Archive for April, 2008


Elevator Repair Service’s John Collins on NYTW Prod. Dept.

Yesterday, while compiling the piece I wrote for Stage Directions on the troubles at NYTW, I attempted to contact John Collins, the director of The Sound And The Fury, which begins previews at NYTW tonight. It just so happens that the production department was in the middle of teching the Elevator Repair Service show the day they were called behind closed doors and told that their department was being “eliminated.”

After the meeting took place, they couldn’t just go home and decompress — they had to stick around until midnight and work on the show. So, I asked Collins about how that went, and what he thought about the firings. I did not hear back from him until this morning via email.

This is some of what he had to say:

We were all very surprised. I got the impression from the production staff that all their positions were being permanently eliminated in favor of hiring freelance technicians on a project-by-project basis. On the surface, that seems to set NYTW way back. It’s hard to imagine a space running as well as that one does without a qualified permanent production staff.”

And what about how the staff conducted themselves after receiving the news? Again, Collins:

Those guys are all pros and they did not miss a beat where work on our show was concerned. They’ve all done exceptional work for us. They were all upset, but they didn’t let it affect work on our show at all. I have no complaints about the work they’ve done. It’s been great and continued to be after they all got the bad news.”


NYTW Report

I recently completed a more reporterly piece for Stage Directions, slated to appear in its upcoming May issue. You can find it online here in the magazine’s online “Industry News.”


An Open Letter from Michael Casselli

Below is a letter that Michael Casselli, production manager for NYTW (until the end of next month), sent to the staff of the theater in the wake of his recent firing, as well as the firing of his staff, and other employees of the theater. It contains some intriguing information about the way in which the firings were handled by NYTW and I think Casselli’s ire is worth being exposed to:

It is sad that an institution like the Workshop has devolved in such a way. I am angry, sad and more than a little bitter at the treatment the whole of production has been put through. What is even more enraging is that none of the individuals responsible for making this decision were present at our termination – Artistic Director Jim Nicola, Managing Director Billy Russo and Heather Randall. These were the people who, according to their messengers, were responsible for this decision. All of us in production are bearing the brunt of an organization which lacks the ability to enforce any thing resembling fiscal constraint with respects to the work that occurs here, as well as an organization which cannot effectively self govern its own desires. It is disgraceful that an institution such as the Workshop, with its mission and its presence within a community which prides itself on inclusion and diversity, would act in such a way as to cut off those very people which sustain it. Any pretense of progressive agendas with respect to issues of politics or social/cultural/artistic concerns should be discarded right now. This action is a clear indication of the lack of concern for those people who give their all to this institution and it insults those who believed in the Workshop as an example of an organization that could function as something resembling a family. Obviously that family doesn’t include us. I will miss many of you but not all of you.”

“For an institution that imagines itself to be a leader in the Off-Broadway community and a model for a not-for-profit theater institution, to treat your employees with such disregard is shocking,” Casselli told me recently via email. “We were a family, an organization that prided itself on this very fact.”

Here at ecoTheater I have been reeling from the attention this piece of news has generated, and continue to encourage all of my readers who are bloggers and writers to keep this out there in the public eye. What went wrong at NYTW? How did they stumble upon such a bone-headed solution to their problems — and why did they end up with problems that would lead them to such drastic and unfair solutions?


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.



Received an interesting email last night from a TD I know:

“I just saw this on TV…Not sure how applicable it would be to theatre but would love to find out.”

He was talking about Grindzilla, a portable bulk materials mulcher, basically, that was invented to help the construction business reuse its waste materials. The garbage truck sized grinding and sorting machine pulls up to the job site, unfurls a conveyor belt and proceeds to accept wood and sheetrock (and other related materials) into its woodchipper-like mouth. It sorts out metal from wood (even pieces of wood with nails through them were put in!), and turns the material into woodchips basically, that can be used in the landscaping of the site, or for other purposes.

Naturally, this isn’t the ultimate solution for the creation of waste, but it’s a pretty interesting compromise. Would it work for theater waste? Could a group of theaters somewhere develop a mulch selling business on the side by putting their strike garbage in the Grindzilla? Hmmmm….

Check it out here and here.



Recently, a reader took a (small) bit of umbrage with my liberal use of the word “sustainability,” and thought I might find more accurate words to describe the topic of ecoTheater. It reminded me of a writing contest I noticed a year or so ago for some small literary rag that asked its readers to write an essay about the meaning of the word “sustainable.” At the time, I thought about how I might go about defining it in an essay — what it meant to me.

The recent critique of the media-friendly term has me thinking on it yet again.

So, let’s just go to the source of definitions: the dictionary. Or, let’s go to a few.

American Heritage:

  1. Capable of being sustained.
  2. Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment: sustainable agriculture.


a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>

And, of course, the Urban Dictionary:

21 up, 8 down

Sustainability is a lens through which to view all issues. The sustainability movement encompasses environmental justice and social justice, because one cannot be obtained without the other. It means living life to the fullest without compromising future generations’ ability to do so. It respects the interconectedness of all life and acknowledges the responsibility that each person has to consider the effects that his actions have on other life forms, both living and to be born.

The sustainability revolution is begining! Watch out you styrofoam using, carbon cycle ignoring, TV worshiping members of American consumer culture.

This final definition is perhaps my favorite. Why? Because it throws off the chains we force on ourselves with words like semantics (American Heritage Dictionary: The meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form) and linguistics (again, AHD: The study of the nature, structure, and variation of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics), and frees us to accept the meaning of a word as we really mean it — without academic interpretation, and over-analysis.

But for the most interesting information on the term, we may look to none other than the ever-controversial open source encyclopedia, Wikipedia:

“One of the first and most oft-cited definitions of sustainability, and almost certainly the one that will survive for posterity, is the one created by the Brundtland Commission, led by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The Commission defined sustainable development as development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ The Brundtland definition thus implicitly argues for the rights of future generations to raw materials and vital ecosystem services to be taken into account in decision making.”

And so, the term sustainability remains one that I feel lends itself to the mission and goals of ecoTheater. While it may remain a word that is hard to pin down, I think my readers know what I mean when I use it regarding theater production: the goal of taking into account “the rights of future generations” when considering how we create art.


The Garrett Lighting Calculations Sheet

Last week, in the midst of hell week, I received an email from Ian Garrett presenting a very cool project he was working on. In his words, “What we have here is information that has been at times used by myself and others (looking at you Lawler) to talk about the ecological impact of theater.”

“What [the sheet] does is compute a number of factors in looking at theatrical lighting and figures out equivalents,” he said.Input the Average or Max load of a show (you can get the max load from Lightwright and extrapolate the other from your utility), the average hours your system is running and the number of times you have it running.” Then, the sheet computes the cost per hour from conventional power grids, as well as that of the solar array needed to offset the power use. It also calculates the number of pounds produced per hour by conventional power means, the BTUs (Thermal Gain) of the lights per hour, and translates this information into several equivalents, including:

– Metric Tons CO2 per hour and year

– Equivalent Passenger cars per hour and year

– Equivalent Barrels and Gallons of Gasoline per hour and year

– Equivalent Household electrical use per hour and year

– Equivalent Household total energy use (gas/electirc/etc) per hour and year

– Number of trees needed to sequester the CO2 per hour and year

– Acres of Pine and Fir that store CO2

– Acres of resultant deforestation

– Tons sitting in a landfill as opposed to being recycled

– Equivalent number of coal fire power plants

You can have a look at Garrett’s handiwork here. I have provided both a screenshot example of his form, as well as a download of the usable excel sheet with a separate file of Garrett’s explicit instructions. I’ll keep you posted on Garrett’s updates, and please, please, please, if you use this sheet in your research or other work please credit Ian Garrett. Bad karma if you don’t.

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