SAG-AFTRA, the union representing more than 160,000 film and television actors, last Friday joined the picket lines with the 11,000 members of the Writers Guild, who have been on strike for nearly three months – the first time the two unions have been on strike together against the film and TV companies since 1960.
While the strike is in effect, the actors will not be permitted by their union to attend premieres, awards shows or film festivals, nor do promotional interviews for films already completed, nor promote projects on social media.
What they are still permitted to do is act in theatrical productions. SAG-AFTRA members like Lea Michele will continue to star in “Funny Girl” on Broadway. New York theater will not be adversely affected by the Hollywood shutdown.
But will Broadway benefit from it?
Theoretically, if the strike lasts long enough, shutting down the pipeline of new films and TV shows, it could whet the appetite of an entertainment-hungry public for live theater,
But much the same forces that have put pressure on the screen industry and its creative artists – the rise of streaming, the lingering challenges created by the pandemic, increased costs due to inflation – are at work on the theater industry as well.
On the same day last week that the screen actors union announced the strike, the Public Theater announced it was laying off fifty employees, or about 19 percent of its staff, because its audience is down thirty percent, while its expenses have increased at least thirty percent. Their new season will present five new productions, down from eleven in the year before the pandemic. It had previously announced the elimination of its long-running annual Under the Radar Festival.
This comes shortly after the Brooklyn Academy of Music let go 13 percent of its already-reduced workforce. Its next season will be thinner. Its long-running Next Wave Festival will feature just seven programs, down from 11 last year.
Such cutbacks, and worse, are happening throughout the nation, prompting several alarmed think pieces in the past few weeks:
The theatergoing habit is broken. How do venues get people back in seats? by the LA Times theater critic Charles McNulty. (“The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just shut down venues for 18 months. It broke the theatergoing habit.”)
Theater is in freefall, and the pandemic isn’t the only thing to blame by the Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks. (“many of the country’s nonprofit theaters of various sizes are in deep financial trouble, in what is rapidly turning into the most severe crisis in the 70-year history of the regional theater movement.”)
How Do You Sustain the Theatregoing Habit? (It’s Complicated…) by Princeton theater professor Brian Eugenio Herrera in his #TheatreClique substack, who recounts, links to, and reacts to, a range of other think pieces, and lays out the practical challenges in 2023 of theatergoing, arguing for more attention to be paid for the audience that’s stuck with it, rather than just the audience that got away.
After taking a two week break from New York City, and theatergoing, I return feeling walloped by all this news of crisis. It is something of a tonic, then, to read Michael Paulson’s exit interview with Victoria Bailey, as she leaves her job as the executive director of the Theater Development Fund after 22 years. During that time, as Paulson observes, the TKTS ticket booth in Times Square that TDF was shut down first because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and then “by a blackout, a hurricane, a strike and a pandemic.” Now, Bailey says, “Broadway is back,” although she concedes audiences aren’t “as reliably robust as we would want,” nor, she implies, have they shown sustainable interest in the diverse new voices on stage.
But her optimistic tone, and the list of crises that she faced during her tenure, brought to mind the 1938 stage play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, in which a cast of 73 depicted thirty years of the ups and downs in the life of a fictitious Broadway theater. (Still and playbill above.) The play was entitled “The Fabulous Invalid.” The play, at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theater, didn’t last long, but the phrase has, an ironic assertion of the theater’s resilience in the face of the persistent reports of its imminent demise. It’s hard for even the biggest boosters to deny that the theater is not at its most robust right now. The question facing individual (present and would-be) theatergoers is not whether theater is still an invalid, but whether it’s still fabulous.
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Openings, Closings and Extensions
“Camelot” is closing on July 23, after a total of 38 previews and 115 regular performances. Plans are underway for a US national tour and West End production.
The musical joins “Life of Pi,” also scheduled to close on July 23rd.
“Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch” starring Leslie Odom Jr has set an opening-night date of Sept. 27 at the Music Box Theatre. The previously announced production will begin previews on Sept. 7.
Although it has yet to announce an official opening date, the Broadway transfer of “Merrily We Roll Along” has announced a closing date of March 24, 2024, which is two months later than originally scheduled.
(Check out my Broadway 2023-2024 season preview guide)
Eisenhower has been extended a month, through August 20th.
Interrnational Puppet Fringe Festival i August 9 –13, 2023 in the Lower East Side. As the only international festival dedicated to puppetry, it is organized by Teatro SEA, Grupo Morán (The Morán Group) and The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Education Center.
The London production of “Cabaret” starring Rebecca Frecknall plans to open at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre in spring of 2024, with the transform the theater transformed into the seedy Kit Kat Club of 1930s Berlin, the setting for the Kander and Ebb musical
Alan Arkin, 89, Oscar-winning actor, Broadway veteran both as a Tony-winning actor (for “Enter Laughing”) and a Tony-nominated director (for The Sunshine Boys.). Alhough best known for movies comedies, most notably Catch-22 (1970) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006), he was capable of great gravitas. He fathered three other actors, Adam, Anthony and Matthew
Jeffrey Carlson, 48, an actor who played the groundbreaking transgender character Zoe in All My Children, was also a three-time Broadway veteran, in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? , Tartuffe, and Taboo.
John Deyle, 68, four-time Broadway veteran
Betta St. John, 93, original innocent Liat in South Pacific alongside Mary Martin