Friday, July 15, 2011

Can we draw the line at asking underage actors to pay for the privilege of NYMF?

There is an atmosphere that's been surrounding the festival process in New York for some time now, and I think it just reached its tipping point into scary.  Of course, I started to notice it from the inside, two years ago. We did Fringe, but had a lot of contact with all the festivals. Without getting too in detail, I'll say that I think the way that VOTE! and several other shows were handled during the Nextlink and eventual NYMF festival process was pretty unprofessional. I watched producers of shows in 99 seat houses wring their hands in worry as more and more fee invoices came their way. 

Then, last summer, there was the showdown between NYMF and the Dramatists' Guild last year about contracts and rights. See this. And even more specifically, this. (No, seriously. Read that.) Basically, NYMF was putting the burden of subsidiary rights and the entirety of development on writers. For TEN YEARS after a NYMF production. (More than real, actual commercial and non-profit productions-- like those at LORT theatres. More than the Public Theatre! More than MTC! Who actually put money into your show and under whose contracts you are typically guaranteed at least 21 performances to make money. Just read. )

And now, that burden-- and that attitude of burden-- of passing it to someone even more eager, even more green, with even fewer resources in the industry... has trickled down even further. Now, it seems, that writers and aspiring producers-- crippled by the startling and astronomical fees of developing their show,  are attempting to pass that buck to young, teenage actors from outside the New York area. A production is asking only the teenage actors (not the adults) to pay $300 to be their show. This is on top of another $2500 participation fee to be in New York. 

This is the information that was given to these young actors and their parents. I will copy it here for you now, removing the name of the show:

4 Adults and 17-30 Teens needed for______ Musical production
performed at the 2011 New York Musical Theatre Festival
We are elated to announce that ________ has been selected to participate in this year ¯s New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). _________ is honored to be the organization that has been given the opportunity to cast and perform this show in the Festival.
We just received permission from NYMF to announce our participation in this year ¯s Festival.  We have also made the decision to only present the show in New York in the Fall and postpone our Houston production until the

This is a unique opportunity to get an Off Broadway acting credit.  We are the only production in the history of NYMF that is not being cast by professional actors out of New York.  This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity by auditioning for our production.

There is a $300 tuition for all teen cast members.  The New York production fee including transportation, lodging and food for 13 days is an additional $2500. Actors will be given multiple opportunities to raise the funds needed to cover the production fee, but are ultimately responsible for paying or raising the funds.  Adult actors do not pay the $300 tuition but do need to pay or raise $2500 for the New York production.  We hope to raise scholarship funds for actors who need assistance.

General audition info...
Please be sure to include your phone number in your request.  Auditions will be performed in front of an audition panel including, but not limited to, the director, music director, choreographer, and the playwright.
Auditions will consist of a memorized monologue and a song in the style of the show. Prepare one short vocal selection (16 to 32 measures) with printed piano accompaniment or an accompaniment CD without vocal. A pianist will be available at auditions. No a cappella please!
Bring a resume & head shot or photo if you have them.

NYMF is the largest annual musical theatre event in America and is widely regarded as the essential source for new material and talent discovery. NYMF provides a launching pad for the next generation of musicals and ensuring their creators the continued vitality of one of America's greatest art forms. Hailed as the "Sundance of Musical Theatre," NYMF discovers, nurtures, and promotes promising musical theatre artists and producers at all stages of development, and inspires a diverse audience through vibrant, accessible, powerful new works.
The Festival presents 30 productions each fall in the heart of New York City's theatre district, alongside a dazzling array of readings, concerts, and other special events.  It is attended by an audience of more than 30,000 theater lovers and by producers, talent scouts, and other industry insiders. 
Since its inception in 2004, The New York Musical Theatre Festival has premiered more than 250 new musicals - more than 70 of which have gone on to award-winning productions in New York, in regional theaters, in almost every state, and in 16 countries worldwide. NYMF alum Next to Normal opened on Broadway last year, where it won 3 Tony Awards (along with 8 other nominations) and was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. NYMF 2004 hitAltar Boyz played well over 1,500 performances Off-Broadway and spawned two National Tours. Yank!, which played to acclaim off-Broadway, recently announced a pre-Broadway workshop at the Old Globe Theatre.
NYMF 2011 is presented in association with, Production Resource Group and Major supporters include The ASCAP Foundation, BMI Foundation, Inc., The Broadway League, The BWF Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation with the support and encouragement of Jamie Ariel Phinney, The Charlie & Jane Fink Charitable Fund, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and The Theater League.  NYMF is supported, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Important:  You may forward this email to other actors who you believe may be interested in auditioning for _______.  You may not post anything on facebook or any website that indicates that ______ is part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

These are young, impressionable kids with dreams. They, and their parents, are not professionals, these kids are not in unions, they don't have agents or anyone to protect them and explain to them professional industry standards. No one is telling them that this is a scam. That they are being asked to pay for this production. 

I forwarded the announcement to several trusted folks to see if maybe I was missing something. I didn't want to believe it had gotten to this place. Or that NYMF and the New York festival contracts would allow this. Because, as terrible as this was, shouldn't some higher authority (NYMF) have explained that this wasn't cool?

Newsflash, NYMF: you might be a pretty good platform-- maybe the only platform that's "working" at the moment-- because we have some serious development issues in this business. But I am weary of NYMF because it's exploiting the good will of the people involved. It's not the ultimate launching pad to anything. It's just a festival. Writers don't owe a festival their first born because their show was in it. Getting a NYMF gig, even as a teenager, is not something an actor should have to pay for. 

I know that these are the real "in the trenches" moments and in the end, everyone pitches in a lot that is above and beyond when it comes to festival shows. Those people who worked with us gave us a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But we never asked them for money. Steven and I have paid for every single thing for our musicals out of our own pockets. Even when we were broke and writing personal checks to non-union, very young actors, never in my wildest nightmares would I have ever considered asking any actor to PAY for the opportunity to be in my show. 

Those ambitious kids from Houston are talented. I've seen videos of all of them. I'd cast them in my show at NYMF or anywhere else and I'd pay them. They could come to NYC on their own, get temporary lodging on their own, get cast on their own and not kiss ass and pay to do it. I know a lot of others who agree. 

I don't actually consider myself a boat rocker, and it's never EVER been my thing to bag on other people people's shows. I'm a fan. But I think this is a dangerous precedent to set. I would never treat actors this way. But I don't think it starts with this show. I think it's a nasty side affect of an attitude that is corrupting theatre left and right. We do some cut-throat stuff in this business, but can we draw the line at exploiting minors? Can we please agree to stop this? We're smart. Can we think of a better way to develop new musicals? Thanks. 

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