BACK STAGE WEST
May 21, 1998
Drama-Logue Sells Assets to Back Stage West, Forging One Definitive Actors' Paper
by Rob Kendt
Individual performers have their milestones--landing their first role, joining the union, clearing a living wage --but for the actors of the notoriously spread-out metropolis of Los Angeles, and the West Coast at large, historic collective moments don't come often.
The film actors' strike in 1980 was definitely one; the beginning of Equity Waiver theatre in L.A. County in 1972, then the amended Equity 99-Seat Plan in 1988, were both landmarks; the SAG/ AFTRA merger, when or if it happens, will certainly be another.
For the contemporary L.A. acting community, the day in early 1972 that a struggling thespian named Bill Bordy published the first Hollywood Drama-Logue Casting Sheet, a single 8 1/2x11 sheet of paper with hand-typed casting notices, was a watershed day. Bordy's modest effort eventually became the trade newspaper Drama-Logue, a weekly fixture at newsstands and a key supporter of actors and of the development of small theatre in Los Angeles.
The day in early 1994 when Back Stage, the venerable 34-year-old New York casting trade which had long shown interest in the L.A. actors' market, printed the first edition of its new Back Stage West was another local milestone, giving Drama-Logue its first serious competition in a market it had dominated since its inception.
Which brings us to a new piece of history in the making. The period of competition between the well-established Drama-Logue and the upstart Back Stage West, which has been relatively amicable, has ended. BPI Communications, which publishes Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, and Adweek as well as Back Stage and Back Stage West, has acquired Drama-Logue's assets. Beginning June 4, the casting notices and advertising of the separate papers will be incorporated into one, larger publication called Back Stage West/Drama-Logue.
The "Drama-Logue" began in 1969 as a casting hotline started by a blustery old-style producer named Lee Ross to promote Jackpot, a play he planned to produce. Bill Bordy, an actor from Pittsburgh, Penn., who had come seeking his fortune in Los Angeles, was meeting with the producer about his various big plans when Ross asked him to pick up the phone and listen to something.
"He dialed the number on the phone and a woman's voice said, 'Hello, this is Drama-Logue. The following is the casting information for the day,' " recalled Bordy in a recent interview. "There were just a few items on there--one or two things he was plugging, and a few legitimate things I think he stole from Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, which sometimes had casting information."
As an actor who was struggling to find scarce casting leads in a town that had long since abandoned the contract player system, Bordy loved the idea, and was soon put to work recording daily updates on the hotline. When Jackpot fell through and Ross wanted to abandon the hotline, Bordy wouldn't let a good idea die. So he bought the bulky tape machine from Ross for a few hundred dollars and put it in his closet, updating its casting information nightly from leads in the trades and other "detective work."
"I knew in New York there was Back Stage," Bordy said. "And I wished we had something like that out here, so that an actor would know where to go to find out who was casting and what."
Bordy made little or no money on the hotline--he charged nothing either to place casting notices or to call in to hear them--and eventually had to take a day job at a Downtown print shop, typesetting and doing artwork for brochures. He soon put two and two together.
"I got the brainstorm: They print there, they do mailing there, I'm typesetting there," Bordy said. "I had been wanting to publish Drama-Logue anyway, so we could reach more people. That was in December of '71. On Jan. 1, 1972, I started making announcements on the hotline, 'No longer is Drama-Logue going to be free. Starting the first week in February, it will be published twice a week, it's going to be called The Drama-Logue Casting Sheet, and it will be 15 cents a copy on the newsstands. To be a charter subscriber, send in your $15 now.'"
On Feb. 2, 1972, Bordy mailed and hand-delivered to newsstands the first issue of The Hollywood Drama-Logue Casting Sheet, a single page of casting information. The twice-weekly publishing commitment soon became weekly, and before long Bordy quit his printing job and moved into a tiny office on the Hollywood Center Studio lot to publish an eight-page newsletter called The Drama-Logue Casting News. Soon he added interviews with casting directors and producers in addition to casting notices, and the full-fleged trade publication Drama-Logue began to take shape.
Two other significant industry milestones happened in 1972: A young actor named Gary Marsh, whose mother was an agent, starting "breaking down" scripts from the studio waiting rooms for her and her colleagues. Eventually, Marsh turned this idea into Breakdown Services, Ltd., a company which gathers daily casting information from casting directors and distributes it to a dedicated subscriber list of agents and managers--but not to actors. This meant it didn't compete directly with the new Drama-Logue so much as it cordoned off a certain stratum of casting information from Drama-Logue's readers.
Also in 1972, the famous "Equity Waiver" was approved by Actors Equity Association. Its basic concept, revised in 1988 to the Equity 99-Seat Plan, was to allow union actors in L.A. County to work for nothing or nearly nothing in small theatres. The timing was not a coincidence, Bordy believes.
"Many theatres really got started because they could advertise free in Drama-Logue--first on the hotline and then in the paper," said Bordy. "So actors got together and started creating their own workspaces, and eventually that turned into Equity Waiver. They saved money on expenses, because they could just get together and do their own shows. So Equity Waiver and Drama-Logue kind of grew together."
Eventually, Drama-Logue began covering this burgeoning theatre scene, which led in 1977 to the famous Drama-Logue awards. These were the brainchild of then-editor Lee Melville: to poll all his theatre critics for their year-end "best of" on local stages and give out a certificate to each of their choices. The awards have been an annual tradition in L.A. theatre, though their quantity--and the length of the show at which they're presented--has led some to question their value (this year Drama-Logue dispensed 914 certificates in a four-hour ceremony at the Pasadena Playhouse).
But clearly, Drama-Logue earned its reputation as the paper of record and valued cheerleader for L.A.'s often-ignored theatre scene, as well as the only resource for its thousands of actors and aspirants. That may be why Back Stage was always interested in it, explained Bordy.
"Even when it was that one-page sheet, [Back Stage co-founder] Allen Zwerdling wanted me," claimed Bordy. "He and I have been friendly over the years, and we always kept talking about joining forces. We almost made it happen about eight or nine years ago."
But then Back Stage was sold to BPI Communications, and Bordy retired from the paper, turning it over to his nieces, Faye and Jayne Bordy. But Back Stage still wanted a place in the Los Angeles market, and in February, 1994, launched Back Stage West, which has since published its own successful version of an actor's trade weekly, with casting, news, reviews, and even this year its own theatre awards show, the Garlands.
After years of competition, though, the merger talks started again, and in late 1997 they began in earnest.
"I'm not 28 anymore--not even around the waist," joked Bordy, who is in his 60s. "I'm at a point where I want to simplify my life, to unload or sell my worldly goods. When I was young and poor, I could take off like that. I went to Europe for a few years in my early 30s. I haven't been able to do that for years. I want to be flexible enough where I can go anywhere I want. What's the sense of working all your life if you can't enjoy it?"
Bordy's 29-year career with Drama-Logue, after all, was an unplanned detour from his acting ambitions.
"I didn't want to be a publisher--I was an actor! I've spent my life publishing, so I don't have an acting career," he said with a rueful laugh. "Like Gypsy's mom says: 'If I coulda, I woulda.' "
But whether publishing was his dream or not, Bordy can look back with satisfaction and pride on the paper he built. This Hollywood gypsy knew he was on to something when Lee Ross first handed him the telephone.
"The paper became exactly what I knew it would, even when it was a one-side legal sheet," said Bordy. "I knew it would grow. But I had the patience not to force it to get too big too quickly. I let it grow of its own volition."
The tradition he built will continue to grow into an even larger enterprise, as the staff of Back Stage West will continue to publish the casting notices and advertising for which Drama-Logue has been known, incorporating them into its own expanded casting, ads, news, reviews, and features under the Back Stage West/ Drama-Logue joint name.
West Coast actors are better off because Bordy started printing his casting sheet in 1972. The hope of the new Back Stage West/Drama-Logue is that actors will be even better off with one comprehensive, authoritative trade publication.