Thursday, April 19, 2018

She's No Longer a Gypsy (Robe)...

Political correctness is America's newest form of intolerance, and it is especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people's language with strict codes and rigid rules. I'm not sure that's the way to fight discrimination. I'm not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech.
― George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

Happy April 19th, 2018!
My horoscope tells me today to save grand gestures for another day. The energy supports keeping things as simple as possible. Don't be too judgmental about a disappointing situation.
It's easy to worry about bad things that most likely will never happen. A more accepting attitude can actually work in my favor.
The time to move forward is at hand. Don't let mistakes, mishaps or upsets hold you back.
April 19 is the 109th day of the year in the
Gregorian calendar. There are 256 days remaining until the end of the year.
My blog came about because yesterday I received an email from Actor's Equity, an organization that I am proud to be a card carrying dues paying member. Most of my blogs are celebrating other artists. Today, I'm turning the spotlight on myself. Before I get to the subject at hand, I would like to give you a little background and the trajectory that led me to where and who I am today. From the moment I knew what 'show business' was, I wanted to be a part of it.

I grew up in a small town in South Carolina just outside of Myrtle Beach. The show business I knew about was presented to me through three networks, ABC, CBS, NBC. It was through the world of TV specials and variety shows in the 60s and 70s. When I was thirteen, I discovered our local theatre company and for the next five years appeared in several of their productions. It was also at thirteen that I made up my mind that after I graduated from high school, I would move to
One of my earliest headshots
New York to pursue a career in the theatre. I even committed to a date, August 5th, 1979.
As the years went on, I counted down the days until I would leave for New York. With VERY FEW exceptions I was laughed at and derided for my 'pipe dream'.
The day arrived and I flew to New York with a one-way ticket and $500.00 in my pocket.
It was a Sunday. On Monday, I went in search of a bread and butter job and got a job as a messenger at 55 Water Street making $6.00 an hour.
The following Saturday I enrolled in Michael Beckett's class at HB Studios. Three weeks after that, I was cast in my first show in New York. It was non-Equity and non-paying AND we played in Garden City, New York!
BUT I was an actor in New York even if on a small scale.
Over the course of the next few years, I went from showcase to showcase and got my first stock job in 1983 at The Hopkinton Playhouse in Hopkinton, Rhode Island for $35.00 a week!
There was a time in the Eighties in which there were a lot of theatres throughout New York City that gave me a chance to keep working and work I did for years making little to no money but perfecting my craft.
I was also earning points towards my Equity Card through their EMC program...I did it the hard way...a week at a time. Over the course of many years, I came close to getting an Equity contract on more than one occasion but it was always outside of my reach.
In 1990, I was lucky enough to appear in John Glines' Men of Manhattan which was probably my most successful show in New York up to that time. It ran for six months and when they show ended, I entered into the world of Cabaret doing tributes to Judy Garland, and most notably Carol Channing. The later took me around the world headling as well in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Windsor, Ontario.
It also got me FINALLY my Equity Card. I was asked to appear in two burlesque shows in the same year, Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck, Rhode Island and The Hampton Playhouse in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.
Both were Equity theatres and I requested an Equity contract with both. Theatre By The Sea said no, Hampton said yes. Finally, I was an Equity actor!
Since that time, I have been a proud Equity member and as I pay my dues twice a year I feel that I'm part of a community even though my career has taken me in a completely different direction. I love being in control of my own career and work and appeared as Carol in various forms of the show for twenty years. I don't even remember the last time I auditioned for anything. A few years ago, I decided to hang up the Carol persona. I dabbled in PR for a while doing PR for several artists in the world of cabaret. I started writing, doing celebrity interviews and my current work is
with one of my favorite Gypsies, Chita Rivera!
celebrating other artists and their body of 'worth'. I do this through writing, my FaceBook LIVE Roundtables, and my monthly series at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. I am an artist advocate and will speak out when I think it is important to do so.
Full disclosure: I was born with two left feet! If someone REALLY had two left feet, they would still dance better than me.
One of my biggest regrets is that I'm not a dancer. Once again "Carol" opened the door to my involvement with that world through Dancers Over 40. When I called to reserve for their tribute to Gower Champion, I was asked to participate! How thrilling to be on a stage with the original GYPSIES of Hello, Dolly! as they recreated the original choreography to Before The Parade Passes By as I sang as Carol. I have gone on to do several events with Dancers Over 40. I hosted the FIRST Legacy Awards as Carol and have gone on to host several others as myself as well as being involved with
other events. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to call Lee Roy Reams and Tommy Tune friend. Lee Roy even sang at our wedding.
Marge Champion is a good friend as is Sondra Lee. I have rubbed elbows with some of the greatest Broadway dancers and Gypsies around.
If I have offended anyone with the use of the word "Gypsy', I apologize to you now. This is a word they have all embraced. This is who they are.
Chrissy Fournier is a friend of mine with an incredible series of books about the GYPSY life of a dancer.
I love her books and I've always regretted that I'm not a part of that world.
I remember a television special that Shirley MacLaine did called Gypsy In My Soul.

She embraced that word and life. Yesterday members of Actor's Equity received an email stating that the term Gypsy Robe was being retired due to sensitivity to Romani people. I NEVER equated the two. I don't think most people in the theatre did either. 

with John Wallowitch, Hayley Mills, and Donna McKechnie
Does that mean I'm insensitive?

This is what I got from Actor's Equity: This season will be the last for the name "Gypsy Robe." The tradition and the ceremony before opening night of a Broadway musical, in which Equity honors the chorus member with the most Broadway Chorus credits, will continue, but the name will change.
The word "Gypsy" originates as a slur employed against the Romani people. Romani (also called Roma) people didn't travel from place to place because they wanted to. Historically, they traveled because no one, no country, no sovereign state, accepted them. Still today they suffer persecution and are treated as second-class citizens.
To my fellow actors?Your thoughts? Chrissy Fournier, Lee Roy Reams, Jana Robbins...Is Gypsy, Gypsy In My Soul, and She's No Longer a Gypsy now offensive? Have we gone too far?
In theater parlance, they're called "gypsies" - the members of the chorus, the ensemble, the singers and dancers who travel from show to show to show. They're the body and soul of musical theater.
(What's a Broadway musical without big ensemble numbers?) They're on the road for months. I reached out to several people to weigh in. I'll tell you my thoughts at the end of this blog.

Kelley Faulkner
Did someone express a concern about political correctness?
I have personally heard many people, both of Romani heritage and not, express concern about cultural sensitivity. In my opinion, “political correctness” should usually just be called “correctness”. I choose to refer to people how THEY want to be referred to. It costs me nothing and gains everyone respect and trust.

Who's being offended, and why?
There are plenty of articles available from reliable media sources that properly articulate why the Romani people feel that the word in question is a slur and they would prefer not to hear it or have it appropriated.

How did this come up for the Equity council?

I want to be perfectly clear that I do not speak for Actors Equity Association and that the proceedings of the council are confidential. The email sent out by Kim Jordan, 2nd vice president of the union and chair of the advisory committee on chorus affairs, will tell you everything you need to know. I am proud that we have taken this step AND have given our members a voice in choosing a new name!

Do you feel the word can be embraced that has nothing to do with offending anyone? Elaborate on your answer?
No, I do not, because leaders in the ethnic community that this word originates from are offended by it. To me, that means it’s just not my word to use. I understand that there was never any ill intent and that many people associate only positivity with this word.
But times change and words change...that is constant in our society. Impact trumps intent, and kindness matters.

Are you surprised by the response? Be honest! Are you getting more support or opposition
I am surprised at the negative response. I absolutely believe that the vast majority of our members support this. But the number of people openly making very offensive statements on social media yesterday shocked me. I naïvely believed that there was less willful ignorance in our industry, and that’s an indication of my own white privilege.
Some people need more time than others to adapt to change, and that is understandable.

Give a brief description of who you are
I am an actor and choreographer originally from the East Coast and now residing in Milwaukee, WI. I have been a Central Principal Councillor of Actors Equity Association for two years.

In the Broadway Theater community, there is no more honorable title one can earn than to be known
as a Broadway Gypsy. To be a Gypsy means to be a dancer/singer of the highest caliber...You must have true talent...and your basic skills have to surpass those of the Stars you help to make look good. And most importantly, it means that you have chosen a life on stage because of the passion you have for performing. Fame and big bucks go to a few names above the title...But as the great show about Gypsies, “A Chorus Line,” tells us...A Gypsy’s life is all about “What I Did for Love.”
And nothing else profoundly symbolizes the love of the Gypsies more than the “Gypsy Robe Ceremony.” 
Betsy Struxness
Anyone who has ever participated in it knows how special the experience is. It is as sacred as any liturgical act performed in a Church. For as Gypsies well can often be more prayerful than Sunday morning services. For generations, the ceremony and those Gypsies it honors... give honor to the name...Gypsy. You cannot equate this to the sometimes disrespectful use of ethnic stereotypes...such as baseball’s “Chief Wahoo” (now retired by Cleveland.) An analogy that occurs to me is the cross. Imagine Christian churches deciding to retire the cross as a symbol...because it harkens back to genocide by the Romans...and was used for executions. When in fact, Christians use the cross as a symbol of triumph over everything the cross originally stood for. What could be more redemptive than to transform Gypsy into something that stands for excellence, dedication, joy, and love?
-Charles Michel, The Voice Bank

Actors Equity Association has so many more important problems to deal with than this.... the term 'Gypsy' has ALWAYS been used in our business with the DEEPEST respect for our 'kind' who are stalwart, determined, pound the pavement till our feet are BLISTERED auditioning for
work, willing to sleep on the floors of buses cross country when we're lucky enough to LAND an actual gig, pursue our passions with no guarantee they'll ever be another job after a show closes. I will never stop using the term, REAL 'Gypsies' have earned their stripes, and the connotation is NOT and has never been derogatory, OR racist.
-Michael Stever

Just because some things are legitimately politically incorrect, doesn't mean that political correctness cannot devolve into empty, disruptive gestures for the sake of "looking good". The word "gypsy" is allowed to have two meanings. How would you react if Evangelicals insisted on changing "The Gay Divorcee" into "The Divorcee." This
change is a flimsy, meaningless band-aid being applied to flesh that doesn't even have a cut.  It's for show...and NOT as in show business.
Next the phrase "Break a leg!" will be banned because it might "trigger" someone who has suffered a broken bone...
-Gerry Geddes

David Edwards in Robe with Alan Ayckbourn on opening night
From David Edwards
How did you find out about the name change and what was your initial reaction?
I first heard it was being discussed in either an email or Equity News from the union.

Who do you think is being offended, and why?
I imagine it was brought to AEA's attention by someone of Romani ethnicity.

What are your thoughts on the Equity Council and how they have handled this?
I feel they have been extremely sensitive to the complaint and have gone to an extreme measure to make amends.

Do you feel the word can be embraced that has nothing to do with offending anyone? Elaborate on your answer? 
Here is what I posted on FACEBOOK (I think this sums up my feelings):
As a proud recipient of the robe, I am naturally upset that people are offended by the name. If it must be changed, so be it, but as we all know a word can have several meanings and I have never thought of the term as anything but an endearment. I have seen people say here on Facebook that it is akin to using the "N" word, and yet many African-Americans defend their own right to use the word as a protest against people who have used it derogatorily. Likewise, some gays use the word "faggot" to describe themselves or their friends but are deeply offended when
"outsiders" use it to describe them. I have never agreed with this logic of double standard. I am glad to know why people have been offended and feel the need for it to be changed. I suppose we all have been ignoring all these many years of what the name implies. Nonetheless, I have always used it proudly when referring to show folk, with love and respect.

Are you surprised by the response? Be honest! Are you getting more support or opposition
I am seeing quite a bit of both.  Many people saying people are overreacting and many saying the change is long overdue.

Give a brief description of who you are:  
I am an actor/director who received the gypsy robe for BY JEEVES.

I am not personally offended by the word "Gypsy" but if a group of people are, I don't want to go on irresponsibly using the term to celebrate a huge achievement for my fellow artists.
It does not impact the legacy of the award to change the name. It does not personally impact anyone's life to celebrate a "Insert New Term" Robe instead of "Gypsy" Robe. All will be fine. Tradition or not, it's time to right a wrong.
Think of a derogatory word you've been called that you hate, and imagine all of your colleagues celebrating someone's success with that word on an award. Think of how that might make you cringe, and consider having some empathy for those that "Gypsy" has that effect on.

And, again, YES, I believe Actors' Equity Association can do more than one thing at a time, and making this change is not distracting them from fighting for better work conditions. I don't think it takes much to implement this change, besides a careful consideration of all sides and a decision to take a more considerate step forward as a union.
Call me a "dumb, PC millennial" - but I just think it's cool that our union is trying to stand up for the disadvantaged underdogs who haven't had a voice. And as a person who dreams of one day wearing the Robe, I would rather it be called something that isn't offensive to any marginalized group!
Marge and Gower Champion with Carol Channing
I think taking one breath and thinking about this before clinging to our traditions would help us all to see another side, and realize that our little tradition might have a big negative impact on an entire group of people. Unions are supposed to unite people together and lift them up with shared interests and values and I applaud AEA for making inclusion a value we are fighting for and being willing to make big changes in our quest to be inclusive and fair to all.
Thanks for blogging about this topic!
Chaz Wolcott
Actor, Director/Choreographer

After being a dues-paying member of AEA for nearly half a century, I am disgusted and dismayed by what this union has become.  Two former AEA Presidents, Colleen Dewhurst and Patrick Quinn, were friends of mine and represented AEA members with conviction and dignity.  They knew that the most important person in any union was the dues-paying member.  The AEA Presidents I have dealt with in the last years have failed to earn my trust or respect.  
Coleen Dewhurst
Issues like safety in the workplace and the right of an artist to return to work after being injured on the job and the importance of preserving AEA jobs and creating new ones has little interest to these AEA officers.  Instead, nonsense like the renaming of the Gypsy Robe, claiming that somehow using this name offends Romanian people, have become pet causes.  It appears to me that there have been deliberate efforts to keep AEA members from making decisions and having a voice.  I can cite examples of this that I have witnessed.  AEA members have had the largest dues increase in the history of the union and yet when an AEA member requested that the salary for the current head of AEA be made public for all AEA members, this member was shamed and lectured by an AEA lawyer that if such a measure was taken we might lose our fearless leader.  This statement by a paid AEA lawyer was completely offensive to me.  AEA members are smart and hardworking and not children or idiots.  All the salaries of AEA employees should be published yearly for all the AEA members to know.  
Patrick Quinn
If there is a change to the name of the gypsy robe, I think it should be put to a vote of the membership.  If indeed there are Romanian people to whom the name "gypsy robe" is hurtful and offensive (which I personally doubt) then I would suggest that the name be changed to "GYPSY ROBE" in honor of one of the greatest Broadway musicals in history.  The man who really started the tradition sent a robe to a friend in the chorus of "CALL ME MADAM."  That show starred Ethel Merman who put a feathered flower from her costume on the robe and it was passed onto another show.  Since Merman was also the star of "GYPSY" based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee, no Romanians are in any way being slurred by the name "GYPSY ROBE."
Thank you, Richard, for being a voice of sanity in the world of AEA.  
Joel Vig

Here are my thoughts: My personal philosophy is that if I have offended one person, that is one person too many. I hate to see a name change as much as the next guy. It is 'tradition' that we are holding on to. If some people are offended, perhaps it is time to go, but when does it stop?
I received a phone call today from a friend and when I got off of the phone with her I sat back and looked at the bigger picture.
The change is not going to affect my life one way or the other. If changes need to take place, so be it.
If nothing else, I see intense passion over this and we all learn and grow from talking these things as we EVOLVE and move on. It is now time for the next chapter. I embrace that. I suggest calling it the Ensemble Robe. We are moving towards ensembles being recognized by the Tony committee and perhaps that is where we are headed. That being said, I don't feel that the way this was presented to the membership was right. I do believe we should have known more about this prior to it being a done deal. I'm still a proud member of Actor's Equity!
Now, read THIS
Now, go and do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return!

May 20th, 2018 

Russ Woolley Proudly Presents
Richard Skipper Celebrates 
Liberace, Rita Hayworth, and Friends

1 PM Brunch Show Laurie Beechman Theater 
As we Celebrate (Russ' Birthday!), we celebrate Leanne Borghesi, Quinn Lemley (as Rita Hayworth), David Maiocco (as Liberace), David Sabella, Jim Speake*, AND Those Girls* (Karen Mack, Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Wendy Anne Russell) Tickets are now on sale! Reserve TODAY and Let's Celebrate!

So — Order your tickets now online…

Musical Direction Joe Goodrich with Don Kelly on Percussion, Matt Scharfglass on bass, and Erik Lawrence on Sax
*Steven Ray Watkins will accompany Jim Speake and Those Girls 
With music, reminisces and an afternoon of fun and show business! 90 minutes of merriment and excitement …Right on the heels of the 4/8 Richard Skipper Celebrates Life in the Theatre

When and Where:
Sunday, May 20th - 1 PM, Doors open 12:15

THE LAURIE BEECHMAN THEATRE, 407 West 42nd Street (lower level of the WEST BANK CAFE) Producer: Russ Woolley $30 ticket plus $20 food/beverage minimum - exquisite and reasonably priced food and drink

Richard Skipper has assembled a great cast to Celebrate and honor … RICHARD SKIPPER has become synonymous with “feel good entertainment of the highest quality”. For decades Richard has entertained thousands and celebrated the careers of many of Theatre Row’s finest and most honored stars… The afternoon will prove to be an event where all will arrive and leave with smiles! This will be similar to the old-fashioned TV specials and series where we get to chat with and honor this Entertainment Icon.

So — Order your tickets now online…

A Few Audience Testimonials about Richard Skipper Celebrates
Mr. Richard Skipper's Show was beautiful!!!
Anita Gillette, Penny Fuller, Richard, KT Sullivan

It was far greater then I imagine. 
Looking forward to the next show. 
If you have not experienced his events, you owe it to yourself!! You will not be disappointed. 
He is a rare Gem!! 
-Darnell Collier, Buffalo, NY

A truly enjoyable day! What a joy to celebrate with Richard Skipper
-Dierdre Friel,

What a wonderful afternoon is Richard Skipper Celebrates...! I'd had a very trying morning on Sunday, and I wasn't in the best of moods when I arrived, but within seconds of the show starting, all tension slipped away and I could feel the smile creeping across my face, a smile I kept for days after.
Doug DeVita,
This Show Is Also Made Possible by  Wright Bros. Real Estate, Nyack New York

With grateful XOXOXs,


Please LIKE (if you do!) and SHARE!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!  
  Keeping America great through Art!     

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!
Please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook
Keeping Entertainment LIVE!


Richard Skipper, 

1 comment:

  1. Richard, you are one of the most sensitive people I know, and if your gut reaction was that the term in this usage has nothing to do with slurring an ethnic group and therefore should be upheld, then that's all I need to hear to convince me -- and I also agree with you that PC can go way too far. For me, it's all about intent and context. The term "gypsy" within show business circles has nothing whatsoever to do with Romani people ... except perhaps in the case of "BAJOUR"? :D