CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 16, 2016

Understudies told: don't tweet your show dates

Carousel, News | The Stage: Cameron Mackintosh has clamped down on performers publicising information about their schedules on social media.

The advice, sent to all performers, is expected to have a particular effect on understudies, many of whom post the dates they will be performing lead roles on their personal Twitter accounts.

21 comments:

Angel Zhou said...

Social media is a double-edged sword. It allows for transparency - sometimes to a dangerous amount. I understand the fact that producers may not want understudies to broadcast their performances (perhaps in fear that interest would decline if main performers are not present), but if the company is already going to expose the fact that an understudy will be performing, what is the issue with the understudy getting that information out first? Audience members often pay a hefty fee to go to shows to see performers they are interested in - for example, I went to Something Rotten! twice purely because of Christian Borle and John Cariani. Without them, I don't know how I would have felt about attending the show. However, I am also very curious about how the new actors are handling their roles, and would consider seeing them now that I have gotten two shows' worth of Borle and Cariani. In other words, it is only fair to make sure audience members are getting what they pay for. If they want to see a certain actor, they should be able to do so. If they are trying to support the understudy and are not direct family, they should be able to do that as well. I'm also surprised that media guidelines have not been distinctly set in the industry yet - it is such a prevalent part in modern society and hopefully some agreeable decision can be reached soon regarding the how social media is handled.

Evan Schild said...

I completely understand why Camreon would want to not have understudies tweeting to the public the shows that they will be going on for. If they are covering a big star and the understudy goes on and tells people ahead of time, the production could lose money for ticket refunds. However since Cameron is now being forceful with this rule he needs to tell the public when the performers will be out. I feel that as an understudy I would love to tell fans when I am going on but it is in the productions right to not allow that for financial reasons. I believe that productions now need to step up and announce more understudies in advance if they feel the need to be forceful with the rule. Both sides need to compromise now so the actor and the production are happy.

Emma Reichard said...

This policy seems a bit unusual. The idea that performers, particularly understudies, revealing when they will be performing will somehow affect a production seems a bit ridiculous. I could see how posting pictures (especially of the set or in costume) might have negative repercussions, especially when credit to the designer isn’t given. I can also see how spoilers for the show might be banned. But simply stating when you’ll be performing? That seems a bit far fetched. Especially since understudies usually use social media to alert friends and family in the area that they will be performing. With the role’s regular actor, friends and family will assume they go one every night. But an understudy doesn’t enjoy that luxury. It seems a bit unfair to expect understudies to restrain themselves on social media when regulars don’t have to. I’m glad Equity is getting involved to sort out this issue. I hope that management companies can reach an agreement on what content is/isn’t allowed on social media.

Lia Jennings said...

I always think about how social media will affect the arts twenty years from now. People are starting to learn how to use social media to their advantage currently but what about in twenty years when I’m assuming it’s going to be even more in our homes and with us as go about our day. Numbers are fluctuating about whether people will stay at home to watch something rather than go out for the night to live theatre. So what about in the future? What can we as artists start planning and implementing now that can help us prepare for more than what it is now? I don’t have an answer but this article about having to limit the use of twitter for understudy show dates brought up these questions. New rules are being added all the time because times are changing and communicating to the world is way easier than it’s ever been but at some point I think it’s going to be too much to handle and what plan will we have in our heads at that point. There is only so much telling someone not to do something is going to hold. What about all their friends what if they post about it? Will the understudy lose their job because their friend spoke too soon? I don’t think it is wrong to tell them to wait until the official announcement is out but it still brings up how deep and far are these rules going to go?

Claire Farrokh said...

Aw man this article annoys me. I understand if a huge star is going on vacation, the producers want to decide when the public knows about this. However, I do not see why that can not be dealt with on a case by case basis. Generally, if an understudy is tweeting about a performance for which they are covering, it is a one day event that only the actor's three hundred or so followers ever hear or care about. Ninety percent of audiences are not going to take the time to find the understudy for some actor they only care an average amount about, and see if that actor is going to be in that performance. In my experience, if a major star is going to be out, the theatre sends out an email to all people who have purchased a ticket, informing them that the star will be out for that show. In addition, a lot of people want to see understudies. I personally get very excited when I see that I am going to see a performance with understudies, except in very rare cases when I am dying to see one specific performer. I think it is silly to regulate whether or not understudies tweet about their performance dates, simply because I think very few people actually care.

Rebecca Meckler said...

I like how the company admitted that the current policy might not be the best policy. All to often, people forget to admit that there might be a better way to do something. This leaves them pidgeon holed and prevents them from adapting. I believe this issue is especially important in regards to technology because technology changes rapidly. That being said, I understand why Cameron Mackintosh wants to control the press when it comes to his theater company. Though understudies want people to know when they are performing, I can see why people believe that it should first come from the company. That being said, the company should be consistent with enforcing the rules. If the policy in place is not effective and needs to be changed that's okay, change it, but they cannot selectively enforce the rules they have.

Sarah Boyle said...

I agree with some of the earlier comments that it’s understandable to ban posting photos of the costumes or set, any backstage information that’s either a surprise or should be properly attributed. I can understand why a theatre would be concerned about losing ticket sales. Stars drive sales (at least that’s the goal). I do believe that when you buy a ticket, you aren’t just paying for that one name, you’re paying for a whole production, which is why I want to say that understudies should be able to release their show dates. However, I think that the impact would depend on the production. I think it’s fine if an understudy announces an upcoming date they will be preforming. I don’t think they should announce a whole list of dates all at once. As long as the guild lines are clearly stated, it makes sense that each theatre company should make their own rules, maybe even rules that change by production. If they only want official social media accounts giving information about the show, I think that’s ok too. I do think it is good that Equity is trying to get some set rules, because no social media slip up of this level should get someone fired.

Helena Hewitt said...

This summer I worked with an absolutely wonderful man named Eric Sciotto, who directed our production of the Full Monty. Eric is incredibly energetic and driven, the kind of person who never really stops working. He also happens to be the understudy for William Shakespeare in Something Rotten on Broadway. Once he returned to Something Rotten, his social media would promote the appearance of #Sciottospeare whenever he was going on as the Bard for the night. I personally see absolutely nothing wrong with understudies promoting themselves and their performances dates. Their job, by it’s very nature, is under appreciated and I think they should be able to promote their careers by drawing attention to nights that they will be appearing in starring roles. Also, as a previous commenter mentioned friends of understudies do not enjoy the same luxury as the friends of stars when it comes to knowing when they will be performing the lead. As someone who is personally invested in seeing Eric play Shakespeare, it is nice to know well in advance when he will be appearing so that I can try and make plans to get to New York. However, the larger, and in my opinion, much less obvious question this article raises are where should we draw the line with theatre artist’s self-promotion on social media. Are scenic designers allowed to post pictures of the set weeks before opening? I think it is helpful to have guidelines for social media use and I hope the ones that they arrive at will not be overly restrictive. Theatre is a profession made up largely of free-lance types who are inclined to use social media as a showcase for their work and at what point do you put aside your own ambition and career interests for the good of the work itself?

Cosette Craig said...

My favorite part about this article is that Cameron Mackintosh sort of alludes to him wanting the privacy of the actors protected when really its a money thing. If you look at Hamilton tickets (Javier Munoz on sundays as the understudy), you can see that prices are significantly cheaper and sometimes even reasonable prices. There are some shows that are running because of the star power in them. People come to see Hamilton for Lin Manuel Miranda (among other things but hes a big plus) so by advertising that the star you came to see isn't in the show that night, they are disappointing some ticket holders and maybe even sending them away. With that said, I do think the privacy of the actors should be protected. This reminds me of a photo Leslie Odom Jr instagrammed a few months back. It was of himand his wife sitting in the audience watching hamilton on his night off. The comment section was just hate mail. People thought they deserved his attention for their money and harassed him for letting them all down.

Tahirah Agbamuche said...

Honestly, I understand the reason why this rule needs to be in place. I was bummed out about not being able to see Hamilton before the original cast left, and felt a little less interested in the new cast and I'll be straight up about that. From an audience perspective, we usually want to see the performers we've come to know and love, and when there's an understudy, we don't know much about them. We don't know their style, or what they bring to the character. Of course, that dosen't mean they're second best, but given this information, we automatically search for another date where are favorites are performing. Imagining that every understudy did that, the understudy nights would sell a lot slower. I can understand this, but I do think that as an understudy, they deserve a little publicity too. Let people get excited about them too! Have multiple cast photo's, do interviews with both casts. I feel that if the audience knows the understudies a bit better, and can get excited to see this other talent, they could still let their fans know when they will be performing. As Evan said earlier on, it's about finding a happy medium.

Megan Jones said...

Although I completely understand why Cameron Mackintosh has to use this rule, it makes me really sad that it's a necessity. Understudies have one of the hardest jobs in theatre, as they have to memorize multiple parts and be ready to perform any of them at the drop of a hat. When I saw Hamilton Phillipa Soo was out on vacation, and her understudy was on instead. It was so sad to hear other audience members loudly complaining about it while completely ignoring all of the hard work her understudy put into the show. Specifically, Eliza's understudy also covers the other two Schuyler sisters. Her performance was stunning, and in my opinion outshined Phillipa's a little bit. When people learn that their favorite actor isn't going to be in a show ahead of time then they're going to focus on the negative, rather than the positive of seeing a new person take on the role. I wish that we didn't have to avoid releasing dates that leads would be out, but with the current environment of the industry I don't see another way.

Sarah Battaglia said...

I am torn on this. I think that we do need o protect the actors privacy, and its their right to keep when they do their job as close to them as they can. That being said they did choose a profession on stage and with that comes a loss of privacy sometimes. What I don't agree with is keeping the understudy show dates a secret for the money. I think its cheap and incredibly rude and disrespectful to the actors who are understudies. However over all I do side, i think, for not releasing the understudy show dates until the day off. Lead actors like Leslie Odom Jr. and Lin Manuel Miranda deserve to be able to take a day off without an insane amount of backlash. If you were an accountant and you got sick, you would not come into work and it would be fine. Obviously if you are a performer the stakes are a little different but they should have the same level of protection as people with other jobs. It is ridiculous that they don't. Also as an audience member you know the risk when buying tickets that someone could not be there that day. People see different DOCTORS all the time because theirs is sick with no complaints, I think we can handle Leslie Odom Jr.'s understudy.

Antonio Ferron said...

I don't have any real reason to oppose this new rule. Honestly from my experience, having the public hear that a principal will be played by an understudy too early can sadly hurt a show. Honestly there's no reason that it should though. I've seen tons of understudys perform just as well as and at times better than the actor's they replace. I understand understudies want to tell the world when they are performing and that's ok, but I do think there is some respect they owe to running the business of the show to not release that information without permission. The more business side of theatre is definitely not one I often like to agree with, but in this instance I think this new rule does make sense.

John Walker Moosbrugger said...

The fact that in 2016 Cameron Mackintosh is being quoted as saying “social media has taken everyone by surprise” is probably the biggest sign of just how surprised some producers are by the reach of social media. I mean seriously, we’ve been doing this for practically a decade now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Mackintosh is exactly embracing this new reach either, under the guise of “protecting the privacy” of the leads who are off one night he is shutting down the understudy’s ability to talk about the days they are onstage. Presumably this is because it hurts ticket sales on those nights. To be honest this probably makes business sense but it also doesn’t particularly seem like open honest business to me. Shows are marketed with those leads and so to attempt to hide when they will actually be performing seems a little silly to me. Maybe I’m the only one but this isn’t something I particularly support.

Zak Biggins said...

"We don't feel it's right that an understudy should let the rest of the world know when a principal is going to be off. Once we have announced it, they are completely at liberty to use that as much as they like but it needs to come from us first" doesn't sound like "we're really proud of our understudies." I think Mackintosh is being extremely pretentious when saying that understudies cannot announce their dates. To me, it's very important that we remember theatre should be about the story and not about which star is telling it. commerical theatre has become very problematic, in my opinion, because we are losing the integrity of the art form by casting big names just to fill seats. onstage/offstage understudies and swings work harder than anyone else in the cast: they cover multiple roles, need to be ready to perform at a moments notice, and go unrecognized more often than not. if i were mackintosh, i would be proud of my entire cast and allow them to post their show dates.

Zara Bucci said...

I am so strongly against this sentiment that understudies should not “publically announce when they will be performing in the show.” Regardless of the fact that they would be stating when principals would not be performing, that is their moment. They can invite talent agents, friends, family, and additional supporters. I find it so rude that they are not allowed to post about it on any social media until the theatre itself has made the information open to the general public. I mean- I understand why they are doing this, it makes sense for them because oftentimes people will go to shows specifically to see their favorite actor or actress perform live. I know when I was in high school I went to see If/Then specifically to see Idina Menzel. I understand how audiences would be upset. However- The theatres don’t post it until you are already in the seat in the theatre the night of the performance when you open your playbill and see the insert saying “The role of (Character) will be played by (Understudy) in tonight’s performance.

Javier Galarza-Garcia said...

Understudies and swings are some of the smartest people in theatre, but as a group, their time in the lime light is very limited. I don't agree at all with the idea that understudies need to refrain from tweeting or announcing their upcoming performances. These performers work very hard with eight shows a week dancing and singing behind the lead, keeping up with their track and never forgetting their additional assigned track. I'm sorry but if next Wednesday Josh Groban needed a day off and I as the understudy needed to fill in, you know I am going to be announcing my shows to everybody. To some understudies, that one performance means so much to them. Yes, Cameron Mackintosh makes a valid point that it should be the production that announces the fill in, but at least bring some attraction to the performance. Also, how many times have you gone to watch a show and they announce "the role of blah blah usually played by Idina Menzel will be played today by ____________________." There are a lot of audible reactions which make me cringe because you know that actor is aware that you came to see Idina Menzel. By tweeting or sharing on social media, or formally announcing, that horrifying 10 second announcement is more anticipated.

Ali Whyte said...

While I understand the importance of being able to control what is and is not released to the public regarding a specific show, I do think that this case in particular is more of a grey area. If they are going to limit an understudy to release his or her specific show dates only after management has given it an ok or announced it themselves, I think there need to be better systems in place from the management perspective on regulating that information. I also think that allowing the understudy to release this information actually helps many of the audience members who will surely groan when it is announced at the top of the show that one of the leads will be played by his or her understudy. I think this information coming before the show from the actual performer might actually give an audience member the chance to look up and read about the performer he or she is going to be seeing, and might help dissipate some of that negative reaction when it hits showtime.

David Kelley said...

While I understand the frustration that some feel this policy constrains the understudy, however the article clearly states that the policy regarding social media is that they wish the production to be the first to release this information of social media. This said it would be unfair of the production to limit when information is released and than not release the information in a reasonable amount of time before the show dates. Thus if this is how it is handled the understudy would also be able to do some o there own promotion of the show more so than the standard talk to friends and family. The one thing that really should be noted is that there needs to be a standardized throughout the industry.

Galen shila said...

It is interesting that these dates are not announced publicly at least thats what it seems like. Understudy's are looking for a way to let their friends and potential future employers know when they are going to perform rather than the off chance that the lead is sick the night their friend shows up. Now i fully understand why the companies are telling them not to do this because they did sign the contact. but still i feel that there is some kind of ultimatum they can come to.

Emily Lawrence said...

This article is really interesting, because I never thought of social media as a problem when posting show information. It does make sense when it comes to understudies though. Most people want to see the original actor that was chosen for the part because they are thought of to be “the best”. Yes, they were chosen first, but that does not mean that the person understudying is not as good. There are so many talented actors in the industry that simply never get the chance to show how good they are, and in my opinion understudying is just as good as getting the role. I do understand what this article is saying though. When I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Alex Sharpe’s understudying was playing the lead. When I heard this I was extremely disappointed because I did not think anyone could do the role as well as I heard he did. But when the show started, I automatically forgot this little detail because the lead actor was phenomenal. I agree that understudies are just as good, but I also believe that there is a negative connotation that goes with them as well that can turn away ticket buyers. Understudies should refrain from posting their show dates to the public, but that does not take away from the talent they possess.