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July 5th, 2014:

Back to the drawing board for the city and the firefighters’ union

Don’t expect much at this point.

Negotiators for the city of Houston and its firefighters union will return to the bargaining table to discuss a new labor contract weeks after union members soundly defeated the last proposed deal, Mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday.

The mayor and Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341 president Bryan Sky-Eagle had said after the vote – which saw 93 percent of members opposed – that both sides were open to more talks, but it’s unclear whether a deal acceptable to the union can be reached.

“It is encouraging that the union is willing to resume negotiations,” Parker said in a release. “We will bargain in good faith, but crafting an alternative agreement will require creativity and flexibility now that City Council has approved a new city budget that utilizes all available resources.”

In other words, officials have said, the council amended Parker’s proposed budget to add a series of spending items that “spent the raise” that had been set aside to accommodate the proposed contract. The rejected deal would have given firefighters a 4 percent raise beginning Jan. 1 in exchange for restrictions on when they could take time off.

See here and here for the background, and here for the city’s press release. The most likely outcome at this point is that the firefighters will continue under the current agreement, which provides no raises but also puts no restrictions on who can take vacation when, until 2016, when the firefighters hope there is a Mayor they believe to be friendlier to their interests in office. It’ll be interesting to see who positions himself or herself as their champion in the race. Houston Politics has more.

Hands off a hardbody

This is the most interesting theater-related story involving a canceled play that I’ve ever heard about.

Theatre Under The Stars and director Bruce Lumpkin kicked up a heap of dust with the company’s production of “Hands on a Hardbody,” which had to shut down early on June 20, after the show’s creators protested extensive unauthorized changes.

Everyone even remotely involved in theater should know that when they lease the rights to produce a play or musical, they must present it exactly as written and licensed. Any changes, large or small, must first be approved by the authors or their representatives.

“This is the most brazen violation we have had in a very long time,” said Bruce Lazarus, executive director of Samuel French Inc., which controls the show’s performance rights.

Based on a 1997 documentary and produced on Broadway in 2013, “Hands” depicts 10 Texans competing to win a new truck. Behind the scenes at TUTS, another competition apparently was playing out between the intentions of the show’s creators and those of Lumpkin, director of the production and artistic director of TUTS.

Amanda Green, who wrote the show’s lyrics and co-wrote its music, attended opening night on June 13, at TUTS’ invitation. Shortly after the performance began, and increasingly as it progressed, she became aware that songs had been moved to different places in the action, that solo sections had been reassigned to different characters, that some of the music was missing and new music had been added, among other changes.

“The director had used our script and score as puzzle pieces, to rearrange as he thought they should be put together,” Green said. “So many things, both big and small, had been changed around that it was not at all the show that we’d written.”

Green decided to skip the opening night party – but she says Lumpkin approached her after the performance, wanting to talk.

“He told me, ‘I know you’re angry, but you have to admit, it works better,’ ” Green said. “I asked him why he hadn’t contacted us and asked us about his ideas. He said, ‘Because I knew you would say no.’ He was trying to get me to say that I liked the show better his way. He also tried to say he’d made all these changes just the night before, but then I learned from other sources that he had come in on the first day of rehearsals with his version of the script and a CD of the songs in a new order.”

[…]

In a June 19 letter to Lumpkin, Ralph Sevush of the Dramatists Guild of America issued a reprimand on behalf of the guild’s 7,000 member playwrights, lyricists and composers, “expressing our collective outrage.” The letter reminded Lumpkin that TUTS’ agreement with Samuel French contained a “clear and standard prohibition” against changing the show without the authors’ permission.

Soon after the Dramatist Guild expressed of its displeasure, Samuel issued its cease-and-desist order. TUTS canceled remaining performances a couple of hours before the June 20 show was to start, offering ticket holders refunds or credits for other shows. As for the amount TUTS would lose because of the canceled shows, Breckinridge said “I don’t have that figure.”

See here for a Chron story about the cancellation. I can’t imagine this was good for TUTS’ bottom line. I have to say, at first I didn’t quite get what the big deal was. I guess I’d seen enough productions of plays that are in the public domain, like Shakespeares and “A Christmas Carol”, that it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be anything odd about tinkering with a script. I’ve also seen plenty of performances of contemporary shows by touring companies that included topical jokes and pandering local references. Those are done with the blessing of the copyright owner, which is the piece I’d been missing. The more I read about this, the more obvious it became to me that you just don’t change the story without the permission of the author or the author’s representatives, because if you do it’s not their work anymore. Not a hard concept to grasp, I know, I had just never thought about it before. Given how seriously this principle is taken, it’s kind of amazing anyone thought they could get away with it, especially with the author right there to see it for herself. Lesson learned, I suppose, though others needed to learn it, too. Congratulations for inserting yourself into the curriculum of every stage directing class from now until the end of time, TUTS. CultureMap, Art Attack, and Howard Sherman have more.

Make sure you check for zebra mussels

New boating rules are in effect in an effort to combat the spread of zebra mussels.

Zebra mussel

Starting on [July 1], boaters are going to have to take an extra step to clean their vessels if they want to cruise around on different lakes. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says people will have to drain all the water in and on the boat before going to a new body of water in Texas.

The department is worried about the spread of Zebra Mussels and other invasive species. The state says it grows to be about one-and-a-half inches and will have a zebra-stripped shell. The problem is it can also have a million microscopic larvae which like to hide on boats and trailers.

“Unfortunately zebra mussels have a microscopic larval stage that when they get in the water you can’t see and if you have a bunch of water taken out of one lake and you go to the next and you can transport the zebra mussels and that’s one of the main ways they get transported is by boats from lake to lake,” says Ken Kurzawski, Inland Fisheries Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Zebra Mussels can clog public-water intake pipes, harm boats and motors if they’re left untreated. It can cover boat hulls if boats and motors are left in infested waters. Zebra mussels can also block water-cooling systems and pester lake property owners by covering anything that’s under water.

[…]

CLEAN DRAIN AND DRY

  • Clean boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, canoes, sail boats and other water vessels
  • Remove parts and clean
  • Drain all the water from motor, bilge, live wells and bait buckets before leaving lake
  • Dry boats and trailers for a week before going to another body of water
  • Use high-pressure washer with hot water, 140 degrees, and soapy water

The Parks and Wildlife Department also says people fishing also have to be careful. More information is listed on the state’s website.

See here for the background. The Express News has more information.

Texas Invasives, a partnership of “state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, green industry, academia and other private and public stakeholders who share in the common goal of protecting Texas from the threat of invasive species,” has information on their website for boaters for how the new law effects them, including tips on how to stop the spread invasive species. It offers advice on how to properly clean and take care of any vessel, and how boaters can report a sighting.

According to Texas Invasives, possession or transportation of zebra mussels is a class C misdemenor for the first offense carrying a fine of up to $500. Repeat offenders could face a class B misdemenor, a fine of up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both.

Here’s the Texas Invasives website. Those of you going out boating this weekend, please pay heed. We all can do a part to stop the spread of these invasives.