A RECOMMENDATION OF NEW STANDARDS 

FOR WORKING IN NYC PRODUCTION 

A document created by

The  New York City Production Managers’ Forum Human Resources and Hiring Subcommittee


 

INTRODUCTION

Production managers have responsibility to both producers AND the labor force hired to execute the shows. Production managers hold varying positions of power and positional privilege in different organizations or productions, but as a class of manager and worker, we hold an immense amount of power in the field of theatrical and live entertainment production. We are in a unique position of both autonomy and accountability which positions us well to advocate for and implement changes to the current Human Resources and Hiring practices within the New York City theatrical and live entertainment community. 

 

The HR sub-committee of the NYC Production Managers’ Forum (NYC-PMF) was formed as an acknowledgement of the patchwork of hiring practices and standards, lack of appropriate human resources assets, and non-existence of racial and gender equity and inclusion within the New York theatrical and live entertainment production community. These conditions have long been acknowledged privately among peers, but have never been fully addressed publicly. We acknowledge that the racial and gender makeup of our ranks and our workforce needs to change to include more BIPOC and AAPI and more underrepresented gender identities in senior positions both within production departments and production management.

 

The goal of this sub-committee was to discuss these and other issues in order to identify the principal areas in need of the greatest change, and to issue findings and recommendations to the NYC-PMF as a whole. We hope this document will serve as a tool to investigate inequitable hiring and workplace practices, provide resources to managers who are seeking to advocate for more just work environments, and ultimately support implementation of these recommendations as new standards to make real and lasting changes to the way the field works and we lead our teams. The recommendations proposed are applicable and scalable to all forms of production management from non-profit organizations to commercial production supervisors, working in union and non-union environments.


 

FINDINGS

In our discussions we found that the majority of issues could be broken down into two major categories - WHO was working and HOW they were working. 

 

WHO: This breaks down into who is currently hired into the field, circumstances that preclude people from pursuing a career in the industry, and factors that play into sustainable careers in the field.

  • The three dirty “-isms”, racism, sexism and nepotism are pervasive in the New York City production community and are inhibiting marginalized identities from entering the industry and career advancement. We have found these “-isms” to exist in every type of work we do.

  • Gatekeeping and nepotism, aka the idea of “my people”, maintains a scarcity mindset around the amount of work available in the field. They create and maintain oligarchies where only certain people have control over hiring opportunities, and actively exclude people from gaining access to the field. When individuals ascribe to nepotism as a primary means of hiring, it makes it nearly impossible for workers without the privileges of education, finance or personal connections to meet those doing the hiring.

  • Unpaid or sub-minimum wage internships or low-paid positions with intangible perks, such as resume building, limit access to entry level positions to those individuals who have other means of financial support.

  • Lack of family leave and childcare options disproportionality affects marginalized people and particularly affects people staying in the field. This also plays into the work-life balance issues touched on more thoroughly in the HOW section. 

 

HOW: This refers to the current community, culture and practices which negatively affects the workforce through poor working conditions, low wages, and a lack of HR standards.

  • Low wages and wage disparity

    • Lack of paid internships and entry level positions.

    • Lack of wage transparency in job postings. 

    • Lack of wage transparency in existing institutions and companies.

    • Wage gaps along race and gender lines.

  • Unsafe working practices

    • Solo, unsupervised, or understaffed work calls create a greater room for risk.

    • Neglecting safety standards either from lack of knowledge or to cut corners in order to save time/money, including improper employer provided PPE, or lack thereof. 

    • Overwork and burnout are endemic to the field, creating unsafe and unsustainable working conditions. Shifts that exceed 16 hours, lack of proper rest periods between calls, and low-wage employment (which creates the need for back-to-back shifts for multiple employers) represent a lack of respect for the labor force. [the “our” human resources feels a bit off] 

    • Schedules which use 10 out of 12s, 6 day work-weeks and traditional preview schedules, which for production realistically means 14-16 hour days for prolonged periods of time.

  • Industry expectations of staffing, ie: who is in the room when and when work notes get done;  and the “I need it now” mindset.

  • Lack of standardized and/or lawful HR practices: exempt vs non-exempt employees, independent contractors vs. employees. This can lead to some institutions often skirting rules, feigning ignorance of current regulations or being used as a shield from responsibility.

  • Lack of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) training and resources; a lack of standardization and training around conflict resolution.

  • Lack of professional development support, opportunities and resources at all levels of production.


 

PROPOSED CHANGES

Current industry standards for who works and how they work are based on maximizing resources of time, materials, and money, with a willing sacrifice of human resources. By altering that equation, and opting instead to value and prioritize our human resources, we can still achieve the work at a high level of value in both product and budget. However, to achieve the proposed changes below, we need to work together as production managers with both producers and workers to achieve sustainable and equitable standards of work in theater and live entertainment. 

 

  • A Paradigm Shift

    • Production managers need to shift away from a  “the show must go on” mentality and ask ourselves not just whether we can accomplish something, but, instead, by what means should we accomplish something ethically when making a plan to execute any phase of the production.

    • As a whole, everyone involved in the field needs to acknowledge the difference between a need and a want. Prioritizing the wants for a production over the needs of the humans involved creates negative working conditions for everyone. An example of this would be banking non-critical notes to a singular work call over holding multiple daily work calls which drain resources and expand the budget.

    • Define the most important time of a production as the time before everyone is in the presentation venue. Do more with that time, by preparing, planning, testing, and executing, rather than leaving the majority of artistic and logistic questions to be figured out once everyone is together in the presentation venue.

    • Commit to helping the people working for you. Acknowledge that many pervasive ways of operating create an inequitable environment for the workforce. This is part of IDEA work happening throughout the field. 

    • Make training an inherent aspect to the work, education/training should be continually happening for all employees. Diversity and inclusion will only come from changing how we find and train workers.

 

  • Hiring and Recruitment Practices

    • Create ways to reach a broader potential workforce including BIPOC, AAPI, and underrepresented genders. Post all open positions and hire new people. Hire more BIPOC , AAPI, and underrepresented genders. Commit to this!

    • Eliminate the Bachelors of Fine Arts and/or Masters of Fine Arts degrees as a prerequisite for employment - instead rely on a more detailed evaluation of candidates and their skills. Do not use these academic degrees as an excuse to bar people from consideration for a job, especially the entry level positions where people in our industry gain valuable experience. Recognize that people build skills on the job and not just in an educational environment.

    • Eliminate “ghosting”: the practice of not following up with candidates who did not get the job, those who have been dismissed, and those who won’t be rehired. Everyone should be given a follow-up and an explanation as to why they didn’t get the job or will no longer be working with the organization.

    • In a job description, articulate the skills you need and not just the title of the position from a theatrical standpoint.  For example, a wood-working carpenter has the skills to be a scenic carpenter such as proficiency in using a table saw or being able to cut compound miter angles.

    • Diversify the places where you post your job openings. Don’t focus just on theater or music industry based places like Playbill or Offstage Jobs. Prioritize places where it is free for workers to look for jobs. Research and identify job search tools those outside the industry may use to find entry-level employment.

    • Disclose all compensation including wages in your job postings. Do not circulate job postings that do not include wage transparency.

    • When vetting applicants, look at all resumes and prioritize an applicant's skills that are appropriate for the position above titles. If applicable - ask your HR department about how they filter applicable resumes to the Production Department. Make sure they know you’d like to cast a wider net. 

    • In hiring and role assignment, keep an open mind when presented with a candidate with a disability. Disabilities do not always obviously present themselves and can range from physical to emotional to psychological and beyond. Even the same disability can have differing accommodations. Discuss options with a candidate and search for a reasonable accommodation before moving on to another candidate for the job/role. 

    • Do not skip the interview process. Interview as many people as possible and then follow up with all of them.  Give candidates constructive feedback and explain why they didn’t get the job.  Interviewing is a skill and if someone never gets feedback about how they’re doing, how can they improve?

    • Don’t participate in the culture of nepotism.  Nepotism isn’t just about hiring your friends for the job, it also manifests in giving those people extra leeway to the job and hiring them at a higher rate than you would offer others.

    • Properly onboard and train the people you have hired, especially in site safety protocols.  Invest in them and in their future careers, especially freelancers.  This benefits not just them, but their current and future employers, and the industry as a whole.

 

  • Scheduling

    • Either the schedule needs to adjust to the needs of the show OR the show needs to adjust to the limitations of the schedule. There is no solution wherein compromise is not necessary.

    • Do not start a schedule planning to use overtime hours to achieve the production’s goals.

 

  • Workplace Safety

    • Standardization of safety practices across venues will not only protect the worker, but keep each employer from having to explain their interpretation of the industry standards around safety to workers new to their venue. Standardization will also protect employers from potential litigation if their standards do not adequately protect everyone involved.

    • There is no justification for cutting corners in safety.

    • Site safety training is necessary for all production managers and crews. 

    • Personal protective equipment should be appropriately provided in all situations as required by the OSHA standards for General Industry and for Construction.

 

  • Education & Training

    • All production managers and department/crew heads, should receive anti-harassment, anti-sexual harassment, anti-racism, and conflict resolution training.

    • NYC companies working in live production need to establish universal standards for harassment reporting, provide transparency on wages, wage structure, how to get a job and compliance throughout the NYC live entertainment community. 

    • Internships are not entry-level jobs and should not be treated as such. Unpaid internships are only acceptable if the intern is receiving academic credit, and are often only available to students with financial and academic privilege. Internships are academic based opportunities for someone to safely experience the working environment without consequence of inexperience.  

    • Professional development for staff and workers within the design and production departments should be an integral part of an institutional budget.

 

  • Work Rules

    • Everyone involved in the production must be paid for all the hours worked. Day rates and week rates, while helpful budgeting tools, are not good in assessing the human cost of a given job and allow the unscrupulous to abuse what is meant to create a streamlined negotiation between workers and management. Using a system of an 8-hour or 10-hour minimum will reinforce a shift away from abuses of the previous system.

    • Establish standardized minimum calls (4hr, 5hr, 8hr etc.) and the way in which members of the production are paid for those call times. Establish standard break schedules and notify crew in advance what your break schedule is. We suggest starting every schedule with a 15-minute break every two hours, and a 60-minute meal break every 4 hours.

    • Institute a five-day work week for non-show weeks allowing everyone to achieve a work/life balance.

    • Eliminate the contract language based “10-out-of-12” model for technical rehearsals with cast on stage. This does not mean eliminating all long tech days entirely, however the industry should divest itself from using terminology that doesn’t acknowledge the work of everyone involved in the production..

    • Eliminate the “8am-to-12am” schedule during previews in which supervisors are routinely expected to work a morning notes call, afternoon rehearsal, dinner notes and a nighttime preview for weeks on end. Develop a staggered work-call/daytime rehearsal schedule to give both cast and crew time to do the work and rest during a preview process. 

    • Eliminate the idea that the same person needs to do a task for the entire run of a show or an event. Instead of opting for overtime and burnout, plan for overlapping shifts and training via shadowing calls.

    • When over-time is unavoidable, pay at an overtime rate and for exempt employees use a comp time policy.

    • Develop and communicate work call change and cancellation policies. Crew members should be compensated for the full call which they were booked if the call is canceled within 24 hours or less notice. Crew members should be compensated for half of their potential pay for calls cancelled on 48 hours or less notice. This will ensure both the management’s commitment to making the call happen and provide some relief to workers who depend on us to keep them employed and those who may have turned down other work in order to be there.

    • The NYC-PMF should openly discuss the prevailing wage for production managers and crew members and determine what that prevailing wage should be based on the current cost of living in New York City. A transparent salary table should be established. A minimum wage of $28 per hour and a prevailing wage of $32 per hour should be implemented across the NYC production industry.  

    • Understand Employee vs Independent Contractor relationships, and hire and budget appropriately.

 

  • Union Labor

    • Our working relationship with unions is a negotiated one. When new contract negotiations come up, advocate for the work rules above. Until then:

  • Talk to institutional leadership about your desire to make changes in hiring practices to hire more BIPOC and AAPI and underrepresented genders.

  • Talk to human resources leadership about your desire to make changes in how the application process and interviews for open production positions are handled in your organization.

  • Talk to union business agents about the desire to hire more BIPOC and AAPI and under represented genders as stage hands. Offer to partner with them on apprentice programs to provide training to new stage hands.


 

NEXT STEPS

Every production follows the same steps: there’s just a difference in scale and budget. We suggest the above changes are best implemented by an organized group of individuals, independent of a company or institution, that can provide experienced and dedicated oversight to the process of change - a NYC Production Managers not for profit trade group. The goal of such an organization is to not only oversee the development, advocacy, and implementation of these new standards, but to hold the community at large accountable to them as well and be the active partners of workers and management.

 

The concrete next steps recommended for this new organization are as follows:

  • Provide resources on how to deal with  higher-ups and labor to execute the above recommendations.

  • Manage a common contact list for crew, open to all crew and available to everyone hiring.

  • Provide unified messaging around the above and future recommendations to help further changes in the field.

  • Organize and publicize job fairs which are open and free to all candidates.  


 

IN CONCLUSION

This document is a first step and is both subject to change and further amendment.  We hope this is an invitation for all of NYC’s production managers to commit to the process and to collaborate with each other to transform our industry.  

 

The nature of our role as Production Managers is to discover what is possible within the parameters of each production, it is with this same lens we have written this document. We say to our upper managers and producers trust us on these ideas as you trust us with your budgets, these are necessary changes that will only help our industry.




 

Drafted by NYC-PMF HR Subcommittee:

 

Jameson Croasdale, Beacon Theatrical

Gary Levinson, WP Theater

Rebecca Zuber, Arts Brookfield

Lauren Parrish, Abrons Arts Center

Emma Johnson, Bushwick Starr

Mary Kathryn Blazek, TINC Productions

Erica Blumrosen, Freelance/WorldStage

Pope Jackson, The Shed

Sarah Peterson, Jazz at Lincoln Center

Katherine Dumais, Cherry Lane Theater


 

Reviewed by:

Naomi Siegel, SHRM-CP - Theatrical HR Specialist

**Organizational affiliations are listed for identification only and do not constitute endorsement of this statement.**


 

RESOURCES

 

IRS Fact Sheet on Internships

https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/legacy/files/whdfs71.pdf

 

IRS information on Independent Contractor (Self-Employed) or Employee

https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/independent-contractor-self-employed-or-employee

 

Black Theatre Matters Bill

https://www.thereceiptswithd.com/blacktheatrematters 

 

We See You White American Theater

https://www.weseeyouwat.com/

 

Just Labor Road Map to change

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_A_ds_6-lUaa3fK1HvNputVRt3gDMCTT_MZ_yNMR8f0/edit?usp=sharing

 

Broadway Advocacy Coalition

https://www.bwayadvocacycoalition.org/

 

MIT Living Wage Calculator

https://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/360