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New York Theatre Workshop Eliminates Production Department

Mike Lawler • Industry News • April 14, 2008

NEW YORK — New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) moved to eliminate the theater’s six person production department on April 10, including  the production manager  and technical director. The five year-round staffers and one seasonal employee will be laid off officially effective May 30, 2008. Citing an urgent need to whittle a projected $5 million annual operating budget down to $3.5 million NYTW gave all employees the option of taking a week long furlough without pay beginning in January in order to avoid lay offs. According to NYTW production manager Michael Casselli, the furlough idea was put to the staff bluntly. “It was either take the furlough, or there will be possible lay offs,” he says. “It’s not really a choice.”

Upon termination, the six production department staffers were reimbursed for wages lost during the furlough.

The company-wide payroll reduction reportedly saved the theater nearly $50,000, but ultimately did not stave off the Workshop’s financial situation. The NYTW Board of Trustees issued a mandate to the theater, calling for the shaving of $1 million from the operating budget.

Pointing to the imminent restructuring of NYTW when new managing director Billy Russo begins his tenure in June, interim managing director Fred Walker informed the production department employees of their termination behind closed doors. The staff was in the midst of teching the Elevator Repair Service adaptation of Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury (which began previews April 15) at the time.

Walker cited the lack of a production schedule for next season as the primary rationale for cutting the production department before anything else. “It’s [the production] department, because it’s the most obvious,” Walker told Casselli’s staff last Thursday.

Casselli claims the annual salary savings of the firings will amount to approximately $280,000 plus varying benefits savings. As of this writing, Casselli was also offered a deal to walk off the job immediately without losing pay through the official termination date at the end of May. The employees will be covered by NYTW health insurance through June 30.

According to NYTW spokesperson Richard Kornberg the termination of the production staff is “fiscally responsible, not reprehensible,” and referred to the goings-on at NYTW as a “fluid situation.” Kornberg also emphasized that the Workshop will not be producing any shows during the summer months, and was unsure of the actual savings of the current cutbacks.

The theater, known for its stagings of new work (including the premiere of Rent over a decade ago), will almost certainly cut back its production schedule next season and plans to either hire production positions on a show-by-show or seasonal basis.

NYTW still plans on breaking ground for their new LEED certified scene and costume shop facilities on May 20, although questions have been raised regarding the lack of staff to operate and maintain the building. Casselli has acted as the “liaison to the architect” on the project since joining the NYTW staff nearly two years ago, and has also been the theater’s strongest advocate for advancing environmentally friendly practices in its operations.

“Since NYTW intends to hire people on a per show basis next season,” Kornberg says, “the [new] costume and scene shop will not be affected.”

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