Broadway Workshops and Labs: Why We Need Them
The Broadway community has reached a standstill over a dispute regarding insufficient payment for participation in development work such as workshops and labs. In a recent New York Times article, it was reported that “about a quarter of all Broadway shows use developmental labs to test out material, and there are several labs scheduled in coming months that will not take place unless the dispute is settled.”
So what do members of the union doing this work hope to gain?
A salary increase is in talks for sure. The New York Times stated that actors are currently paid about $1,000 per week for their participation in these developmental projects. Union members are seeking not only an increase in pay, but a provision that entitles them to a percentage of profits if the show makes it to Broadway.
Seems like a fair argument, right? Some productions and their leaders think so.
Producers behind Frozen and Mean Girls have agreed to share a portion of the profits with those who participated in the developmental stages of the show(s). Unfortunately, not everyone in the industry is on board.
Until this matter is settled, no members of the Actors Equity Association are permitted to participate in any developmental project (lab, workshop, staged reading, etc) with the Broadway League.
This poses a problem since, as the New York Times reported, “there are at least four developmental labs that had been scheduled to take place in coming weeks for stage adaptations of the films Almost Famous and August Rush and for jukebox musicals adapted from the catalogs of Michael Jackson and Huey Lewis.”
In today’s society, it is surprising to me that production leaders and executives are resisting so fiercely against union members. Obviously, there is a huge difference between starring in the #1 grossing musical on Broadway and participating in a developmental workshop or lab, but these participants are ultimately building the foundation at the lowest level to determine whether or not a show even makes it that far.
Some recent productions that have used labs to build to their current status as major hits are To Kill A Mockingbird, The Cher Show and Hello, Dolly! My question here is, if there are no workshops or labs taking place at the very beginning stages of a show’s inception, what will happen to the quality of the shows that make it to the Broadway stage?
The process needs this milestone. Without it, ideas that have the potential to be great will not be as vetted or fleshed out.
We need people to read the words aloud so they can be made better and more impactful. We need people to sing the songs and complete the movements. We need multiple read-throughs to ensure plot consistency, sense, and overall entertainment value. Without this trial-and-error stage of the process, shows lose out on the opportunity to become better which will undoubtedly impact their future success at the highest level of performance.
While it’s hopeful that some shows on Broadway see the value in monetarily rewarding the participants of these projects, this should not be an “ up to the discretion of the state” situation, or rather “each individual show”, in this case. What’s fair is fair and should be recognized as such across the board. Of course, we don’t know the exact details of the negotiations so we will wait patiently for the results of the #IAmNotALabRat strike.