Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Aye, there's the rub!

A lesson for managers everywhere to remember in these tough economic times: If you run off all the people who produce the product you're trying to sell . . . you won't have anything to sell.

This is particularly applicable to the print and broadcast arts, where the temptation is to fire, fire, fire to cut costs in the midst of collapsing advertising revenues. Newspapers (and radio) are fast reaching the point where there's not going to be enough staff to produce enough of a product that their remaining readers (and listeners) might care to bother with.

No audience, really no advertising.

THIS LESSON is being presented in distilled form right now at the Omaha Community Playhouse, the nation's largest community theater. In the name of tight finances and organizational efficiency, the theater's executive director and board decided to pick on "creative."

They asked the theater's artistic director, who also is one of its two principal directors, to resign. That he did.

What they didn't count on was his declining to direct various shows on a freelance basis. And what they also didn't count on was the other principal director turning down a pruned-down version of his job, then quitting in solidarity.

Nor did they count on three-fourths of an upcoming production's cast to take a hike as well.

THAT'S WHAT you call an "epic fail." But wait! There's more! And it's not even intermission yet.

Cue the Omaha World-Herald:
The staff shake-up at the Omaha Community Playhouse could drive a financial stake through the nonprofit theater's heart.

The simultaneous departures of directors Carl Beck and Susan Baer Collins from the playhouse has stirred new concerns — both financial and artistic — for "A Christmas Carol," the theater's biggest revenue producer.

Jerry Longe, the professional actor who has played Scrooge on the playhouse's main stage for the past three years, said Monday that he would leave his role if Beck and Collins leave the playhouse.

Both have said they plan to leave. They hired him for the role in 2005.

"I can't imagine doing that show without Carl directing," Longe said. "I can't imagine that show is even going to go up without Carl and Susie, who know the magic of it.

"But I'm still hoping for a reconciliation of some sort."

The 33-year hit holiday show in which Longe stars, written by former playhouse Executive Director Charles Jones, earns more than one out of every five dollars in the theater's budget. It has generated publicity and millions of dollars since 1976 and is crucial to the playhouse's artistic identity and financial stability.

Longe stepped into the shoes of Dick Boyd, who played 818 performances as Scrooge before retiring from the role at age 83. The crowds have since warmed to Longe. He had the added boost of a show makeover — new sets, costumes and special effects — when he started as Scrooge.

"It would break my heart to not do Scrooge again," Longe said. "But we have to move on."

Playhouse Executive Director Tim Schmad declined to comment on the developments regarding "A Christmas Carol." He said he would wait for an open forum, at 5:30 this evening in the playhouse's main auditorium.
OOPS. You can't sell nothing, guys.

Methinks somebody's going to lose their job over this one. And it's not going to be the directors, who already quit, or the volunteer actors, whom you couldn't fire if they hadn't already walked.

It's got to happen, because the Playhouse now finds itself facing a dilemma worthy of Hamlet.

"To be, or not to be: That is the question."

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