Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More Line Trouble

Last week, I dipped my toe into a controversy which has since returned to my radar. It all started with a New York Times article regarding Matthew Broderick and his difficulty with his lines during the preview period of Starry Messenger. He was making use of a prompter during performances, which irritated some audience members. (Nobody seems irritated at Lynn Redgrave, who just opened her newest solo show at Manhattan Theatre Club, and is reading the whole thing. But perhaps that's apples and oranges...) Anyhoo, that same NY Times piece spent a bit of time relating the tale of actor Matt Mulhern, who was dismissed from a production at Hartford Stage for hiding a cheat sheet (with line prompts) in his hat during previews for The Orphan's Home Cycle. I did not reference that part of the article at the time, because my gut was telling me there was more to that story than the Times was reporting, or the actor was admitting.
(the actor standing on the far right is Lucas Caleb Rooney, who was the cast member who assumed the roles vacated by Mulhern)

The actor in question (FULL DISCLOSURE ALERT!!) is a friend of a friend of mine, but I have never met nor worked with him myself. He has an active career on stage and screen, a career which has likely been damaged by the Times piece. Below, I have included Matt's video response to what he claims are inaccuracies in the report of his firing (the first of his career). As an actor, I find it a compelling tale, but am still not sure we are getting the entire story.

It is inconceivable to me that a director (Michael Wilson, who is also artistic director of Hartford Stage) would so easily sabotage his Opening Night by firing a principal actor the day before. I have a hunch he was jonesing to get rid of this actor for reasons other than cheat sheets in hats, and snapped up the opportunity (Mulhern revealed to the Times during his interview that he had "ruffled feathers among colleagues for a variety of other reasons" during the rehearsal period).

As of now, we don't know the actual reason Hartford Stage dumped Matt Mulhern; contractually, they are required to offer "cause," but so far, have declined to do so. Actors Equity Association, the union involved, seems to be waiting quite patiently, as the firing took place in early September. Meanwhile, actor Matt Mulhern is left twisting in the wind...


Anonymous said...

The important thing that Matt has neglected to tell everyone is that he quit before he was fired

Anonymous said...

it's amazing what's on-line.

in one 5 minute scene in 9 hours of theater, i had a prompt in my hat for previews in that one scene. it was a very emotional scene and we hadn't rehearsed part two much, having done part one for a month, teched part 2, then, boom, in front of an audience. the guy I shared a dressing room with bill heck, who plays horace, the main character, turned to me after the final preview (some shows I glanced down at the hat, out of sight of the audience, for a second... two?, playing a distraught, suicidal man who looked, I'm sure, like he was... glancing down at his hat. but this actor said he felt I was "threatening the integrity of the show." now, I got my equity card in 1982 when this guy was in diapers, and I guess he missed the memo at the tisch school that you don't give other actors notes, so, I immediately got REAL quiet, and went to the director, michael wilson, knowing michael was an experienced director and he would say "well, that's bad form, actor's don't give actor's notes, plus that's an outrageous note (It was one of the more powerful scenes in the show , so I was told...) and we'll fix this."

instead, wilson, incredibly, to me, started shaking his head in agreement as i told him what bill heck said, so, what literally fell out of my mouth in shock was "well... am I supposed to quit?" to which he exploded and said "well, if that's your attitude, then get out." I called him back, tried to calm him down, he told me to "get out" again. he fired me. he then officially fired me by letter a couple days later. if I quit, I would have had to file a letter with equity and paid a four week out. I did not quit. that is a misnomer. it was almost a rhetorical question I was so stunned at his lack of professional decorum in response to this kid's breach of etiquette.

so, whoever "anonymous" is, what I can tell you is - he or she was not there. I was. but the immediate circling of the wagon's by hartford and refusal to work it out amicably or communicate at all is exemplified by the cowardly "anonymous" comment.

he never filed a charge against me, hartford paid me my four week out, even though equity asked three times for an explanation, my right to know so I could defend myself, wilson hid behind his lawyer, who shot off his mouth saying (literally) "uh, I guess" when PROMPTED by the times reporter, patrick healy, "so, I heard matt didn't know his lines." I threatened the ny times, with legal action, they printed a retraction, but hartford added boilerplate once equity filed for arbitration and hartford caved, paying me another (my final 5th week left) of pay. that "this doesn't mean hartford stage agrees matt had a valid claim to begin with," which is hysterical, because I never made a claim - I was waiting for a claim. I was waiting for a claim to be made against me, which never came, so I could clear my name and defend myself.

so, I sort of got hartford to cave on the whole thing, I sort of got a retraction in the times, but the take away is michael wilson who had NEVER once said ANYTHING to me except praise for my work before that night, and had NEVER warned me about any prompt problem (which, by the way, was the first time I'd done it in my 27 year career, but it is forbidden NOWHERE in ANY EQUITY contract, and, as the ny times article showed - two recent women best actress winners of tonys? one had an earpiece, and the other had a prompter in the front row. rosemary harris has bits of script all over the stage right now in "the royal family."

the whole thing was totally ridiculous and wilson should have been censured or fined, but equity has NO power to do anything of the sort, so he walks away suffering no consequences.

that's what happened, if you're interested.
matt mulhern

Armchair Actorvist said...

thanks for the update, Matt. It's hard for civilians to understand that our reputations are often as important as our auditions, in getting work and sustaining a career. Here's hoping this nasty episode does not have long-term effect on yours.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the way it was told to me, Matt verbally quit, and then realized that in order to follow through, he would have to pay the four week out. So Hartford Stage helped him out by firing him.

What I have a hard time understanding is how Matt found himself on the front page of the Times. No one else was advertising his dismissal. It seems he must have initially sought the attention and then when it didn't turn out the way he wanted to, he made the videos. How else would a NY Times photographer have access to Matt in his home unless he was invited in?

The whole affair is rather sad, and Matt has not helped by advertising his plight. But alas, he seems not to be able to help himself.

I look forward to a very long and angry response.

Anonymous said...

It's more than obvious that Hartford and Wilson were willing to pay him to go away, and did not have the slightest inclination to be in the same room with him ever again. If you read the industry blogs on which he posts, you will quickly understand why Mulhern is persona non grata.