by Martin Benjamin
song “Trouble” isn’t the only trouble this week at Proctor’s
Theatre in Schenectady, where The Music Man will be
performed through Sunday.
latest revival of the popular musical about a con man’s grift
in an Iowa town just ended its run on Broadway. Generally,
the first national tour after a Broadway run features actors
from the Equity Actors union, who receive full union-scale
pay ($1,200 per week), full pension benefits, per diems and
full health-insurance coverage. The rub with The Music
Man is that the producer of this tour, Big League Theatricals,
declined a reduced-rate deal with Actors Equity. Big League
is using nonunion actors, musicians and stage managers, who
are receiving below-scale pay, reduced health-insurance coverage
and no pension benefits. Actors Equity doesn’t like the trend,
and has sent out members to protest.
About the only things that local Actors Equity members and
Proctor’s Theatre representatives agree on is that the demonstration
outside Proctor’s on Tuesday (Feb. 12) didn’t involve picketing—both
Proctor’s spokesperson Kathy Jarvis and Actors Equity member
John Romeo said, in separate phone interviews, that “informational
leafleting” will be done during the run of The Music Man—and
that the talent and quality of the cast of The Music Man
isn’t the question.
can’t blame actors for wanting to work,” said Romeo, known
for his work with the New York State Theatre Institute. “But
these are mostly kids fresh out of school. There aren’t any
big names in the show and probably [not] any Actors Equity
members in good standing. Yet Big League Theatricals is charging
the same price for a ticket as if it were an Actors Equity
show. Proctor’s probably didn’t even know this wasn’t an Actors
Jarvis said that whether a production is union-made or not
isn’t a concern at Proctor’s. “Big League Theatricals is a
good producer,” she said. “That’s what we care about: Do they
produce good shows? They’ve got a good reputation and put
on tours of Footloose, King and I, Chicago, 1776, Ragtime,
Rent, Tommy through Proctor’s—all non-Equity and all excellent.
The local Actors Equity members have an issue with their leadership,
which gave permission to Big League Theatricals to do a non-Equity
tour, when traditionally the first national tour is Equity.
is no guarantee of excellence,” Jarvis added. Last year’s
biggest flop at Proctor’s, the production of The Best Little
Whorehouse in Texas starring Ann-Margret, was an Equity
tour. “The public doesn’t know and probably doesn’t care if
its union or nonunion,” Jarvis said. “They just want to know
musicians, and stage managers should have union protection,
fair wages, per diems, pensions, adequate health insurance,”
Romeo said. “This [non-Equity tour] is part of trend starting
to happen, the straw that broke the camel’s back. We believe
that the public wants these people to have a fair shake. We
hope that people boycott The Music Man, and put money
in the hands of actors, musicians, and stage managers, not
Big League Theatricals.”
The “informational leafleting”—which involves Actors Equity
members holding signs on poles that will look suspiciously
like pickets—will occur wherever the non-Equity The Music
the Right Thing
Lee isn’t black—or so one member of the Skidmore College community
seems to think. Since the mid-’80s, outspoken filmmaker Lee
has made a name for himself by projecting the African-American
experience on film and television. Yet when Lee visited Skidmore’s
Saratoga Springs campus last Friday, his skin color was challenged.
During a Q&A session with a mostly white audience, an
African-American school employee told Lee: “Your skin color
is more brown than black . . . and [whites’] skin is more
peach than white.” A startled Lee laughed off the comment,
then referred to himself as a “brown man” for the rest of
the afternoon. The exchange seemed to enthuse Lee more than
delivering the lecture that preceded the Q&A session.
Dressed in a casual sweater and armed with a wireless microphone,
a laid-back Lee delivered a lecture on American diversity
and popular culture to 1,000 members of the Skidmore community.
Using his life story as a loose outline, Lee talked about
his early love of film and his rags-to-riches rise, injecting
his wry sense of humor throughout.
is Black History Month—the shortest month of the year,” Lee
joked at the start of his speech. (Another choice quip: “Enron
is like a scene from The Godfather: Everyone was there,
but didn’t see nothing.”)
Lee reminisced about creating such films as Do the Right
Thing and Malcolm X, and stressed the importance
of individualism and following one’s dreams. “I was lucky
that my family supported [my desire] to be a filmmaker,” he
said. “I couldn’t imagine getting up for 50 years to go to
some job I hate. I’d rather shoot myself in the head.”
Reflecting the number of aspiring artists who attend Skidmore,
the school’s Intramural Gym overflowed with students anxious
to hear one of America’s most prominent filmmakers. Hundreds
of students and community members unable to score tickets
watched a simulcast in Garnett Auditorium.
Lee spoke extensively about racial stereotypes in popular
culture. “[Music videos] are basically a modern form of minstrel
shows, with images reverting to old stereotypes,” he said.
“These days you don’t need blackface to be a coon.” Lee also
criticized the cliché of the “super-duper Negro,” who has
magical powers that can only be used to help white movie stars.
“The Green Mile is the worst offender,” Lee said.
Steering clear of controversy, Lee discussed the need for
cultural openness and acceptance. Though he was hired to deliver
Skidmore’s Black History Month keynote address, the director
extended his message to all races and genders. “For me,” observed
Brian Dubenion, of Skidmore African-American club Ujima, “the
theme of the lecture is being open-minded. People can take
open-mindedness to be about anything, not just about black
diversity.” Lee’s appearance was a big step for the Ujima,
which aims to raise cultural awareness on the Skidmore campus;
Ujima and the school’s speakers bureau copresented the event.
event was important for Black History Month because it could
be enjoyed by the entire student population,” said freshman-class
president Ben Kessler, who helped organize the event.
Although Lee’s appearance was the result of efforts to increase
multicultural understanding at Skidmore, several students
shared their impressions that Lee seemed less than enthusiastic
about speaking there. (Kessler said that a dinner held in
Lee’s honor was “cold, dry and awkward.”) After his lecture,
the director rushed through students’ questions and comments,
then quickly signed autographs in Case Center. When asked
if he delivers the same speech at every college he attends—the
director is currently on a speaking tour—Lee responded that
he usually does, occasionally making changes “because it gets
boring doing the same stuff every night.”