15 January 2008

Losing Work

Ownership is a funny thing in the theatre world. Since plays are a collaborative art form, it can sometimes be difficult to point to one person who merits the "ownership" of any given one. The very idea of owning a play is a little preposterous, but relevant nonetheless in our community. Playwrights can own scripts. Actors can own their own faces or voices (though sadly, in many cases, don't). Producers can own a theatre or a title. But a play? A play is an experience. You could even argue that it's owned as much by the audience as by the people who created it. The audience, after all and at the very least, hopefully paid more money for it.

Yesterday I got an email from the producing team on As Far As We Know. It was not a joy-infusing email. Simply put, it informed the longest-standing members of development ensemble that--for the reading for the artistic director of The Public--they would be recasting the show.

Ouchy. One does try to behave like a professional in these circumstances; still and all: ouchy.

I'll not waste a lot of time here on the why and wherefore. Suffice it to say, the show is moving in a new direction, and Uncommon Cause wants it to have a life of its own, and the best way to accomplish both seems to them to involve different people. I don't know if they're looking for notoriety, or just new faces, or even if the rewritten show includes the same characters as that we performed in the 2007 NYC Fringe. I know very little, in short, but hope to speak with Laurie or Kelly soon to get more information on this change. And hey, those of you who may be quick to react in my defense: it's okay. These things happen, and what I'm expressing are feelings, which also happen. No harm. No foul.

Letting go, for just a moment, of all the typical actorly responses of self-doubt and insecurity, what I'm left with are feelings akin to grief. There's sorrow, there's regret, there's anger that feels righteous, but that I know isn't; there's even a little relief. So "grief" sums it up nicely. I'm forced to say a goodbye that I want to resist on a fairly visceral level. It's unexpected, and it's personal. It's even likely that it's forever.

To many people, taking something like this personally is only barely comprehensible. After all, acting work by its nature is usually a process of gaining one job at the closing of another, and that's if you're terribly lucky-slash-diligent. I concede that I wish I were able to immediately respond to this development with more poise and perspective, but not that my feelings are an over-reaction. The truth is, those of us who've spent time building a show through extensive process understand it to be a part of our family of work. Hell; in some cases we feel it as a part of our person. That, as you might imagine, can be very, very difficult to let go of. Even setting aside the potential job as an actor, and all the promise that holds when the job is connected with an well-established theatre of good repute . . . well, actually, that's a big part of it. I'm not discounting that. CRAP!

But my original point is that work one creates for oneself is very dear. It's difficult enough to see another person in a role you've played but didn't write or originally conceive, much more so when you did. And you know what else? I'm going to be okay, as far as I know (har har), when it comes to compensation and acknowledgment rights should As Far As We Know become enormously successful. All of the core members who helped develop it signed contracts assuring us of that in relation to the approximate hours we spent developing the show. So, with a little faith, I needn't even have angst over the respect being paid to my efforts to date. In a sense, I own stock in this show. Even from a business perspective, much less my belief in the importance of its message, I should want the show to succeed at whatever cost, with or without me.

These are the thoughts I'm counseling myself with when I get emotional over this. The fact is, As Far As We Know still has the potential to change lives for the better, including mine. I only wish I could be on stage at the moment it does.


Nat said...

Gah. Dude. I'm so sorry to hear that. Gah.

Nat said...

You're awesome, Jeff. Totally awesome. And I mean that.

Jeff Wills said...

Thanks, Nat. The feeling is, as always, mutual. Everything we do together is mutual. EVERYTHING.

Patrick said...

I already vented just a bit to you on this issue. It's bad enough when the work has been the cast getting new scenes, reading them, making them work, and giving the playwright feedback, but you all actually contributed scenes, ideas, maybe language/lines. Yeah, I know they're bringing in a new playwright so maybe none of that stuff will be there, in which case you've only spent much of the LAST THREE YEARS developing stuff that will never be fully produced, and hey, yes, that happens. But if they use anything the cast had created, like, I don't know, characters and relationships, and yes LINES... then they're stealing work from you, and by rights should be paying all of you royalties. You're getting paid for the hours you put in. Swell, that's ducky, because just showing up and being in the FUCKING ROOM is all that you did. I know this reaction is probably not going to make sense to your producers/director; they'll assume it's just an overly dramatic actor type blowing off steam. Or maybe JUST maybe they'll see the validity to some of what I'm saying but use mealy-mouthed excuses like "we couldn't possibly keep track of who said what, who brought in what, who created in a moment of improv what." No, I suppose not. Still, you know people did it. They deserve royalties, not money for their TIME.

You're not going to post this, are you. I understand that. I think this is more than too bad I think it's extremely unethical. And we need to evolve a contract that prevents this kind of high-handedness.