Wednesday, January 23, 2008

You'll Never Play Here Again, Ya Bum!

Last Friday marked the third time I've sold out this particular 200-seat theatre in New York City. Of the $8 this particular theatre charged my audience members for tickets to my one-man shows, the writer and performer of the one-man shows, myself, received zero.

Apparently, this is standard fare for this particular "cutting edge" theatre. Unless, of course, you happen to be a real starving artist like the working-class, salt of the earth production team of "Saturday Night Live" who, evoking images of Woody Guthrie and The Grapes Of Wrath, arranged with this "underground" theatre to put on a live performance of SNL to circumvent the writer's strike. Please note in the New York Times story linked to above that proceeds from those $20 tickets went to--well, to the working-class, salt of the earth production team of "Saturday Night Live".

The first two times I played here, I was a little disappointed about the financial arrangement, but I did it anyway because I was anxious to develop a following in New York City and needed a stage to do so. Following a third sold-out crowd and a standing ovation on Friday, I felt it was within my rights as the writer and performer of the one-man show to, literally, "pass the hat" so I could buy a new pair of shoes. (My old ones had holes in them, which was unfortunate whenever freezing rain occurred like it did the night before this show). I didn't necessarily want to close the show on a financial note, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Furthermore, I was extremely tactful in my curtain call--for example, saying vaguely to the audience, "I don't make any money doing this" versus "I receive none of the $8 you guys paid to see this show." A fact, as it turned out, the majority of the audience did not know.

Apparently, this action was too "cutting-edge" and "alternative" for this "cutting-edge" and "alternative" theatre.

Hey Will -

I was disappointed to hear about you asking the audience for money from the UCBT stage on Friday night. It's unprofessional and completely unacceptable. And it created problems for our staff who had to deal with complaints from audience members after the show who were not happy about paying for a ticket and then being asked for additional money from the performer on stage.

I was told by the hyperbolic stage manager that the number of complaints, out of over two hundred people, was five. (Which, interestingly, if you've read the previous two blog entries, is also the number of the irate Muslim woman plus her four "horrified" friends). I also reminded him that, unlike the theatre, I was simply "passing the hat" and not charging ticket prices. The audience was under no obligation to contribute, although most did. I have a new pair of shoes now.

I totally understand you need money, but I hope you can understand that we cannot have this kind of thing happening at our theatre. Yes, performers are not paid for performing at UCBT, but you do receive a free space to perform in NYC, free tech help, free publicity, free access to industry through our connections, free access to our reputation and built-in audience, etc. There are many performers in NYC who would happily trade the box office they make at a space they have to rent, publicize, and employ on their own, for that kind of access.

Or I could just go home to San Francisco, a city that, despite its faults, still has a bit more respect for the financial value of a live artist versus a town that enjoys taking it up the ass from television moguls. I didn't put up with any bullshit out West. What makes you think I'm going to put up with it out here?

If you'd rather receive a box-office split, there are many options in NYC available to you. The UCB Theatre is not one of them. We choose instead to charge very low prices that barely cover our expenses, thus giving more people more of a chance to discover new talent, and for talent to more easily reach an audience.

In other words, to create a Wal-Mart of underground comedy where I'm an illegal immigrant "greeter".

I've been more than happy to give you access to our stage, talk you up to industry, etc. And when you asked me to return in January, I was happy to find a place for you on the schedule and publicize the show again. But you betrayed my help with your actions on Friday, and you hurt your standing with this theatre and our audience.

Betrayed! I passed the hat. I am Judas Iscariot.