Sunday, November 4, 2012

PRODUCING: The Ethics of "The Show Must Go On"

It's been a week now since the MTA shut down the subway system in preparation for Hurricane Sandy, and the events of the last week have led me to wonder the wisdom and ethics of the phrase, "The Show Must Go On."

Here's why.

CASE ONE - The Show Must Go On. Get There?

I have a friend who is working on a show. (I'm not going to call them out -- in fact I know multiple sets of people on different shows for whom this applies). Because they were going to perform the week after Hurricane Sandy, they decided they still needed the rehearsals. Despite the fact that, for most of the week, there were no trains in or out of Brooklyn.

So they held them, and some of the actresses had to walk the Manhattan Bridge to get home.

(another, non-theater anecdote: a friend of mine with a restaurant job was told in no uncertain terms that she was expected to be at work the day after the hurricane (at which point it wasn't even clear that the horrifying replacement buses would be available). Cabs would be reimbursed for groups of two or more employees, but other employees would have to pay for their own.)

Now, my heart warms that performers are so game that if their director says, "Hey, you know what, you need to get to rehearsal," they go. But how fair is it for the director to put them in that position?

My approach was to cancel the performances I was running that week, and to keep canceling them until  such time as there was a subway that ran to the venue. And when that subway was announced (the beautiful, beautiful, 4/5 line) I rode it myself to see whether it really was running along its schedule, or whether it had delays.

CASE TWO - The Show Must Go On. With or Without You?

Stickier, unfortunately, was the fact that once travel was restored within Manhattan/Brooklyn, it was not yet restored between Manhattan/Jersey. Now, most of our audience were within the New York City area, and thus were able to get access, but one of our cast was stuck in Jersey. 

Since our work is largely improvised and interactive, it was technically feasible to resume the show. Because of limitations on the space (and other limitations: see below), we decided we'd have to move forward without the actress.

It seems bizarre and unpleasant to continue the show without a person integral to the performance. But in this case, I had to weigh that against not having those performances at all, and in the end it seemed like the smaller price to pay.

CASE THREE - The Show Must Go On. Indefinitely?

Of course, I had another option, which was to keep scheduling shows further and further into the month. But I decided that I couldn't do it. The performers that work with me were working from early August through early November, and their contracts said that they were done working with me on November 4th. For me to take even another week would mean rescheduling, fighting between different commitments (work, other projects, schooling) that weren't planned around.

After talking with the cast, it seemed that one week would be manageable, though not easy. And although at the end of the day I wouldn't be able to make up for every performance I lost, it felt to me that was all I could reasonably ask to them.


I felt like I was navigating in the dark on each of these decisions. Some theaters were dark, simply because of power. Others continued having performances. (One even sent out an email which said "The L Is Running" which, when you clicked on it, told you that they were just kidding... but that their own shows were running. I was not amused.)

Through all of this, though, I kept hearing that phrase, "The Show Must Go On." I guess that phrase is supposed to refer to one person. Like, the show must go on, even if I am upset/in trouble. But on the flip side -- does theater, does performance, have the right to override the people who participate in it?