.  The show has been playing for quite awhile, so I am sure these understudies are not only rehearsed, but have performances under their belt.

But, there is a perceived notion that the level of performance is lessened when the understudy goes on.  (That may or not be the case – sometimes I have had understudies/standbys be better then the original cast.  AND, we all have experienced that when an understudy goes on, sometimes all the other performances rise a bit to help out the “new guy”.)  The producers want to protect the perceived value of their show.  As an audience member, when I see a whole host of understudies on, my first reaction is, and this is as an informed audience member, that the performances may be sub the typical performance, especially when they are subbing for a Tony Award winning performance.  One of the main reasons I go see a show in New York, rather then wait for the road-show version, is to see these award winning performances.

Personally, I was in the audience for one of the first performances of The Producers that Nathan Lane was out.  The entire time I watched the show, which I thoroughly enjoyed, somewhere in the back of my head, I was wondering how much better the show would have been with Nathan Lane in the performances.  Luckily, I was able to go back and see him perform.  In the end, the show wasn’t that much different – but I did enjoy seeing the original cast member in the performance.

There is also an “insider” notion – that producers know – that when a show in waning, more and more people will call “out” – for whatever reason.  So, a show with a lot of understudies performing can look like the show is about to close – and if that word gets out, ticket sales can begin to slump.  (Who wants to see the show that is about to close due to poor ticket sales?)

A director can easily get upset about this issue as well, because in almost all situations, an understudy is not rehearsed or directed by the original directed and is either put in by an assistant, a dance captain or the stage manager.  And with their name on the show, they want it to be as true to their original production as possible.

I think this is a very complicated issues.  I think it has a lot to do with how our union covers outages with pay and without pay – calling in sick doesn’t require approval, doesn’t require pre-planning, and they still get paid.  When you see patterns developing in outages (like higher percentages of “sicknesses” being on Tuesday and Sunday . . . you can’t but help question the legitimacy of these outages.)

I also think there is a generation issue involved in this – in general, there is an changing attitude in younger employees.  Recently articles have mentioned there is less employee/employer attitude, people are staying with jobs less time, and job switch a lot.  How that general trend applies to theatre could be debated and tracked as well.  But, I do have to say in regional theatre I have noticed that there is a generation change in younger actors versus older actors about calling in sick, missing performances, etc.  There is a slight deterioration in work ethic.  (Although I have to say the extreme “the show must go on” attitude may have been too far in one direction.)  I also note that young actors tend to push themselves a little more outside of rehearsal, less willing to scale back their non-work life to deal with the pressure  and demands of a 8-show week on  a open-ended run.  Yes, this is difficult . . . but it is the contract they signed.

I also think it is important to note . . . it was the director who spoke to them, not the producers.  It was artist to artist, so I think more artistic concerns were in play here.
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

MatthewShiner

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #6 on: Aug 22, 2009, 11:10 am »
I just spoke to an ex-company manager/Broadway producer and he says this is not a new problem, and not a problem easily solved.  Absenteeism is a huge problem on Broadway.
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hbelden

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #7 on: Aug 22, 2009, 03:11 pm »
Matthew,

I appreciate the reasoned response and calm thoughts about the issue.  I freely admit that I am uninformed about current Broadway culture and work ethics.  However, I'll never back down when I see a union being attacked.  Perhaps AEA should start considering its own responses to this problem, if it is as rampant as you say.

Perhaps someone who is on one of these big shows has something to contribute.  I remember when I shadowed "Lion King" in L.A. (and this was 6 or 7 years ago) I was shocked to hear how many outs they had on a regular basis.

Thanks,
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Heath Belden

"I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right." - Sondheim
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MatthewShiner

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #8 on: Aug 22, 2009, 09:41 pm »
I think it would be odd for AEA to step into punish behavior of it's members . . . but I am sure the producers would love for their to be a solution to rampant absenteeism.  

EDIT: Fixed some wonky formatting. - PSMK
« Last Edit: Aug 23, 2009, 03:02 am by PSMKay »
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KMC

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #9 on: Aug 23, 2009, 03:00 am »
I think it would be odd for AEA
to step into punish behavior of it's members . . . but I am sure the producers would love for their to be a solution to rampant absenteeism[/right].  

And therein lies the question.  When does AEA decide it's for the greater good to keep their own house in order?  When do these issues surface within the union?  Or when do the producers say 'enough is enough'?  How is compromise reached here?  Does the union continue to hold serve on the issue or do both sides compromise for the good of production quality?
« Last Edit: Aug 23, 2009, 03:02 am by kmc307 »
Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

Scott

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #10 on: Aug 23, 2009, 10:19 am »
I need to check with sources to find out more about the current state of affairs.

But I do know the first time I heard of this phenom was during the earlier days of Rent.  According to an audio engineer on the show, the producers refused to hire singers with legitimate voices and insisted on hiring talent lacking in proper training (in order to retain a "gritty" feeling.)  Without legitimate training, these perfromers continually blew out their voices, so absenteeism soared.

chrrl

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #11 on: Aug 24, 2009, 05:55 pm »
This is a great topic and a fascinating debate - thanks for posting it!
It's clearly a weighty issue, but I will say that when I worked on a show that had 3 swings the cast seemed to keep injuring themselves and there were nights that we had all swings on and were splitting tracks.  At the same theater on similarly challenging shows (or more challenging) when we only had 2 swings they rarely got to perform.  Of course we have to protect actors from doing themselves permanent damage or making things worse when performing with an injury, but it also seems that the bigger the safety net the more it's abused.

MatthewShiner

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centaura

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #13 on: Oct 20, 2009, 12:22 pm »
Quote
I also note that young actors tend to push themselves a little more outside of rehearsal, less willing to scale back their non-work life to deal with the pressure  and demands of a 8-show week on  a open-ended run.  Yes, this is difficult . . . but it is the contract they signed.

I had a run-in with this in London, when I saw RENT on the Westend.  One of the leading ladies had a strained voice, and should not have been performing at all.  But (according to the rumors I heard after the fact) she had strained her voice doing other commitments, so was not allowed to skip any performances (or any more performances - don't remember).  Anyway, it was painful to hear her open her mouth and whatever voice she had was gone by the second act, she went from hoarse to total laryngitis.  Before I got to ask the rumor mill why she was even onstage, I left the theatre not understanding why they had let her go onstage.  The quality of her performance was non-existent.  When I found out later that she had strained her voice doing things outside her RENT contract, that then affected her ability to fulfull her RENT contract - I wasn't sure what to think. 

When and how to you deal with someone who's not respecting their contract that way?  I know that working 6 days a week with only one day off sucks, and that most folks feel that they should take whatever work they can get - when you life is either feast or famine, most want to take advantage of any feasts that come up.

-Centaura

Tempest

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Re: Too many sick days on Broadway.....
« Reply #14 on: Oct 20, 2009, 01:32 pm »
When and how to you deal with someone who's not respecting their contract that way?  I know that working 6 days a week with only one day off sucks, and that most folks feel that they should take whatever work they can get - when you life is either feast or famine, most want to take advantage of any feasts that come up.

That's the question I puzzle over, as well.  Also, what's the order of priority on commitments?  I'm sure that RENT performer has contracts on those other "commitments" as well.  Did she sign them before she took the role in RENT?  After?  In the middle of the run?  Did she take the other job, first, but it didn't begin until after RENT had opened?  If these were prior commitments, doesn't she have a responsibility to them higher than the show?  It's murky ground, and a question that most professions don't have to deal with. 
"Do your highest work at all times," is a great phrase to throw out, but we all know that the human body has limits and show business and performing is ROUGH.  I don't think that an easy answer to this question exists, but discussion is a great start.
Jessica: "Of course I have a metric size 4 dinglehopper in my kit!  Who do you think I am?"

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