12
Apr
08

NYTW Production Staff FIRED

Received a stunning email from Michael Casselli, production manager of NYTW, and one of this blog’s sustainable theater heroes this morning. I think it would be best to break the bad news in Casselli’s own words, so that there is no chance of misinterpretation (emphasis mine):

Dear Mike,
The entire production staff of New York Theatre Workshop will be eliminated as of May 30th, 2008. Reason for our dismissal-Board mandated a 1 million dollar reduction to the operating budget so of course who goes first? Production. Season will consist of 3 main-stage productions and an ancillary program of musicals to follow the model of the Encore series basically a bare stage and many performers remounting off-Broadway musicals. So of course production can be handled by either seasonal hires or show by show hires. People have lost their livelihood through no fault of their own and the shortsighted planning of people who really don’t understand what it is production does, we do more than shows, we maintain the theaters and provide a loyalty to the whole of the organization which in turn translates into working to make the productions here as cost effective as possible.”

What can I say? This news is simply mind boggling. And unbelievably unfortunate — for many reasons, of course.

According to Casselli six production staffers (including Casselli himself) will lose their jobs, with an estimated annual saving in salaries for NYTW of $280,000 (I wonder what the AD and MD are earning?). One of them, master electrician John Anselmo has been with the company since “before Rent premiered,” and received the news of his dismissal over the phone while on vacation.

(it should also be noted–as Casselli mentions in a comment below–that all but one member of the box office staff will also be terminated)

What may be most confusing about all of this is NYTW’s seemingly unabated plans to build new scene and costume shop facilities according to LEED standards that were to be up and running sometime next year. What’s the point of having such facilities if there is no production manager, no technical director, and no costume shop manager? “The ground breaking ceremony for our LEED certified scenic/costume shop is slated for May 14th, though now there is no staff to run it,” Casselli said. “We might have to have some sort of protest about that. It is a huge slap in the face.”

The information I have on this development is one sided at the moment, though I have no reason to doubt Casselli’s trustworthiness. I have attempted to reach NYTW’s press rep, and I will post more information as it becomes available. Since it is the weekend, I might not hear anything until Monday.


25 Responses to “NYTW Production Staff FIRED”


  1. 1 DH
    April 12, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Well, here you go, this according to the 2006 Form 990 filed with the IRS by NYTW:

    Combined compensation and employee benefits contributions for paid officers of NYTW:

    Artistic Director:
    James Nicola 125,774

    Managing Director:
    Lynn Moffat 107,924

    Director of Finance:
    Robert Wayn 83,416

    Total 317,114

    That’s three people. How many production staff members were included in the 280,000 payroll savings? From the 2006 form 990, one can also surmise that the PM earns less than 60,000.

  2. April 12, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks DH for doing some legwork on this. I had planned on digging up this information, but haven’t had the time yet. I must admit, I am surprised that the numbers for the AD and MD aren’t higher.

  3. April 13, 2008 at 6:59 am

    You asked how much the AD and MD make, according to CharityNavigator.org, Lynn Moffat (MD) makes $98,000 while Jim Nicola (AD) makes $115,000 which, while smaller than the salaries of those who hold those posts at places like The Public, represents a larger percentage of total budget. Most ADs and MDs make somewhere around 1.5% of their company’s total budgets. Moffat and Nicola make between 2 and 2.5%.

  4. 4 Michael Casselli
    April 13, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Dear Mike,
    Thanks for the coverage, though I need to make one correction. John Anselmo was taking his regular vacation, not the one week furlough we we’re all asked to take to avoid being laid off. The one week furlough was something else altogether. In order to shave 50,000.00 of the current years expenses, all employees were required to take one week off without pay so that any and all layoffs could be avoided. Well, I guess that idea didn’t work or maybe I should look at it as oh I wasn’t laid off-I was terminated, eliminated or whats the word for it, oh yeah, fired. It should also be known that all of the box office staff save one person were laid off also. We will be getting our furlough pay back, and our benefits will run through the end of the fiscal year, and then, if we want to continue being covered, it will cost us a meager 400.00 a month. Kind of hard to cover that cost without a job.

  5. 5 Michael Casselli
    April 13, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Also it should be noted that Lynn Moffat has resigned from the Workshop, she has not been here since The start of the new year, and Robert Wayne has been gone for quite awhile. We are currently staffed by a interim Managing Director-Fred Walker and George Cochran is our director of finance. The Workshop will be adding Billy Russo, of Playwrights Horizons, to the staff as the new Managing Director.

  6. April 13, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Michael,

    Thanks for the corrections — I’ll make them in the post. Don’t want to get anything wrong on this one.

  7. April 14, 2008 at 10:48 am

    While I know nothing about the specifics of this situation (and certainly find it deplorable), it’s highly likely that the new scene shop is being funded by grants and donations that were specifically donated for that purpose. If so, they cannot ethically (and in some cases, legally) be used for payroll.

  8. April 14, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I don’t believe the issue is whether or not the company should move forward with the building project — the issue is how they plan to competently move forward with it considering they have no staff to operate or maintain the facility. Another consideration is that Michael Casselli has acted as the “liason to the architect” on the project since he began with NYTW two years ago. He was, in many ways, the project manager.

  9. 9 Jason
    April 14, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Oddly enough just earlier today i was complaining about a company I work with in Chicago because they don’t bring production people in at the start and pay them for their worth given the work we do.

    It is very likely grants were given for the construction of the new scene and costume shop. One would also have to look at it that if the ground breaking is in May a substantial portion for the construction has probably already been paid to the construction company for the building (various percentages are usually paid throughout the project) not to mention the sums of money paid to the architect firm to design the facility. If you think about it they have already spent a large portion of money to build the facility so if they pulled back and stopped they would ultimately loose a great deal without gaining anything. Now don’t get me wrong in the long run the facilities will fall into disrepair due to lack of production people maintaining them and ultimately cost more in the upkeep.

  10. April 16, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    I am in a similar boat. Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, NY is in the process of chapter 11 proceedings. As the curtain went down on the final performance of our 5th (of what should have been 7) show, we were all terminated. The set is still there.

  11. April 16, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Kevin,

    I had read about the situation at Studio Arena and am sorry to hear about the loss of your job — it’s even more telling, considering that you are one of the working professionals featured in my book Careers in Technical Theater. I guess my repeated warnings in that book to young theater artists about the serious financial risks of taking on work in the arts were fully warranted.

  12. 12 John's Tractor Sales
    April 17, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    People have lost their livelihood through no fault of their own and the shortsighted planning of people who really don’t understand what it is production does

    Wouldn’t it also be fair to say these people have lost their livelihood through their own shortsightedness, thinking that a sustainable eco-theater troupe could support them ad infinitum? It’s one thing to have a hobby, quite another to earn a living.

  13. April 17, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Dear John’s Tractor Sales,

    New York Theatre Workshop is an established off-Broadway theater that has been operating since 1982, with a strong reputation, and I wouldn’t refer to it as a “troupe.” I don’t think that the leadership of NYTW would refer to itself as an eco-theater organization either — they were simply blessed with a production manager who had the foresight to embrace more sustainable practices. Remember, NYC has local law 86, which states that ANY new building receiving 50% or more of its funds from the City of New York, must earn a Silver LEED rating from the USGBC.

    Obviously, you are not someone who works in the arts, or you would not have referred to the jobs lost at NYTW as “a hobby.” It’s typical of folks like you — the truly shortsighted — to think that artists, and those that earn their living supporting them, are hobbyists. In short, nothing in your comment can be considered “fair.”

  14. 14 John's Tractor Sales
    April 21, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    OK, I’ll re-phrase:

    Wouldn’t it also be fair to say these people have “lost their livelihood” through their own shortsightedness, by choosing to develop skills and follow a career path well-known for not producing sustainable financial pictures? The whininess of your original post makes it sound like these people were somehow entitled to long careers filled with prosperity, and the greedy suits at the top somehow stole that entitlement away through their own misunderstandings. There are no guarantees in business, as in life, and to pursue a career as an “artist” is to accept the overwhelming odds stacked against you. It comes with the territory.

    You are right that I don’t work in the arts. I don’t patronize them that much either, simply because I don’t consider them to be particularly worth my while. Others do, and for them I wish all the best (although without the support of the NEA – that $145 million in taxpayer dollars should really be going to better use in my opinion). It just seems silly to whine about somebody “losing their livelihood”, when they were fully aware of the risks inherent to their career choice.

  15. April 23, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    JTS,

    While it is true that theatre and the arts are not known to be great career paths financially, one should be able to assume that if they are hired into a full-time job as the head of one of 5 production departments (as well as the head of the overall production portion of the company) that barring the failure of the company, they would have work. One does not take usually take work at a 20+ year old institution assuming that the company will actually drop the department responsible for making the company’s product: in this case, theatre.

    For a theatre to get rid of its production department (while maintaining its office staff) is as unheard of as Microsoft attempting to weather a financial storm by getting rid of all its programmers.

    The complaint that I and others have with NYTW’s decision, and the way it was handled, is that the very people that were trusted to produce the product were the first to go, while others that ultimately were responsible for the company’s financial issues are kept on. The “greedy suits at the top”, as you call them, would not be in their positions if not for the hard work of the production staff. The only possible good thing about the way this was handled is that these highly skilled professionals have just over a month to try and find a new job before the current one ends. But the fact that those that made the decision to remove the department did not have the courtesy to deliver the news in person shows is quite telling: if they don’t consider the production department valuable to producing theatre, how did they get the job of running the theatre in the first place?

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