Friday, March 7, 2008

Episode 2: The First Contract

New Line Theatre (they call themselves an "alternative musical theatre company," whatever that might be) was the first into the Lion's Den, and the first to deal with Horror Show in detail. Though there had been a few meetings where lots of promises were made (only to be broken later), the rubber was about to meet the road. The following details come from a report New Line put together for its board and the other companies working at the Ivory.

The nightmare officially started with the negotiation of New Line's contract. Before the contract would ultimately be signed, the poor New Line people had to suffer through six ever-changing drafts of the contract, according to a report I read -- not because the deal was particularly complicated, but because Horror Show just would not make the changes New Line and the owners agreed to in each draft. Each time a new draft was presented, New Line would identify items in the contract that they just could not agree to, all of which the owners agreed to delete. Then with each subsequent draft, Horror Show would change a couple of the things they had objected to, but not all of them. And with every new draft, she would also add bizarre new items.

One draft suddenly said New Line could not give out any comps at any time (not to the press, donors, funders, etc.). This had not been in previous drafts. It just appeared out of the ether without a word of explanation. One draft suddenly said the owners would extract New Line's rent payment from Metrotix, instead of New Line paying rent directly. One draft suddenly said New Line had to pay the landlord $10,000 if they have to cancel a show.

There were many other items like that, all of them completely unacceptable, all of them snuck inside of new drafts, even as Horror Show promised them each time that there was nothing new in the contract. Every time she blamed it on "the lawyer;" it was never her fault. This was a pattern everyone would soon find very familiar. Also in every draft, from the very first one on, she had some version of the landlord having approval power over New Line's choice of shows. Every time they told her they would never sign a contract with that language in it. For five drafts she promised to delete it, but never did.

Finally, on the sixth try, she emailed New Line a draft that had all the problems fixed. They called her and told her everything was great and that they were ready to sign. When they got to the office to sign, she swore this was exactly the same contract she had emailed them – but it was not. Now the provision about the landlord getting approval power over their choice of shows, which had been finally removed after five drafts, was BACK!

Finally that provision was removed -- again -- and they signed it. But the owners weren't there to sign it. So New Line was told one of the owners would sign it later and they'd mail a copy.

When New Line was mailed the final executed contract, they noticed that the front page of the contract had been replaced -- after New Line had signed it. (Isn't that illegal?) The New Line people could not see that anything had been changed, but they obviously found it very troubling and inappropriate for a page of the contract to be replaced after being signed…

The New Line people also discovered during this bizarre and frustrating contract process that Horror Show knows almost nothing about theatre – she knows a few words she can throw around, but she doesn't really know even the most basic vocabulary of theatre, she doesn't know anything about theatre tech, about how a theatre company is run, how a rehearsal process works, what happens backstage, how theatre buildings operate, how theatre is marketed and sold, how ticket services work, how the arts media operate, the difference between for-profit and nonprofit theatre, the difference between “art” theatre and commercial touring theatre, how theatre is funded, what theatre patrons expect and need, what actors and musicians expect and need, how to estimate potential ticket sales, and far too much more… My grandma would be better qualified and she's been dead for twenty years.

Yet this is the person chosen to manage a brand new theatre. New Line should have known then that they were in trouble. The other companies would soon have similar experiences.

But this was only the beginning...

Sic semper tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor