Written by Bridin Clements

We have been following the recent news about the New York Times’ decision to omit the list of designer credits from theatrical reviews. Last month Local USA 829 asked members of its union to protest the decision, and last week 80 influential playwrights wrote to the paper, urging them to restore the credits. In its sample letter, the union emphasizes the importance of the credits box to “theatre-goers and professionals alike.” By removing these credits, the paper all but eliminates the minimal recognition these important behind-the-scenes workers receive.

We’ve seen this issue again and again in the last few years. It’s tough to communicate a true picture of the effort it takes to put on a production. Namely, how do you recognize all the contributors? You might see upwards of 60 people listed on the Staff section in the Playbill. Only a fraction of those players appear on show websites. Even fewer are named in the reviews. This is a very unfortunate distillation of a show’s creative genesis. It is important to note that these mentions, when published, grow a designer’s credibility. They in essence, add weight to their public profiles and resumés. It makes it easier to be hired for other event work. Such recognition also gives readers and audiences a fuller view of the level of collaboration required to put on a production. Does the omission then create a misconception about how theatre is made?

We felt put-down this year when the Tony Awards announced the elimination of the Sound Design categories.  We are raw from it.  But there are so many more collaborators than will ever be listed or recognized publicly. There are entire offices full of press reps. There are companies hired to produce opening night parties. There are stitchers, prompters, drafters, builders, child wranglers, and backstage tutors. Isn’t that part of the magic, albeit not a directly visible one? Last June we witnessed a glorious outpouring of camaraderie. Collaborators from all sections of the industry came together to celebrate each other’s achievements. The first ever Collaborator Party was a massive success, drawing people from all over the industry. #TonyCanYouHearMe  even began trending as people from around the country took to Twitter to express their support and solidarity.

There’s an important connection to be made here. We could get mad at The New York Times. We could blame some profit motive. Are we upset they removed the credits? Absolutely. But the pain we feel isn’t really because of the NYT. We are responding to a shift across our entire industry. Not just designers. Back of house, crew, techs: these important jobs are losing their just recognition and becoming undervalued. We felt this way during the Tony awards. We felt this way when we were stagehands working late nights and not named in the Playbill. We need to find a better way to recognize the people who make theater happen.

And here’s the thing – IT’S NOT ABOUT US.

We want the next generation of theatre kids to know these jobs exist. We want them to go to a show and see the costumes or the automation and say, “Wow, who did that?” I want to do that!”  Public recognition helps to sustain our industry. It lets aspiring professionals know we exist and the work we do is pretty cool, too. How amazing it would be to one day be able to search and find a record of everyone who worked on a production? Who were the interns, the electricians, the assistants, the run crew? Where is the public record of every person involved in the production? Where might a student be able to turn to find mentors and teachers beyond school walls?

It’s a larger conversation.  Maybe it’s a good thing we are being forced to finally address it openly. 

 

Tinc Productions provides a number of opportunities for young professionals to gain hands-on experience in the industry. To learn more about our educational opportunities or work, drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.