Friday, September 25, 2009

An Open Letter From Richard Jay Simon

The following is an open letter from Richard Jay Simon to his colleagues in the South Florida Theatre Community.  He has forwarded this to many people via email, and I am posting it here at his request.

If you've replied to him via email, I ask that you consider copying and pasting your reply here so everyone can participate in one conversation.  Feel free to tweet this or otherwise link to it.

ATTACHED MESSAGE*************************

Dear friends and colleagues,

I am ashamed.  I am embarrassed.  I have let our South Florida community down and coincidentally, feel the South Florida theater community has let itself down.  The community which I love is in grave danger.

As you all know, decisions have been rendered in Miami-Dade County and Broward County to drastically reduce the budgets for the arts.  Public hearings have been conducted and decisions have been made.  I do not have the pulse on what is transpiring in Palm Beach County but will investigate that thoroughly.

Several days ago, I went to the final Broward County Commission meeting and lobbied for the arts.  There were, maybe, a total of thirty individuals, most of whom run cultural organizations, in attendance trying to convince the commission to not cut from us, or at least, to reduce the reduction.  I was highly embarrassed that our industry had little or no representation to object to these cuts.

There were actually more people in the room lobbying for the privatization of horse stables.

I looked around and saw zero actors.  I looked around and saw no set designers, no lighting designers, no costume designers, no electricians, etc.  Aside from Janet Erlick of the Ft. Lauderdale Children’s Theater, I saw no other theater producers.  No representatives from the Theatre League of South Florida.  No one from the Carbonells.   No arts journalists reporting on probably the most significant story in years.

One member of the Broward County Commission declares quite pointedly that art is a painting on a wall and nothing more.  We should all be outraged.  We should be insulted and refuse to accept this level of ignorance.

We see countless e-mails from our respective Cultural Divisions and maybe we send an e-mail to our membership, but where were we when it mattered most?  E-mails mean squat.

We were given an opportunity to speak as to why the arts are important and we were invisible.  We need to rise up like a phoenix and fight for what defines us as human beings.  We need to fight for our art.  It was so easy for them to vote and that cannot be the case, it simply can’t.  It is time for us to become unified across county lines and form a committee with representation from all counties with the objective to do everything within our power to restore these funds.

In hindsight, I wish I would have spoken up and asked TLSF to deploy armies to attend these meetings for there is nothing more important than this.  We should have had phone trees established to ensure that we had sufficient representation at the meeting.  The theater festival would look quite different without theaters.

I should have contacted Christine, Bill, Brandon, Ron, Mary and anyone who covers the arts to give this topic sufficient coverage.  Perhaps they could have kept arts lovers informed and encouraged them to let their voices be heard.  If there is ever something that should unify all of us producers and artists, it is this.

The one thing to ever unify us was the threat of the Carbonell Awards being removed from us.  Everyone came out in droves to save our beloved awards - Is that really who we are?  We care more about recognition than saving our theaters which employ thousands of artists and pump millions of dollars into our fractured economy?

Please, I do not wish to diminish the importance of the Carbonells within our community but we are talking about hundreds of our cultural organizations losing anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars in revenue.  Do we want to take a chance that some of our theaters might potentially have to close their doors?

Next year, there will be further movements to cut all funding for the arts and if we don’t figure out a way NOW to become one unit…

Small theaters are seemingly indifferent to this crisis as they don’t receive much, if any, funding from government.  I would ask that they try to see the bigger picture.

We need to have a plan created by all of us, unified, in one strong message.  I think we all need to support each other.  We are cultural leaders.  We are so busy micro-managing our respective organizations that I think we all lost sight of the big picture.

With the help of the TLSF, it is my hope that we can create a strong umbrella program which will notify us and take charge of these critical advocacy efforts that we must all actively participate in and respond to. I for one am happy to serve on this committee.

We need organized, strategic campaigns designed to brand the importance of art on all decision makers.  E-mails are not sufficient and lead to inaction.  We need to create initiatives which lead to action.

The intention of this letter is not to attack anyone and I sincerely hope it doesn’t come across as such, but we need a unified plan for the betterment of all of us.

Respectfully submitted,

Richard Jay Simon
Executive/Artistic Director
Mosaic Theatre


  1. Miami-Dade funding was restored to the budget after a strong showing at the commission meeting. Numbers speak, and the number of people who actually appear in the room speak loudest of all.

    I think that too many of us shrugged and thought "well, there are more important things than the arts, I guess. How can I stand up and ask for money when teachers are being laid off, when bus routes are being canceled?"

    But why is someone else's job more important than ours? We pay taxes. We buy property. We contribute.

    Arts are a vital part of the community; we're not just "a painting on the wall." We're the reason people flock to arts festivals in downtown Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, where they close down streets to bring us in. We're an attraction that brings millions of dollars into Broward County in parking fees, and in restaurant and bar tabs, and in taxes on our services. We're a catalyst that revives blighted neighborhoods. We're a green industry that employs thousands of workers who pay taxes and buy things. We're a wholesome activity for families.

    In no other field do you get the return on the dollar that the arts bring to any community.

    Fight for it!

  2. Well, Richard as a Miami-Dade based artist I was there for that budget meeting as were many, many others for the arts. I don't know what the deal is with Broward county, and its theatres and artists. As for the theatre industry in South Florida as a whole, it is a failure. Outside of our little community of actors, and patrons over 80 NO ONE knows that we exist. The causal civilian out there in their mid 20's to 50's has no clue that there even is such a thing as a South Florida professional theatre scene. Why? The local companies have drawn themselves into a little ring of favorites, a little clique of insiders, they cast the same actors over and over and produce plays that are totally foreign to our local audiences. The local companies have been all too happy to play to their extremely tiny bases and rely on government funding to run organizations that have become increasingly irreverent. Then you talk about the local theatre critics, what a joke. You included a couple total hacks in that list, I won't mention them by name, only to say they come toward the end of the list. Why didn't they cover any of these meetings? Simple. They aren't journalists. They are faux-journalists, which is appropriate for a faux-theatre community, which is just what we have here in South Florida. Bottom line is this, out of all the cultural institutions in Broward and Miami only a handful do any real and substantial work that the community actually appreciates. Only a handful would be noticed and missed by a large number of people in the community if they were to close. Why? Ask those running the companies. Why have they turned a blind eye to demographics when planning their seasons? Why have they shut out so many fresh and talented artists in our community (sometimes to comic effect when they cast 35 year olds to play teenagers, etc.) Why have they failed to use new technologies to attract a broader audience? Why have they failed to make their institutions more financially sound? If they were doing things the right way, a cut in government grants would be a nuisance and not a catastrophe. Money was freely flowing during the boom, but now reality sets in. Time to face the music. Time to pay for bad decisions, and outright arrogance.

  3. Well, Anonymous 12:44 is a little bitter, huh?

    But I do have some issues with some of his comments.

    Outside of our little community of actors, and patrons over 80 NO ONE knows that we exist.

    And yet the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is one of the most successful venues on the PLANET.

    Actors' Playhouse has a much younger demographic, and MadCat is younger still.

    The local companies have drawn themselves into a little ring of favorites... they cast the same actors over and over...

    So, name the theatres, Anonymous.

    When you've directed some plays, you'll begin to understand why a director will use known quantities when possible: there are so many variables, it's comforting to have something you can rely on.

    ...and produce plays that are totally foreign to our local audiences.

    I have raise the point, isn't one purpose of art to challenge us?

    ...out of all the cultural institutions in Broward and Miami only a handful do any real and substantial work that the community actually appreciates.

    Theaters choose plays to suit their missions. And from where I sit, they mostly succeed.

    Now we get down to parts:
    Ask those running the companies: Why have they turned a blind eye to demographics when planning their seasons?

    I've worked at the most successful companies in the region, and they all look to demographics.

    Why have they shut out so many fresh and talented artists in our community (...cast 35 year olds to play teenagers, etc.)

    Art is not reality. Theatre is illusion. Hey, did you know that in the play Sylvia, the part of Sylvia the dog is played by a person? Some bastard of a director shut out a dog just to give his girlfriend a job. Bastard.

    Why have they failed to use new technologies to attract a broader audience?

    If you're talking social media, well, no one's mastered that yet. Go read some of the Mondays are Dark entries; there are links to companies trying to figure out how to take advantage.

    Why have they failed to make their institutions more financially sound?

    Now THAT is the first good question you've raised. But it requires a study of the economics of non-profit theatre in America. Short form; not-for-profit theatre is basically designed to rely on donations and grants to cover 40% of the costs of producing plays in order to keep ticket costs down to a rate affordable by their audiences.

    But with the recession, and the Madoff scandal, a lot of the private donations have dwindled. Theaters tightened their belts. The good ones realized that donations and grants will be smaller, and they made cuts.

    They're doing less plays, and putting on plays with smaller casts - which means that you have less chance to be in a play. Think you had problems getting cast last year?

    But just as we can't choose to not breathe oxygen, not-for-profit organizations simply can't choose to not need underwriting. Can YOU afford to suddenly pay almost twice as much for something? Anything?

    Time to pay for bad decisions, and outright arrogance.

    I just want to be sure you understand that YOU are the one paying for it. When we have numerous theatres, you have enough opportunities for work. When you only have a few, you don't. And when there aren't enough paying jobs for professional actors and designers and directors, they leave town, which means the handful of remaining professional theatres start bringing in everybody because it's easier to cast everyone on a trip to NYC than to cast from several smaller places.

    Pretty expensive case of sour grapes you got there, kid.

  4. "The one thing to ever unify us was the threat of the Carbonell Awards being removed from us. Everyone came out in droves to save our beloved awards - Is that really who we are? We care more about recognition than saving our theaters which employ thousands of artists and pump millions of dollars into our fractured economy?"

    In a word, "Yes." Face the reality. That's what the actors and directors in the "tight circle" here in South Florida talk about, will we get a Carbonell nomination? They even make fun of it in their productions and use it as a lure for audience attendance (one can look at the website for Mosaic alone to get the idea.) When the artist cares more about recognition and product than creating art, who gives a ...? Maybe if the directors, just for a moment, considered using actors who didn't have "three time Carbonell award winner" in their bio, or had already been in four shows that season, people might care more. Look at what happened to Summer Shorts this year with the loss of the Artistic Director Position apparently due to finicial trouble/lack of attendance, then ask, how different was the cast this past year, or any year? Who wants to see the same people over and over and over again?

  5. Fact Check: City Theatre 2009 Summer Shorts Festival: The company was:

    Katherine Amadeo
    Steve Anthony
    Christopher Dall'au
    Troy Davidson
    Nick Duckardt
    Vanessa Elise
    Elena Maria Garcia
    Betsy Gravor
    David Hemphill
    John Manzelli
    Erin Joy Schmidt
    Steve Trovillion
    Laura Turnbull

    For my money, this is a very strong mix of established and emerging actors. Several have received an award- others have not. Some, I'm sure don't even care.

    I will NOT comment on City Theatre's Board choice of releasing Artistic Director, Stuart Meltzer. That is too complicated and involved.

    I will say the Festival with 3 different Programs had solid attendance. Shorts 4 Kids had a little bit of a struggle at times but still performed for thousands of children in South Florida. City Theatre, for the last two years has created new audience with it's undershorts program of late night theatre.

    People need to understand that the Theatre is like any other industry: it is vulnerable to the economical climate. Remember going to the theatre is glorified time wasting (though an important one)- it's a luxury. People may need to spend their money in other ways.

    To the person who says that audiences gets tired of seeing the same people over and over again- I am no scientist so I cannot respond but I will say watch the audience of Summer Shorts when Steve Trovillion walks out on stage to do anything or Laura Turnbull changing character to character or Elena Garcia clowning around- they are glad they spent the 40 some odd dollars for a ticket. It's about quality.


    Stuart Meltzer

  6. Dear Stuart,

    I'm not a tremendous fan of blogs as it makes genuine conversation quite difficult with intentionality often being misread. I would love to have a conversation about anything written in my letter. Feel free to give me a call or we can have lunch.

    The intention of my note was to attempt unity within the theater community and with this unified position we can accomplish greater things relative to our collective fight to raise awareness and advocate for the arts together.

    I think your point on the relevance of the Carbonell's in a theater's marketing engine is clearly secondary to the macro picture I was attempting to paint. I can only speak for myself but I don't think any of us do what we do for a statue, I don't. I know that 5 of 10 actors in ROCK 'N' ROLL have never worked at Mosaic before.

    Also, I'm deeply saddened by your statement that going to theater is "glorified time wasting (though an important one) - it's a luxury." I thank you for scribing your name as it always befuddles me that folks chime in with "anonymous" - if you have something to say, say it, and put your name behind it.

    I hope you and Michael get a chance to see the show and perhaps we can have a drink, or seven, afterward.

    I sincerely hope that my letter keeps its mission simple. To unify the community, band us together to fight for a common goal. Anything other than that, doesn't feel relevant to this conversation.

    Best, RJS

  7. Richard,

    You and I agree 100% on the funding situation. I applaud your letter!

    My reaction is simply when people use specifics like City Theatre in sentences without having a complete understanding of the story or circumstances.


    I am proud of your letter.

    In my life now, it's very difficult for me to look at the war in arts funding without a nasty taste in my mouth because for the first time in 5 years- I have no job.

    "Glorified Time Wasting" is a term I used because that is how I feel State and County feel about people in the arts. By no means to I feel that is a true opinion of what we do.

    We'll talk soon.

    Congratz on R&R.



  8. Richard Jay:
    I'm not a tremendous fan of blogs as it makes genuine conversation quite difficult with intentionality often being misread.


    Well, gee, thanks for that ringing endorsement.

    Richard: I respectfully disagree on a blog's effect on conversation. Look, we're having one right now! We don't have to worry that someone didn't get the email, or forgot to click "reply:all." Intentionality isn't lost because it's a blog, it's lost because it's..written. Of course, blog comments will never replace face-to-face dialogue, where we can hear tone of voice and see facial expressions.

    Blogs will never - or should never - replace real news outlets. But they can and do serve a purpose. A tool used correctly is a useful tool. But like any tool, it can be misused, and that can lead to confusion, dogs lying down with cats, and other biblical disasters.

    This blog, I hope, serves its purpose honorably. It's intended to foster discussion of the art form I hold most dear. And while it's not always fun to have anonymous commenters denigrating our art or our organization, it does give us a chance to address those comments and rumors and what not.

    And let's face facts: who are people going to take more seriously; the sniping person without any kind of identity, or those who sign their comments?

    The arts in Broward County contribute to the material well-being of Broward businesses; we attract crowds. We bring people out into the public, where they pay for parking, buy food and drinks, and read ads in programs. And if the gods are smiling on us, they leave the theatre with a new perspective on life. We should feel no shame in asking for support, or fighting for it if necessary.

    And some snotty anonymous poster who's ticked because he/she can't get cast in a play doesn't change that fact.

  9. CLJ those who have posted that they hate blogs DO make a valid point. I have seen things on your blog disintegrate into childish embarrassing snipping and bickering more than a few times (many times with you as the ring leader). The notion of a blog itself isn't necessarily bad, but with an industry filled with as many bitter people as this one, it doesn't take long for things to go south in a major way. As the moderator of this blog you could take steps to police it and remove postings that are clear attempts at character assassination and those that are just nasty for the sake of being nasty, but for whatever reasons you don't. That's a big reason why people don't like blogs. As nasty as Perez Hilton's blog is at least it's funny (he draws semen on the faces of people he dislikes) but this one is just equal parts good ol' boys club and bitching central. :/ LOL.

  10. Let me re-phase. I hate writing on blogs. I am a very shy person.

    However, I read this one all the time.


  11. Stuart - s'all right.

    Anonymous - I actually do police the comments, and remove posts that are simply character assassination. If you feel I've left something inappropriate up, let me know where it is; simply post a comment after the offensive one (which will help me get right to it). But free speech means nothing if we don't allow dissent; I don't agree with negative comments, and I certainly don't agree with the sour grapes of the earlier commenter on this article. But it gives us the opportunity to address those views.

    And perhaps, in the process, we all come out with a fresh perspective on the issues we face.

  12. There can be more than one person who selects "anonymous", right? I like this website and appreciate the efforts of the person(s) who run it. I also hope the discussion can be structured in a format that lets people comment without fear of becoming an outcast in our community.

    With that said, and without trying to name any person or theatre outright, here is some food for thought:

    I work with actors every day and can't tell you how many times I have heard them say "I won't audition for _________ anymore because they always use the same actors." Granted, if these performers were not that talented, I could understand...but these are actors who make callbacks and work elsewhere. I have also heard that directors have made comments like "We have a core group of people we work with and it is difficult to get cast." The actors appreciate the honesty, but find it disappointing, as we should all believe the actor most suited for the part should get the role, right? I love some of the actors who were mentioned earlier. I also love Will Ferrell, but don't want every comedy I see to feature him as the star. My point with all of that said is to stand up for the actors and hope they get a fair chance at being cast, and have the theatres ask themselves if they cast in that manner.

    As for the awards, if the point of the original letter is to UNITE the artists in our community, we should ask ourselves if the Carbonelles work in that capacity, since the awards are mentioned in the letter? I understand if a theatre wants to use the awards as a marketing tool, but I honestly can't say if audience member John Doe, who isn't a part of the theatre community, will decide to see a show based on whether or not the actors/directors/designers having a Carbonnell under their belt. Look at the Tony viewership. Look at the number of shows that have long runs that DIDN'T win a Tony. Recognition for work well done is great, but it can also lead to people feeling left out. Does winning an award "do" something for the artist and, if so, what? Lead to more work? Fulfill a void they have inside? Would our community take even more risks, which is the point of theatre, if they were not concerned with whether or not the show or performance was Carbonell worthy? Just looking for thoughts here.

    I appreciate the artists who went to the arts funding meeting and I also enjoy the work of the theatres mentioned in previous posts. I think (web) conversations such as these can be very educational.

    My post is not meant as "sour grapes" but rather as an honest observation of what I witness in our community.

    A person who truly cares.

  13. Anonymous 10:10- yes, the problem with simply using "anonymous" is that there can be any number of people using it, and that makes conversation very, very difficult. You can also make up any name under the sun to put in that field; no one would know your true identity, but we wouldn't have to figure out which "anonymous" said what.

    I work with actors every day and can't tell you how many times I have heard them say "I won't audition for _________ anymore because they always use the same actors."

    As a professional actor myself, who trained and started in NYC, and worked steadily for several years before moving to production, I have to say that's a failing of the actors you're dealing with, and not the directors. It's the same in NYC, and Chicago, and LA, and everywhere. In any situation, you are more likely to choose someone you know over someone you don't know. To quote Robert Heinlein: "Of COURSE the game is rigged! But don't let that stop you: you can't win if you don't play."

    At some point, a director is going to tire of someone in "the inner circle." Or they'll have a fight, or someone moves away. Then you can get in the door - but only if you're standing there. Another point to ponder: if you stop showing up, the director is left with only his "inner circle" to cast from. I've seen auditions where no one showed up, and the director grumbled and made choices out of who he/she knew.

    Successful actors spend more time looking for jobs than they do acting on stage or in a film. And that includes any number of auditions made pointless because the director will probably hire his neighbor's daughter. If you're serious about your career, you show up, and if you're not, you whine about "inner circles" and "casting cliques." It's part of the job. Sorry, no sympathy from me on this issue.

    I honestly can't say if audience member(s) ... will decide to see a show based on whether or not the actors/directors/designers hav(e) a Carbonnel

    That isn't the point of the Carbonells. The point of ANY award in show biz is to give us another excuse to appear in the news. Without awards, we get three stories: Theatre announces play, reporter visits set of play, the play is reviewed.

    The award gives us additional coverage: play is nominated, play wins. It nearly doubles the coverage, or at least the possibility of coverage.

    But the fact is that Carbonells and casting cliques have very little to do with funding for the arts. If a theatre has to cut programming, or choose smaller plays, that doesn't benefit ANY actors. Having less plays to see doesn't benefit the community, or at least those who go to see theatre.

    And that's what we should be focusing on, here.

  14. Just checking in here from someone's facebook post. GOD I'M GLAD I LEFT SOUTH FLORIDA! Working in ny, in a real theatre town it's night and day. Bye-bye unhappy bitter people! =)

  15. Bye Anonamous. Good luck on that porn career.

    -Ken Clement

  16. if anonymous is so happy to have left south florida i am wondering if they happily forgot their balls here since they clearly don't have any to actually sign their post.

  17. Wow! Glad I finally found this note and its thanks to you being on TWITTER by the by…Deb and Ken you make me laugh HARD! I may be able to offer some perspective to this blog, but even as I type this I am not sure I will submit it sooo here goes: Being an actor in South Florida for the last few years on and off I have had the good fortune to work at a number of theaters and assess the audiences, actors, and director/artistic directors. My take: at the core of the scene down here is a desire for quality on all fronts. Thats what we all strive for. We may all bicker and gossip and get angry for a multitude of reasons but we all share one communicate the human condition to audiences in hopes that perspective, understanding, and insight can transcend the page onto the stage and into the souls either riveted to the edge of their seat or even to the ones catching a snooze. Even those that steal away for a nap may swipe a seed of theme or emotion into their slumbering subconscious. I hope thats why we all have gone into this career. It's why I have. It certainly isn't for the money. That being said, I've been lucky enough to pay some of my bills by doing what I love. To Anonymous - The Bitter One - All I can say about being used repeatedly by theatres is, that wasn't always the case. I and many others who are repeat offenders worked their ASSES off to get to this point so, stop bitching and start pursuing. Maybe you dont get hired because you go into the audition with a "You're-never-gonna-hire-me-anyway chip on your shoulder." Maybe you go out for roles you may not be right for. But get used to the little circles cause they exist everywhere my friend. This is a rough business to be in and yeah I have a positive attitude because I do work often. But I know one thing. When the chips were down against me in this business I never blogged about it. You know what I did Anonymous? I tried to BE A BETTER PERSON. A BETTER ACTOR. A BETTER HUMAN BEING. Don't focus on what everyone else is doing. Focus on improving your craft. Take some classes, read a book, practice in your room if you have to. I just did a show with a girl at Gablestage whom Joe had never seen before. She came in and gave a great audition and won the role. She was in no clique. She fit the role and did a good cold read so...THERE IS HOPE. Most of the time from what I have seen the better man or girl gets the job. As far as the Richard note: Sorry I missed that meeting. I missed the dade county meeting too because I was working. But there should be a voice from the actors representing us at those meetings. I don’t know politics and bureaucracy so I don’t know that our presence there would have mattered but we should have someone there to rep us. And CJL thanks for this site. Its useful for a myriad of reasons so thank you.

  18. Thank you, Gregg. I look forward to your next show.

  19. Thanks Greg.

    -Ken Clement