Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thoughts on Spiderman, safety and a union's obligation

If you're in theatre at all, you might be aware of the impending opening of the most expensive and complicated Broadway musical ever: Spiderman.

It certainly sounds uber-cool. U2's Bono and Edge provide the music and lyrics, and it's directed by Julie Taymor. She of the visionary Broadway version of The Lion King.

Broadway roles are hard to come by. Paying acting gigs are hard to come by. The percentage of Equity actors who actually make a living with their acting is horribly small. The actors who got that call that they had been cast in this show must have been over the moon happy about it.

But is it worth dying for?

And what s the duty of our union, as actors, to step in and shut something down when it is clear things are going horribly awry?

I'd say it's a pretty unmistakable moral duty.

The most recent of several serious accidents happened Monday night. An actor's cable snapped, and he fell 20-30 feet. They're not being incredibly transparent about his injuries, but latest reports cite broken ribs, internal bleeding and have him in serious but stable condition. Apparently undergoing back surgery. Nothing mentioned about head injury.

I'm prone to wonder about that, especially since one of the musicals lead actresses only recently returned form two weeks off due to concussion.She was hit in the head by a heavy rope and knocked out. Another actor broke two wrists during an aerial stunt.

A quite comprehensive look at the injuries and issues is here.

This show has been in development for years, rehearsal for months, and suffering technical setbacks, difficulties and these injuries since the very first preview (which is when the above-mentioned concussion happened). I don't mean to sound frivolous about the $65 million investment that's been made, but oh my God!

There are obvious safety issues. What else needs to happen to prove that? Sure, they can blame human error, and they are, but perhaps then they are asking the humans to do too much.

I think Equity (and OSHA) have an obligation to keep this show dark until every stunt and every set piece and every piece of machinery and equipment and every procedure and every failsafe and every fallback option has been thoroughly vetted...by experts. Not the same people who are already working on it. No, a new and fresh set of eyes and ears and hands.

Because a Broadway role...not worth head injury, not worth a broken back, not worth paralysis, and not worth dying for.

(PS-I think the same thing about sports, including cheerleading, in case you were wondering.)

What do you think?

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Equity shutting down SF office

I'm the least active Actors' Equity member ever, so my commentary isn't exactly going to be influential, but I do think it's a shame that Actor's Equity is shutting down their San Francisco member office this September. They're consolidating West Coast operations to LA and hoping that "modern technology advances" will make it easy to support the Bay Area theatre scene without actually being here. We all know that technology is great, but physical proximity does matter. Face-to-face relationships do matter.

Not that I'm sure the SF office was always that helpful. I've heard lots of my friends who are on the management side of small theatres say that they felt Equity was more hindrance than help when it came to finding ways to employ Equity actors. And that's probably pretty consistent across regions.

Then you hear that the SF office has had 5 different people in charge in as many years, and you wonder how on Earth it could be that hard to get someone to stay leading an Equity office in one of the country's most beloved cities? What the heck were they doing to that poor person?

I haven't even done a show/contract since 1999, and I don't think I've EVER interacted with the SF Equity office, so like I said: I'm just yammering. I just pay my dues and resist giving up my membership as a weird matter of pride and denial.

Why don't some of you who are actually currently active in the local Equity scene comment: What do you think?

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