Thursday, September 17, 2009

devil in the details (producing part two)

The introductory theater course at the small Midwestern college I attended as a smartass undergrad was pejoratively called "Baby Drama." Through the year-long course students (the majority of whom, of course, saw themselves as actors) were required to do units on every facet of theater, from design to technical theater. A unit that is woefully lacking is producing.

Every actor should produce at least once. (My union, Actors' Equity Association, does not agree. More on that below.) As I've noted before, producing -- in my estimation -- is notable by how unnoticeable the producer must become. This is a wonderful exercise for those who love being in the spotlight, as they must keep their hammy instinct in check.

It's right around here that anyone who's worked on COI productions will smirk, since the author of this blog is a repeat offender, simultaneously producing and playing leading roles in productions -- including the last four. Sheesh.

I will say in my own defense that I have always made sure to insulate myself as producer and performer/playwright by placing buffers -- directors and co-producers with veto powers and the freedom to make final decisions -- not to mention a willingness on my part to go along with those calls, even when I disagreed. If our shows haven't sucked it was not because I was in them or wrote them; it was because I made sure the final decisions on a lot things were in the right people's hands (hands that were NOT mine).

The theater company's name, Conflict of Interest, is an homage to the status under which I work as a producing Equity actor. I don't know where my letter went so I can't quote chapter and verse, but I am in violation of AEA's by-laws; I am under perpetual "conflict of interest" status for having being acted as both producer and performer. This is true even on shows I'm not producing. And I got the dunce cap after doing it just once -- a one-strike-and-you're-out rule.

This is because AEA is a labor organization, and views the theater industry as a classic labor model, analogous to, say, a car factory. In a factory, labor and management will never become one: an assembly line worker is not going to build a factory next door.

But of course theater is not at all like manufacturing: theatrical line workers (actors and stage managers) can and do build their own workplaces all the time. Instead of acknowledging the miracle of market flexibility that it is off-Broadway (ooh, sorry, we're calling it Indie theater now), actors lucky enough to make the union who also produce their own works are seen as enemies among performers, rather than potential allies among producers.

This rant is becoming stale in my mouth, since it's been my well-worn soapbox for a few years now. Rules are rules: they piss you off, and you work around them. The end. You can let them stop you, or you can refuse to do so.

Either way, rules don't care -- they just are. And the more you get worked up, the more the people who enforce them get worked up: the AEA point-person who first encountered COItc's name on showcase paperwork did not find the name endearing.

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