Adventures In Taking A Stand

For theatre makers and theatre lovers around the world, the last year has been heartbreaking. 

One highlight of my career as a theatre maker took place ten years ago in the Spring of 2011. Over the course of a couple months, I Assistant Directed “The Homecoming” and produced a Pinter Festival at A.C.T. in San Francisco, participated in the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange and directed “Lost Cause” at the Old Vic in London, and Assistant Directed “Company” at the NY Philharmonic, while also running the social media campaign for the filmed version’s release. (During tech for “The Homecoming,” I also flew cross country to New Haven for a final call back to Yale, returning to tech in San Francisco less than 24 hours later, because the line between hustle and masochism is often very thin.)

Every few years, I think back on this moment and why it made such a positive impact on my life. It wasn’t the whirlwind. The credits are not the point. It was the joy, the excitement, the growth, the education, the people. I am still so grateful for the amazing collaborators from this time.

Ten years later, in a season where live theatre was all but absent, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about its impending return. What will it look like? What stories will we tell? Will a long-awaited reckoning over systemic racism and abuses finally make it center stage, or be banished to the wings?

I’ve always believed that many of the issues facing the American theatre stem from a lack of government support. The Arts, in particular the theatre, are not seen as an essential service, nor as a harbinger of cultural vitality. In order to survive, about half of regional theatre’s operating costs have come from private donors (mostly white, rich, old – with tastes that follow), while theatre makers themselves usually come from upper/upper middle class backgrounds, or by necessity, have had to supplement their theatre work with alternative revenue streams. On top of that, the average Broadway musical ticket price of $125 does very little to negate the common perception that theatre is a luxury for the elite.

Over my lifetime in the theatre, I have seen, heard, and experienced some truly horrendous behavior from various industry leaders – real traumatizing stuff. I don’t believe in relegating protests to social media. I don’t believe in just changing the copy on your website either. The real change happens in real time, in contracts, in offices, in rehearsal rooms.

We’re all anxious for theatre to return. But I’m already seeing big-lettered declarations of DEI commitments placed at the top of major audition notices, right above, in a much smaller font, “There is no compensation for this show.”

Let’s decode this practice for a moment. What that actually means is, “We’re thrilled to make theatre again and profit off the hard work, labor and sweat equity of people of color.”

If your business model relies on a plethora of unpaid labor, in particular the unpaid labor of POC, I’m sorry, but you’re doing it wrong. Period. Full stop.

I’ve worked over the years with All Star Code, an organization that believes the way to empower people of color is through economic opportunity and the closing of the wealth gap. We may not close the wealth gap with theatre, but we can start by paying everyone – EVERYONE – for their work.

Look, making theatre is so hard. We all need jobs. Profit margins are slim and rare. No one’s doing it for the money. I’ll sing “What I Did For Love” for the rest of my life. But if you love it, if you truly love it, commit to making it better. Commit to actually making it diverse, equitable, and inclusive of ALL, for theatremakers and theatregoers alike.

To be clear, I’m not taking issue with any employee of a theatre or producer here. I do not conflate the responsibilities of the two. Accountability starts at the top. But what will it take? What will it take to eliminate these systems of abuse?

You can’t support #MeToo and then continue to work with known serial abusers.

You can’t support Black Lives Matter and then pay Black people $0 for their work.

These are not controversial statements. And we can’t afford to tip toe around them any longer.

Websites are meaningless without action. 

Diversity is a checklist without equity.

Theatre is hollow without humanity.

“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”

If we aim to be true advocates for our industry and each other, we mustn’t be afraid to speak up. 

I look forward to all the real life conversations ahead. Now’s our chance. Let’s work together to build back a better American theatre. A theatre of integrity and safety. A theatre for all.

Adventures In 2018

2018 HIGHLIGHTS

FILM

Gempler Art 1.9 MBOur short film, Montana, based on my Sundance finalist TV pilot of the same name, played film festivals across the country this year, including
The Brooklyn Film Festival in New York, SeriesFest in Denver, and
The Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles.

9903db9c-2bb4-4edd-ac70-74a66ac06181 9aa8d06d-c30f-45eb-b413-6103b980aeb6

Montana will continue to play the festival circuit in the new year, and be available to watch online late Spring 2019. In a surprising but worthwhile development, I’m now hard at work writing the novel adaptation,
the manuscript of which has a target finish of mid Summer 2019.

Montana Poster

Montana_HeadlightsMontana_GatekeeperMontana Still - LucasMontana_ChairCircle

EVENTS

Processed with VSCO with acg presetc441e478-c0d9-424a-a882-542add54a6d7

56619d4b-7a5e-4ce9-ba5d-efbbee3cfe3e

1517faf9-69b2-410c-a6fd-bf0e74d4ba85

ac7aebb6-afec-4c2e-812c-113460f79fd6

Some of our annual projects continued in 2018 with event directing
The 72nd Annual Tony Awards Events 
at The Rainbow Room, The Sofitel, and The Plaza Hotel in NYC
The 5th Annual All Star Code Summer Benefit 
at a private estate in East Hampton
Some of our new events this year included
The Phantom Of The Opera 30th Anniversary Celebration,
events for Art Basel Miami and
U.S. News & World Report.

EXPERIENTIAL

phone mockup

010_IMG_0183

BetterSpaces_127

Since February, I’ve additionally been Experiential Creative Director
of Better Spaces, a leader in tenant engagement. We’re creating and operating experiential amenity spaces in top commercial real estate portfolios across the country. It’s been an exciting opportunity to bring programming, design and a bit of theatricality to commercial spaces nationwide.

ONWARDS

DXT1770532bc6868-39f6-4760-97f0-be9426119fce
f4c56747-9c3d-491d-badc-6dc5a59ad388
2018 was unequivocally Boat Ashore Productions’ most successful year yet.
I am most proud of the fact that we employed a record 75 different people on various film and event projects, and are on track to continue growing in 2019 with new experiences and TV projects in development. 

On a personal note, this year included a number of new travels,
from Tulum, Mexico to the Cotswolds of England
to Calivigny Island off the coast of Grenada.
2018 will likely be remembered as the year
I officiated my first wedding, moved to Brooklyn, and became an uncle!

Let’s continue to spread joy and make great things together in the new year.
Jackie_DeShannon_Grid
xx
Michael / The Adventure Addict / Boat Ashore Productions

CLICK HERE TO WATCH 2018 IN 60 SECONDS

 

Adventures In Leaving Home

To the past and future ghosts of W. 84th Street –

I moved to W. 84th and Amsterdam in September of 2007.img_8044

Apt 2E. “Tooey” as I affectionately called the place, labeling it as such on the front door the month I moved in. It’s the nickname Seymour gave the plant in “Little Shop Of Horrors”. You know, the thing he nurtured that eventually ate him whole.

I was in New York three months earlier, the youngest participant in the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. I was a 22-year-old film actor in LA, masquerading as an assistant in the studio system, and I wanted to be a theatre director in New York. It was to be the smartest financial decision of my life. (🙄 )

I found this one month sublet at W. 84th and Amsterdam on Craigslist from a guy named Jonathan who was leaving to volunteer in Cambodia for a few weeks. I was back in LA, so “Cousin Jen” investigated the apartment for me. One room had a young girl from Texas. One room was acting as a storage closet for a rich girl who lived elsewhere with her boyfriend. And the third room was an office turned bedroom with a futon on the floor.

That room was to be mine.

I packed my bags. I had one month to see if New York was for me.

Then. Jonathan e-mailed me. He decided to stay in Cambodia. Full time.

The futon was mine if I wanted it. The lease was mine if I wanted it as well.

So I took over the lease and I found a steady gig as a middle school tutor.

Then. A month later, I booked a job on my first Broadway show. Sunday In The Park With George.

I guess I was staying in New York after all.

But things weren’t supposed to happen that fast, right? Where were my years of living pay check to pay check and feeling terrified I might end up sleeping on the streets? Oh that was to follow my Broadway debut? Got it.

Sunday In The Park opened. And the recession hit.

My Dad always told me, “Everything is negotiable.” So I negotiated my rent down. I hesitantly asked for a $300 decrease, thinking they’d laugh in my face. They said…”Sure.”

I was officially a lease holder on West 84th Street. 84. My birth year. 8, my lucky number. 4, the members of my immediate family. 8, the symbol for infinity, my greatest fear. 4, like a sail of a boat ashore, my greatest love. It is possible to find so much meaning, and yet look at an 84 sideways and you just might see a guy sticking his tongue out at you. After all, in Hebrew numerology, “84” means “G-d laughs.” Apropos. Do not look for meaning!

84th Street is also known as Edgar Allen Poe Way, but I won’t bore you with any far-reaching connections there.

In 2007 I became a New Yorker. I hustled and I hustled and I hustled. I took every job under the Sun. I did in fact live paycheck to paycheck for 6 years. I poured every dime into my work. I went broke twice. Red. The ATM actually said negative.

Every year I thought I’d finally move into my “real” place. But it never made sense to leave. There are fewer apartment buildings on W. 84th Street than any other residential block on the Upper West Side. That’s because there are two schools on 84th between Amsterdam and Columbus. My living room looked out on to a private garden and the bright blue sky.

The rent stayed down. And the neighborhood went up, up, up. Old Jews made way for New Strollers. The Columbia kids moved down. Good Enough to Eat moved to Columbus. And Jacob’s Pickles transformed the 7 block stretch.

Things changed after my bike accident three and a half years ago. I started writing more. I became more entrepreneurial. I created my own projects. And I started to make a living. I became a working, thriving artist. It was all I ever wanted to be.

I also started spending about a third of the year in California. Subletting out that office-turned-bedroom was the only way I could make it work.

W. 84th and Amsterdam has been my home for 9 years and 3 months. In that time, it has been home to a lot of other people as well. A LOT. I could tag half of my Facebook friends right now. Roommates and sublettors. In Betweeners and assorted vagabonds. People I met on Craigslist became roommates became lifelong friends. Thankfully, there was only one true crazy – the very first new roommate. She worked in “fashion”, did coke binges in her bedroom, and came out of her bedroom every five days to eat pizza on the hallway floor and scream in the middle of the night. img_9051

I stand now in this empty space staring at dead walls. But I’ll remember life here. I’ll remember profound joys and surmountable challenges. I’ll remember madcap Hanukkah celebrations. I’ll remember my roof. Oh will I remember my roof.

But more than anything else, I’ll remember the people. Roommates and friends. Deaf and nearly blind Miss Faagata across the hall. Sweet Miss Zingone on the 5th Floor. She must be 90 years old now. I always felt so bad living on the first floor while she slowly climbed five stories to the top.

I’ll remember Joe and Joe at the hair salon downstairs. I’ll remember the kids of Brandeis and PS 9. And I’ll remember Vivian at the laundromat on the corner. Vivian. Sweet, funny Vivian. I think I’ll miss you most of all.

I will be the keeper of this block. I will be its historian. W. 84th between Amsterdam and Columbus. 2007-2016. I walked this street a million times. I took notes. I told its stories. Now new people will come. I hope they’ll smile at their neighbors. I hope they’ll water the plants. Most of all, I just hope they’ll laugh at all of Vivian’s jokes.

My time here had its fair share of problems.
But for nearly a decade, this place was full of dreams.
For nearly a decade, this place was full of love.
For nearly a decade, this place was my home.

I might as well end with a quote from Poe himself:

“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.”

Fondly,

Michael

1410843_10102000651006175_15943382_o

img_9037-version-2