Amid the turmoil of show closures and cancellations during Omicron’s push, Broadway has been rocked by controversy following contentious remarks made by Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin in an interview with Hollywood journalist December 21.
Offering a rationale for why some shows are seeing more cancellations of COVID outbreaks than others, St. Martin said, “I guess the more recent shows maybe have liners that aren’t. as effective at playing the role as the leader. Some of the older shows have more experienced liners and more experienced swings. “
The comments infuriated the theater community, which is currently suffering the catastrophic impact of a COVID spike. Performers have taken to social media en masse to voice their complaints against St. Martin and to praise the hard-working understudies.
The Chairman of the Equity of Actors, Kate shindle, had some prime words for St. Martin on Twitter: “I believe the word you are looking for here might be ‘under-repeated’; Alternatively, “happened yesterday and is expected to continue tonight after being away from the show for 2 years” would likely also be scanned.
With so many actors testing positive for COVID and being sent home, and shows continuing through the holidays, liners are being called in en masse. Manager Jen Ash posted on Instagram: “In case you haven’t noticed, linings, watches, covers and captions are the ONLY reason Broadway is running EVERYTHING right now at ANY capacity.”
Especially in this context, St. Martin’s remarks seem somewhat thoughtless and reveal a misunderstanding of how show business works. His lack of knowledge is a shocking revelation about the chairman of the country’s largest live theater business organization.
The controversy, as well as the Omicron peak, open a window on the professional life of liners. They allude to the vast human infrastructure required to create Broadway shows and the difficult and sometimes extremely complex job of replacing another performer: a job that may involve remembering blocking and lines for multiple roles or “leads.” and have limited time to rehearse. To do this job as well as these actors do, they must be among the most “effective” actors in the business.
Christina Sivrich, who made her Broadway debut in the set of The wedding singer, and under-researched for a starring role, told Observer, “The show goes on because of the swings and liners that make it possible…” She found St. Martin’s first comments hurtful and wondered why she had made them. “I know how much work it takes not only to learn your own track, but also to have to learn and maintain multiple roles and tracks. Sometimes in class without rehearsal… Sometimes in full performance because of an injury or an illness. It is not easy. It is a skill.
The president of the Broadway League offered a apologies on December 22, stating that she misunderstood the impact her words would have and the harm she had caused. However, some are calling for his resignation. Producer Jonathan demar said on Twitter: “Apologies or not, the statements about the liners made yesterday by Charlotte St. Martin of @BroadwayLeague are such a stain on the industry at a time when we should come together. The Broadway League has always needed new leadership, but it’s now clearer than ever why.“
St. Martin’s apology includes revealing language. She wrote, “I do not do theater but I am committed to its success and to salute the immense work of those who make it live eight shows a week and 52 weeks a year.
His statement has a few questions why a person who has never done theater has such a disproportionate role in its formation and its definition. #fairwageonstage, an advocacy movement within Actor Equity, tweeted that the Broadway League is “a group of employers who have all come together to increase their influence and strength against the unions they negotiate with.” Just as Broadway theater workers like actors and stagehands collectivize in unions to increase wages and working conditions, the League collectivized to lower them in order to increase their profits. Referring to comments from St. Martin, #fairwageonstage tweeted “The Broadway League isn’t in charge of Broadway. They don’t speak for the industry as a whole. They don’t represent the interests of its workers. It’s our employers. We do the theater. .
The Broadway League president’s ignorance of the industry his organization administers makes more sense in this context. The job of the Broadway League is not to do theater but to profit from those who do theater. By leveraging the work of others, they are doing what employers around the world are doing.
Kate shindle, chairman of Actors’ Equity, pointed to the league’s greed as being in part responsible for show cancellations. She tweeted, “Hey @Broadway League! * My * educated guess is that when employers systematically reject our efforts to negotiate for more swings, liners, and sous-chefs, because the industry model has become dependent on people who work sick / injured is short-sighted and dangerous.
Currently, as Omicron’s numbers increase, many of the cast, including liners, are testing positive and being sent home, as many shows’ vacation streaks are canceled. Shows capable of staying open look at the entire infrastructure of liners, swings and watches.
Christina Sivrich told Observer, “If you go to a show and that little white piece of paper slips off the Playbill that says, ‘So-and-so’s roll will be played by so-and-so,’ don’t assume you’re going. see a lower performance. You’re going to see a different performance.
In a time of fragility for the theater, as it struggles to come back to life after the pandemic, the liners hold the line for Broadway with exceptional poise.