by Todd Buonopane
I’m a big Broadway nerd. Those men and women that write Broadway musicals are my idols. I’ve looked up to Rodgers & Hammerstein, Sondheim, Ahrens & Flaherty, etc. since I was a very young nerd. These writers created stories and songs that have given me a hobby, a livelihood and a career.
But they did NOT do it alone.
Tevye became the iconic musical character he is because Bock, Harnick and Stein created it with Zero Mostel. Danny Burstein, Alfred Molina and Stephen Skybell couldn’t be more different. But they are all traveling down the path carved by Mostel.
Christina Applegate and Sutton Foster are both one of a kind. But Charity was created by Gwen Verdon. Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields wrote for and were inspired by Ms. Verdon’s one of a kind talent.
If my math is right, there are currently six productions of Hamilton right now. And those women playing the ensemble track created by Sasha Hutchings are dancing steps that were inspired by Ms. Hutchings’ unique, extraordinary abilities.
Mr. Mostel, Ms. Verdon and Ms. Hutchings helped make Fiddler on the Roof, Sweet Charity and Hamilton into the great successes they are today.
I hope you see what I’m getting at. When actors and stage managers are a part of developing a new show, we directly affect the immediate and future success of that show. And if that show goes on to be a hit, we deserve to share in the profit participation.
That’s what #NotALabRat is all about. And that’s why Actors’ Equity Association is striking all developmental contracts and agreements with the Broadway League. Until our producing partners choose to acknowledge the intellectual and artistic contributions of actors and stage managers, we will no longer help them create their shows.
(Along with profit participation, we are asking for a raise, extra stage management and guaranteed lengths for Broadway rehearsal, so producers don’t use development salaries as cheaper Broadway rehearsals.)
New musicals are my favorite. I’ve been in some great ones. I’ve been in some real stinkers. But the exciting process of creating a new musical is when I feel most like an artist. I’ve had writers take me to lunch and ask, “How do you think it would be best to get your character to this emotional moment?” I’m happy to participate. When a joke isn’t landing, I’ll recommend a reordering of the words to fix the comical rhythm. Again, I’m happy to participate. I’m currently in Atlanta working on a new musical. I’ve improvised a few lines to help a musical number. The writer/lyricist then said, “I like that idea. I’m gonna write you something good to say there.” I didn’t write the final line, but I inspired it. I participated.
And if I am going to participate to help make a show, I should participate financially when it is a success. We all should!
Actors are not the paint with which the writers, directors, choreographers and designers paint. We are fellow painters. We make this art together. We all know it. Now, let’s acknowledge it.
Todd Buonopane is an Eastern Chorus Councillor for Actors’ Equity Association. While this essay aligns with the stance of AEA, his views are his own.