Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Royal National Theatre Royal Shakespeare Watford Palace

Have you noticed, and I’m sure you have, that film credits are getting longer and longer? There was a time when only major players both artistic and production-wise were credited, now everyone has to be named. Greek television doesn’t bother with credits. The moment a film comes to an end that is it. Who, they seem to ask, wants to sit through five minutes or more of rolling credits? In the cinema by the time the credits have rolled to an end there is no one in the house to look at them anyway. The disease seems to have spread to the theatre. Okay so okay, you say, credit where credit is due but what is the point if it is for the most part simply ignored? What made me think about this is that, while they were in London Chris and Douglas attended two performances, one at Watford Palace and the other at The National Theatre and, looking at the programmes, it makes me wonder how Ben and I managed to run a full repertory season with a company of no more than a dozen or so including stage staff who numbered a magnificent six plus one for publicity. They were a stage director (now called a production manager I suppose) three assistants, a designer one design assistant. What about lighting you may ask? Today it would seem a stage cannot be lit with anything less than a hundred or more lamps but we lit our stage with a dozen without a team of lighting experts and, before you sneer and go ‘oh yes,’ I can inform you we maintained the highest standard of production throughout the whole season. It most definitely was not a case of tat.
The same applies to the summer season I was a part of part at The Wayside Theatre in Virginia. Here the assistant stage managers were called interns. There were four of them and they worked their arses off for experience and very little else; a roof over their heads and what amounted to no more than pocket money. One of those interns is now professor of theatre at a major US university. As far as performers were concerned both at Buxton and Wayside, for the most part the plays produced were of necessity small cast and should more be needed, for a musical say, then the cast was naturally augmented. And both seasons included a musical. At Buxton it was ‘Salad Days,’ and in Virginia, ‘A funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.’  This was in 1964 and 1989. Now let’s look at the two London theatres in 2012. First the National. Now I know there are three theatres to run in that vast complex, the upkeep of which must be considerable on its own even before the production of plays, but is it really necessary to employ a staff of 450? There are for example 42 personnel managing the ‘Box office.’ The list under the heading of ‘Commercial Operations/ Bookshop’ contains 12 names, ‘Catering’ 150, ‘Hospitality Events’ 25. ‘House Management’ is rather sparse with only 8 names, similarly with ‘Information Tours’ and ‘Stage Door,’ but now we come to the list of ‘Ushers’ and here the mind really does boggle – there are 73 names! 73 people required for ushering in three theatres? And we haven’t touched on ‘Development,’ ‘Digital Drawing and Design,’ ‘Director’s office,’ (a measly 4 here – you would have thought high-powered busy as bees directors would have at least 14 if not more.) Nor have we touched on 34 more headings that make up the remaining hundreds. Why go into detail? ‘Health and Safety,’ and ‘Human Resources’ had to be included of course. Keeping all those jobs filled and tabs on them really does require human resources to work flat out, especially as there are only 6 of them. The weekly wage bill for this lot must be astronomical and all that even before the first actor is hired. I don’t know what the situation is at The Royal Shakespeare but I should imagine it’s much of a muchness.
Now let’s turn to Watford, a minnow of a theatre in comparison to these whales but again it would seem to me that the number of staff isn’t really necessary. For example there are 13 members of the board, under ‘Operations,’ 29, something called ‘Participation’ has 6, ‘Production’ has 18 and ‘Marketing’ 14.
This startling increase in the inclusion of credits for all involved must surely have started with Joan Littlewood and her socialist theatre at Stratford East when even the cleaning ladies were credited for the first time but her theatre was run on a shoestring and still produced some historical work, ‘Oh What A Lovely War,’ Brendan Behan’s ‘The Hostage,’ and ‘The Quare Fellow,’ Shelagh Delaney’s ‘A Taste of Honey,’ ‘Mother Courage,’ Lionel Bart’s ‘Fings Ain’t’ What They Used To be,’ ‘Sparrers Can’t Sing,’ and more.
 I somehow doubt Joan Littlewood would have longed for a company numbering hundreds.

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