Following the announcement of a performance schedule change at Fosse, members of Actors' Equity have once again asked their union to address what they allege is the issue of inadequate recuperation time in their weekly schedule.
The recuperation time issue with Fosse is the latest in a series of talent complaints on health and safety issues that have been included in the ongoing negotiations for Broadway's biggest labor pact, the "production contract" between Equity and the League of American Theatres and Producers.
During these talks, sources say, actors and dancers have been agitating on two fronts — what they describe as the need for more rest time and the need to eliminate hazards involved with raked (inclined) stages.
In addition to Fosse, Playbill On-Line has learned that members of the companies of Rent, and Chicago have attended production contract meetings seeking changes in scheduling and staging. On the raked stage issue, a union source summarized the hazards of working on a seriously inclined surface: "You can imagine what's it's like to walk around and perform on a slant like that," the source said, "it's just weird."
The Fosse schedule change, which goes into effect Sept. 11, has prompted concern due to the nature of the show. The Tony Award-winning Broadway production comprises a revue of dances and numbers created by the late director-choreographer Bob Fosse. Many of these are challenging show-stoppers, so-called "11 o'clock numbers," which are traditionally performed near the end of a show for climactic effect. Fosse can be particularly gruelling because many "11 o'clock numbers" are lumped together. The new Fosse schedule, announced late in August, sticks to eight shows a week, but rearranges show times so that Wednesdays will be dark. Thus, there would be one evening performance on Mon., Tues., Thurs. and Fri., with matinees and evening shows on both Sat. and Sun.
The Fosse cast apparently chafes at this new schedule. One source reported that the change had caused some actors and dancers "extreme consternation and distress" because it doesn't allow them time enough to rest and recuperate from a physically demanding weekend. The source also indicated that "injury and absenteeism" were high in cases where recuperation time was reduced.
Though there are exceptions, the prevalent Broadway custom is for theatres to be dark on Monday.
"We've had it added to the production contract talks," said Equity president Patrick Quinn. "It's really an issue of actors and dancers being able to recuperate. This isn't about 'whiny' actors, these are professionals who often have to live with a certain level of physical pain. So, when they say there's an issue, it's legitimate."
The veteran actor and union executive spoke to Playbill On-Line on Aug. 31, during a press preview of his next show, the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Anything Goes. Quinn explained that after an exhausting series of shows, actors and dances are also more likely to incur serious injury than if they were well-rested.
A spokesperson for Fosse could not comment immediately but was looking into the issue. A call to the League was not immediately returned.
Speculation about the business reasons for the schedule change at Fosse runs along three lines. Some sources suggest that Wednesday matinee business may be so off that a change was deemed necessary. Others went further, suggesting that while Wednesday attendance isn't necessarily off, the typical Wednesday matinee audience comprises a higher percentage of discount ticket buyers. Still another theory involves the benefit of presenting shows on Monday, when fewer shows are running, in order to develop business for a show in a less cluttered market.
"If they're doing Wednesday as a day off, that means eliminating the matinee and the evening show," a source said. "It isn't clear what their research is but, for whatever reason, they can't sell it."