Friday, October 29, 2010

Warner Brothers versus New Zealand

God Defend New Zealand because it looks as if nobody else will!

In the fight for the 'Hobbit' it seems that Warner Brothers won hook, line and sinker.

John Key, our Nationalist Prime Minister, was no match for the Warner Bros. executives. It must have been like stealing pennies from a blind man.

I have not been following the story. I gave up on this line of politics a long time ago. I was involved with Actor's Equity in UK. Theatrical employers are so difficult to negotiate with as I found out on repeated occasions. They always did the artists and they always won.

Big or small made no difference. The big ones were the worst. My negotiations over playing 'Flora' in Brittens 'Turn of the Screw' for Aldeburgh were classic.

First The Royal Opera House never told me I had got the job and it was only when I saw my name on the handbill I thought I better find out. I had to deal with John Tooley, now Sir John Tooley, knighthoods seem to come easily after years of ripping off artists. I was sixteen.

No apology was forthcoming for not being told and I was offered £12 for four weeks work, one week in London and three in Aldeburgh. I was given my train fare, 3rd class, but no living allowance. This salary even in those days was terrible.

Even at sixteen I knew I could not do the job on this money and I protested only to be told that Covent Garden had forty little girls lined up for this role so I could take it or leave it. I said with great presence of mind I'd 'think about it!' The man I was dealing with was old enough to know better but he couldn't resist ripping me off.

For once my father decided not to come to the party. He flatly refused to sub me. So I had to ring up Stephen Reiss, the manager at Aldeburgh and tell him I was not able to do the job. Stephen nearly exploded as rehearsals were only about two weeks away. He said he would see what he could do.

Three hours later John Tooley, I refuse to call him 'Sir' even to this day, rang with a better offer of £33. Still not nearly enough but if I was careful I could live. Fifty years later on reading a biography of Britten I found that he had auditioned forty 'Floras and never found one. If I had only known that at the time. Covent Garden were stuck!

The next was Bernard Delfont of 'Stop the World'. There were six 18 year old girls in the chorus and we were touring for weeks. After Liverpool we were given 3/6 for our train fare to the next town and told to meet up again in a week's time in Morecombe which was about 30 miles away.

When as Equity deputy I protested I was told that in the contract the management could have a week out without paying us. The orchestra all got paid and their fares to and from London. I was simply told that I should learn to read my contract. The six of us were stranded with no money. The tiny salary we got just about saw us through a week.

My parents paid for everyone's fare to London. The show filled a 3,500 seater theatre every night for six performances. There were 12 in the cast plus orchestra. Bernard Delfont must have made a fortune that week and he couldn't pay his artists.

BBC extra days never paid up. If you complained you were put on a black list.

Tom Arnold/ Bernard Delfont Nottingham Panto Christmas Eve grid fell down because the show was too heavy. Nobody was killed but the whole cast told 'Act of God' show cancelled and we could all go home. We had had to rehearse for ten days without pay and would lose three months work.

To my surprise Equity did nothing but sort of agreed with the management. I recall timidly putting my hand up and saying that I did not think overloading the grid so that it collapsed was 'An Act of God' rather an 'Act of stupidity'. The silence that followed was deafening. We were told to come back in three hours while they sorted this out.

In two days over Christmas Delfont had the grid restored and we opened without a dress rehearsal on Boxing Day. They would have had to pay us all for three months if they had had to cancel. Needless to say I never got another job with Delfont or Tom Arnold.

In a West End musical the donkey got more than the leading lady, me and the chorus boys which sort of gives you an idea of one's social standing as an artist. Though to my surprise I was paid the same salary as the head of The English National Theatre whose name escapes me at the moment so I must have been fairly well paid at the time.

I won't even start to tell you my saga with the opera here in Auckland. That is for another day but NZ Equity rolled over to the management with the memorable line 'That NZ Equity had to work with these people'! I was sacked what for has yet to be discovered. Needless to say the chorus did not get paid although my production made the opera a small fortune. I am told the lady in charge of the opera  eventually landed up in prison but I do not know for certain. I still have her affidavit which makes interesting reading. I believe the penalty for perjury is seven years.

Will NZ rolling over to the Big Boys do any good? Hope so in the short term but I fear it won't. Warner Bros. and MGM are in dire financial straights according to the New York Times so maybe they do not want this production at this moment and that gave them the edge in negotiation. They were only too happy to cancel and blame NZ. We shall see. Watch this space.

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