Thursday, December 4, 2014

Actors Equity vs the Artistic Theatre or (Art Perverses Commerce)

What did I mean when I made the comment that "The Revolution is Coming" in regards to Equity's ancient Showcase code? (Which AEA retweeted!) Whatever I meant, many of you literally 'liked it.' We want to work with Equity to rewrite this archaic code, which still mandates the maximum charge of $18 for admission. That is $3 more than it was in 1982 and still less than a Manhattan movie ticket. (Social Media, Email, Blog reviewers, etc have all changed the field since the "Showcase code" was created). ReGroup has been working on this for years, and even have had a gracious, thoughtful meeting with Equity President Nick Wyman in early 2013. While the meeting was to be followed up with another, it yet has been, and we've had radio silence.
Small companies are getting angry and desperate, and for good reason! While Nick said, "You can't expect to make money in the theatre," I told him, I'm not asking to MAKE money, I'm asking for a tiny chance not to lose our shirts so we can continue bringing important theatre to NY, and republishing these amazing Group plays for companies worldwide. (I've actually forked over any 'spare money' and a lot of my credit to bring these works to life, and I did so willingly.  Our actors are volunteers. We have an Oscar Winner, many Tony Winners, Multi-Obie winners in our shows, and they all will work for free as they believe in the Theatre (Capital 'T') - not just in filling their wallets. Fulfilling work, by considerate employers, is worth more than gold.  Certainly Equity had/has a reason to exist, but in this age of social media, if a producer is an ass, it will be spread within minutes.  No one, from pizza parties to birthday cakes, treats their actors better than we do. I try to right all the wrongs I experienced as an actor in my 20's.
Some actors want to be stars, and that is totally  fine, but most want to make a difference. The Showcase code does not allow for the latter.  It's all about transaction.  If a painter wants to paint, or an actor wants to produce their own one woman show, (or a hater wants to hate) they shouldn't have to seek Big Daddy Union's permission. We've heard that the union is worried we will "exploit ourselves". While that is utterly ridiculous, it's much better we do it than a pervert producer who can pay the union salary. While it's most likely they're out to protect the big money earning Broadway theatres from the little revolutionaries, it's clearly and ridiculously out of date. (1982? Are we all still supposed to be drinking TAB?) The ancient Showcase code is the main symptom crippling the Fabulous Invalid.  In the theatrical 'ecosystem', if the little plankton can't take risks and flourish, the "BIG FISH" at the top of the food chain will die miserably. It's Art!! (Or at least it should be.) Equity's lack to keep the Showcase code relevant has majorly contributed to the 'schools' who charge $40 for a 3 minute 'class' with a Casting Director.  This is now the main way talent gets seen. It's unethical and destructive to our theatre. AEA,why aren't you protecting talent from the vultures?  A class-action lawsuit is going to happen eventually, and it will show how much strength our union has.
#FiCore? #NewArtistUnion?

2015 will see the most massive changes in the Off/ Off-Off-Broadway scene in ages. ReGroup is honored to even be a part of that.  AEA is with us or against us.  #TowardABetterTheatre
Allie Mulholland

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


"Turr-able, Turr-able, It's Awful to Think About"
- Paul Green

Cheryl  Crawford, one of the 3 founders of the Group Theatre, paired up Paul Green (who wrote the Group’s first play The House of Connelly) and Kurt Weill (the acclaimed European composer in his first American composition).  The play, by Paul Green with music by Kurt Weill, is a somewhat convoluted story of a young innocent boy who gets enlists in WW1 as he believes it is the “war to end all wars.”
The current version presented by the Kenan Theatre Co, UNC Dept of Dramatic Arts and Music, and the Institute for Arts and Humanities is billed as the “world premiere” of the new, more coherent, version of Johnny Johnson, revised by Dr. Tim Carter, who claims to have spent 6 years on the project.    As he authored the poorly written tome that was published by the Kurt Weill Fdnt and still for sale at $400 a copy - it’s no surprise he is on Weill’s side. That’s a shame, as despite how gorgeous and memorable the music can be, it’s Green script that is the key.
Weill’s songs are beautifully composed, but they add little, if anything, to the plot.  This new version includes songs that were originally cut by the creators before ever being produced (further cuts were wisely made by the experts in the Group Theatre), and after hearing the added songs, it’s clear why they were cut.  Dr. Carter has found that he needs to add every scrap of music back into the play while cutting 2/3 of the dialogue.  Instead, he’s inserted a One-Act by Green called Roses for Johnny Johnson and it sadly becomes the main bulk of the script. While the One-Act has many charms, it comes at the expense of the overall storytelling.
It was priceless to see so many ‘deleted’ scenes from Johnny Johnson, just as a theatre-lover, but for the average attendee, it provided a very warped version of the play.  As it’s unlikely the average attendee will seek out the published script (Samuel French/Regroup Theatre), THIS production is sadly the only version of Johnny Johnson they will know. Like the brilliant novel that is poorly adapted for the screen, those who haven’t read the book may wonder why those that have are shaking their fists at the screen.
Johnny Johnson is a long play (or musical in this case), but adding unnecessary songs and plot in exchange for character development keeps the actors from developing 3 dimensional characters and keeps the audience from caring.  Dr. Carter is clearly trying to make a name for himself by revising the script and including all the rare scraps he found at the expense of the play.  “An unheard stanza? An unseen scene? Throw it in!” That seems to be Carter’s idea. If this is the story he wants to tell, he should write his own play - with music, instead of butchering Green's script.
While it’s extremely difficult to direct a play with such a huge cast, Selena Ebhardt fails on so many levels. I’d say the main problem is script analysis, but when the majority of the script is cut, it makes some sense.  When presenting such a monumental production, you have great responsibility on your shoulders.  The show went off, but almost every decision, being fight choreography, the blinding all white set and blocking were a travesty. It’s actually hard to imagine them being worse.) Minny Belle gets proposed to and keeps on singing without even slightly acknowledging it? Changing Capt Valentine to a flaming 'bisexual' for no reason an in conflict to the script! The soldiers on the front lines are shouting and dancing, even though a sniper is shooting at them? Changing the meaning of the word ‘Nuts’ to mean testicles instead of lunatic is just sloppy. These are just a few examples that should have been fixed with a minor note from even the most novice director.  All this aside, it was an undergraduate production. I don’t want to point out any performance faults as it should be a safe space for the students to learn.  I feel it’s necessary to applaud the professional work of Kyle Strickenberger (Sgt. Jackson/Sniper) and Emma Gutt (Dr. Mahodan).  As it’s a student production, I also feel it important to point out how mic’ed everyone was. In such a small theatre, and even with a demanding score, it was entirely unnecessary and harmful. It’s a shame the UNC is telling their students this acceptable behavior for an actor. It is not.
Like the ‘special edition’ dvd of a movie, I’m glad I got to see the “deleted scenes”. Just the same, it’s very clear why they were scrapped. Hopefully, you will never have to sit through this perversion of the show.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Dear young actors – So many of you are getting off the bus/plane/train this week to find a career in NY! WELCOME! Whether you’re studying at an expensive university or an acclaimed studio or making it on your own – here’s our words of advice to make it!

STUDY! READ! STUDY! READ!  STUDY! NEVER STOP READING! Even the bad writing will teach you what it means to be good. (So read lots of Theresa Rebeck so you will know the former!) 

You will still be young a year from now, and you will be a much better actor if you find the right teacher and it’s in your DNA.  If it’s not, you’ll have spent a year learning how to be human rather than an extra year sitting around and waiting for your cell to ring.

Young, already good actors - You will give the best audition the casting people have seen, and you often will have more education than they do. Fact. They won’t even know it and won’t even care as the part was cast months ago. I’m not being a pessimist – always try – yet I’ve seen actors who are much better than myself get passed over for some D-list CW flunkie. It’s the business. And I truly believe the casting directors think she is a better actress than you as they’ve seen her transform into a vampire on Hulu. It’s the business. (There is no A R T in business.) The people in control do not even KNOW what it good.   If you are true, you can help change the tide.  It doesn’t mean being bitter, it means rolling up your sleeves and getting to work!

Places like The Network, Actors Connection, One on One, etc, etc want your money. BADLY! (One on One used to be a casting director – but I guess there’s more money in essentially ripping off actors than in casting them. It’s a perfect sign of the times.)  It’s due to the desperate actor’s fight against ‘failure’. It’s a union failure. No other field allows for a pay to play interview. NONE. It should be illegal, and the unions and the Attorney General have failed you by allowing this to happen. By calling a 3 minute paid audition a ‘class’, they can get away with it. A huge class-action lawsuit is inevitable. It will upend the businesses and the unions who fail to take action.  These classes contribute to the dumbing down of the theatre/film/tv industry. People can pay to read 20 yr old soap opera copy or a failed comedy pilot for $40 for 3 minutes instead of working in an off-off-Broadway show that may actually transfer to something bigger and not only get you a resume credit but real experience. It may pay dust, but at least it wasn’t costing you $15 a minute. Those (quality) experimental shows are the lifeblood of our theatre – and as the small off-broadway theatre dies, so do your employment opportunities and the chances to take control of your career.
Unless SAG-AFTRA/ Equity defend actors, its current members and future-members, against these rip-off artists, and helps protect the low paying art theatre, while it makes concessions for the hugely funded touring Broadway shows.
As new artists coming to NY – you can help change the tide by seeking out real theatres to work with and NEVER EVER paying to be seen for an audition.
We get the theatre we deserve.

We wish you nothing but luck,
PS - And never ever take nudie pics on your phone unless you want a baseless career boon that you can’t possibly sustain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Any Asshole can Blog "And most do"

Yes, I get the irony in that statement. I recently replied to a critic's mixed review of ReGroup's A Texas Trilogy, stating there were blatant mistakes in it. The editor, who seems like a decent guy, said I'd need to edit it before he could post it and asked me to rephrase the word 'lies' as 'misreported'. I refused to be censored and put a spin on, well... the lies, and felt I failed my company by letting a 3rd rate writer review the shows - to which I was told "It's a free country" and he can review them if he wants. Journalism is in the toilet - Our production was called "Uneven". Fine. Yet 4 of the top 5 headlines of reviews on the site also use that same exact word. Not something to get upset about - yet a red signal it's not a site I'd want reviewing my artists. The biggest lessons I've learned about running a theatre sometimes come from intelligent, negative comments.When I refused to edit my post, I was accused of censorship and told I wasn't willing to have a dialogue. Some dialogue when my words are censored. You can google it and find it here - with their 60 'expert' writers.

Here's my reply, that was deemed inappropriate on the reviewer's site. I can stand by all of my statements, and yes, I can laugh at myself better than anyone can- though I know humor is sometimes hard to read online. The editor's perceived 'snark' was meant to be laughable.


We’re honored to have such an esteemed critic as Paul Darvis in attendance. (See, anyone can bullshit online.) Art is subjective, so I don’t fault his criticism. When there are downright factual inaccuracies – they need to be called out. The set was not the same for all 3 plays, other than a literal breadbox and one bookshelf that both appeared in 2 of the 3 plays, the set for all three plays was different – down to the rug, the coffee table, cookie jar, the wallpaper and the towels in the kitchen. That’s the most basic outright lie. I could go on, but it’s not worth my time.

Darvis’s statements about union vs non-union actors is also very unclear. He praised mostly non-union actors and trashed the union ones. What’s the point?

When 4 of the 5 recommended articles on the site are :
Fuse Theater Review: “Working, A Musical” — A Pleasantly Uneven Hymn to the Working Man
Fuse Film Review: “Begin Again” — Lost Souls Making Uneven Music Together
Fuse Theater Review: An Uneven Evening Out “On The Town”
Fuse Music Review: Emmanuel Music’s “A Little Night Music” — An Uneven Evening
a certain word stands out, and perhaps Fuse needs to send their critics back to school or at least get them a thesaurus. You cannot make this crap up. It’s too obviously funny. We knew we were in for a hack job when the critic didn’t even know his editor’s email address, and after 3 nights, finally provided the WRONG email. There’s lots of ‘uneven’ theatre out there (thank God, it evens out the rest that’s tested and polished for public consumption) but there are even more terrible critics.
Brian Stites
Founder of the ReGroup Theatre (We’ve had our colon surgically removed, so where Paul got ‘Re:Group’ from is another mystery)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Heckle or Dr. Jekyll

So the 'internets' are all abuzz over a prematurely closed production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Repertory East Playhouse in CA. For those lucky enough not to be plugged in - in short-  some idiots were yelling homophobic remarks at Brick (or the Paul Newman character as many news outlets so intelligently reported) and during Act II, the actor playing Big Daddy had enough of it and broke character and tried to eject or decked the hecklers (depending on which report you read). And some heroic audience member (likely a member of Actors Equity who surely has added this credit to his resume) bravely threw them out after the incident and then seems to have made a full time job talking to the press about it.

So What? The whole purpose of the arts is to provoke a response in its audience. A production of Cat that did more than entertain should be applauded. Clearly, we don't condone hate speech, but at the same time, it's the artists job to expose things swept under the rugs, unknown, ignored or deemed unimportant. We'd like to think we live in a world of equal rights, where people are treated the same, but as the play shows, that wasn't and still isn't the case.

There are 2 kinds of hecklers- and maybe this just was the drunken asshole trying to get a rise out of people.  In that case, I am reminded of Stella Adler's fabled story of the touring production of Awake and Sing!  At one point when a character remarked the house doesn't even have an orange, the actors were pelted with oranges. Adler stepped to the front of the stage and proclaimed, "It's up to you ladies and gentlemen out there to protect these actors." And they did.  Incidents like this are part of what makes the theatre so special - REAL LIFE EXPERIENCES - communion between the action on the stage and in the audience. These aren't ideal, but it's what make the theatre completely different from the people that yell out in the movie theater, "LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!' Ideally they would all be ejected by a 7 foot bouncer, but in the theatre, there's the chance to spin their interjections into the tapestry of the performance. (That is the most pretentious thing I've ever said, but I stand by it.) They can't teach that in acting school or even through years of performance experience - but a theatre audience influences the show every night - (Maybe we should punch them when they don't laugh!). Embrace it and create a unique and powerful night. It's one of the biggest assets the theatre has going for it!

The other type of heckler is the true racist/homophobe/bigot/asshole.  Again, it's not ideal, but their outbursts solidify why we do our work as artists. During the closing moments of ReGroup's recent revival of Paul Green's 1931 play The House of Connelly, the two former slave women murder the new bride and heir to the Connelly farm.  During this scene, an audience member started shouting, "I hate niggers." The audience started yelling at her and some smacked her with their playbills. Yet the actors kept on course without violence. Though tears were shed and feelings were hurt all around in the company, including my own, the larger goal prevailed. We're here to tell a story that affects people. The response the play and the performances solicited only shows that the issues dealt with in an 83 year old play are still alive and unwell. It was unsettling and uncomfortable, but it struck the audience to the core.

At their bests, artists are here to tell a story, to communicate, and hopefully make a change, however minor, in the way the audience thinks. Through the communion of actors and audience, there is a unique experience every night.  While I don't condone hecklers, I'm saddened by those who have made the incident into a grab at a headline instead of using what the audience was giving to make the performance even more resonant.

Think of our greatest talents? Surely Maureen Stapleton, Olivier, Jessica Tandy, Brando, Newman, Duse, Geraldine Page, etc etc etc all had nights like this - but I don't recall any stories of smack-downs.  USE WHAT YOU ARE GIVEN AND MAKE IT PART OF THAT NIGHT'S DIALOGUE WITH THE AUDIENCE.

(And if you're going to beat up someone in the audience, why not start with the critics who know nothing?!)

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Wis-dumbness of Theatre Professionals

So Many Experts are Total Idiots

Young actors-

For a decade, I made a very nice living doing soaps, off-Broadway, and print ads - It was great money but for me, it was Hell. (Note - I don't look down on anyone who does the same.  I'd rather clean toilets where no one sees it than use my artistry to undermine my body of work. Pretentious? Not at all - it's great for some people, that's great by me.)

I studied with two of the main casting directors for major theatre companies in NY. 1.) Gave us a monologue from some (usually) awful play of the last season, and after the performance of said piece, told us that we needed to perform the beginning and the end of the play in that one scene. ??? First off, many of these plays were not yet in print, but how could I portray the first scene, an innocent first date that 3 hrs later turns out to be a killer in one 3 min scene.  First of all, it's WRONG! In his first scene, the character would never show his Act 3 development of a psycho on his first date. It's kills the storytelling and the arch. I understand the need to see both sides of the character - so give me an Act I scene and an Act III scene. I can play, but should not play, Act III at the start.

The MAIN, lifechanging example came from a huge off-Bway moneyhouse casting director who told me in class that I reminded her of Marlon Brando or Paul Newman. I was speechless. What better compliment could an actor be paid?  She proceeded with, "No one wants that anymore." Uh, uhh................   She asked me to redo the monologues as casual conversation. I could, of course, but it was wrong. Joe Bonaparte said, "If music shot bullets I'd like it better." as if he were saying, "Is there any more Mayo?" She raved over the adjustment, but it was WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! After she spoke with my manager, I was called in to her office and told "I know you think Brando and Newman are good actors, but people don't want that anymore. They have been SOPHISTICATED by reality TV." (Once sentence that is burnt into my memory.) I left and threw up on the street.

Yet, in a way, they're all right. People want what's familiar and doesn't push them to think. Shouldn't the arts lift people up instead of dumbing them down? That was a horrible, yet very important day in my life, and in the life of my theatre world. 

Arts vs Crafts

Pretending It's Art
(Or Justifying Throwing Ashtrays at Actors)

This site is meant to better the theatre, but sometimes, you have to focus on the problem to make an improvement.  It's not bitching, it's a diagnosis. If throwing rocks at false idols is what's necessary, I fully condone it.  Pointing out unhealthy behavior is what Doctor's do.

Waiting tables. Mopping Floors. Doing Shitty Plays about Marilyn Monroe or plays with gratuitous  male nudity - They're all a fact of life for a young person in the theatre. They're hopefully a harmless means to an end, but what if you start buying into the means, there's a danger. Believing your work as a waiter is of global importance is delusional; yet, I meet actors every day doing shitty plays, paying their dues, but proclaiming the work to be important. Quite quickly, they become convinced that it is high art.  They may be even doing some good work in it, but that doesn't mean it's art. (This is usually from a lack of education, not meaning classroom learning- but once it become truth, they become "Born Again" artists, speaking loudly and handing out postcards in the subway.)

By art, I don't mean something aristocratic, snobbish or even purely skilled. Look at paintings, Thomas Kinkaide was a very skilled painter, but I'd bite my tongue off before I called him an artist.  Craftmanship is different than artistry.  Skill isn't to be scoffed at, but it's confusing a rhinestone for a diamond. They both sparkle! Yet one is carefully manufactured and one is a tiny miracle that can take people's breath away.

Actors are tricky characters though. (Often, it's part of tricking themselves.) It's fine to do a shit show for experience, but losing sight of quality is a huge danger.  It gets even more dangerous when they try to convince the public that fool's gold is the real goods.  Even more damaging is taking a known  great piece of work, and having merely competent craftsmen go to work on it.   It's akin to having Mr. Kinkaide repaint Starry Night and try to pass it off as the real deal. With the sources of mass-publicity and lazy, horribly uneducated critics, this knock-off soon becomes what people know as the real thing. The next poor knock off will gain the same fortune. It's like a photocopy, where every version gets a little more blurred.  

WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE WITH SENSE AND KNOWLEDGE TO POINT THIS OUT?! There is a point where educated critics are needed  - when any asshole can blog (once again, point noted - I take the work very seriously, I don't take myself seriously).   We live in such a 'politically correct' world, where everyone receives a participation trophy, we lose signs of greatness. Call out rottenness and falseness (see our last post). And when critics pat themselves on the back for sharing the same ignorant response, while chastising those with real knowledge, it's a sad,sad world.  (And THOSE critics are usually the ones that sit and bitch about the theatre.) Don't bitch. Get educated. Create better.

The more I learn and see, the more I can understand the great teachers that berated you to the bone for your failings or threw ashtrays at your head, maybe there was something to it. They CARED about the work so much that they'd weed out anyone that was trying to adulterate it and wasn't totally committed AND for the right reasons - reasons bigger than ourselves. If you brought in a 3 week  prepared scene of Baby Want a Kiss to Stella Adler and she stopped you before you spoke a word and told you to start over, she was teaching you a very valuable lesson. If Sandy Meisner threw a glass ashtray at you while performing Willy Wax from Rocket to the Moon, he didn't do it out of meanness, but out of absolute love for the higher theatre. What do you want to be a part of? LCD (Lowest Common Denominator or revolutionary theatre?)

SO get educated, get experience, fall on your face and know when to throw ashtrays even though people will  crucify you.

“A Straightforward statement made without an ambiguous grimace may be considered dogmatic. As dogma it is an affront to your listener (who may not agree) or it will embarrass the speaker should he be proved wrong. To defend it, you may have to fight, perhaps shame, your adversary: and if you are not strong enough to defend it, you will be held either a boor or a fool yourself. Any belief set forth without an evasive or apologetic grin is both bad manners and bad salesmanship. Behind it all is the need to be free, to pick up or drop any notion according to conveniences, to avoid choice, lest one be caught in the rigidity of a definite position, for in that lies difficulty and even danger.” - Harold Clurman