That's one positive outcome of an actors strike, says Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated January 30, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Streep: AFP/Corbis

Meryl Streep may end up on Broadway

If you’re an entertainment journalist these days, at the end of every interview you ask how that director, or producer, or actor is feeling about the anticipated strikes by the writers’ and actors’ guild. You ask what they’re planning to cram in before the strikes, and you ask them — as if it was a terminal illness, rather than a work issue — how they are planning to spend the dreaded few months without a job.

Inevitably, what you sense is high anxiety. ”Work begets more work,” said one producer, as if the 20 plus films on his dossier didn’t amount to anything unless he hops from set to set. ”I was thinking I might take a vacation — do you think that would be okay?” This from an agent with an Oscar winner in his charge.

And then, finally, I met with a sane actor, an actor who admitted up front that while she was sorry so many people who didn’t have money in the bank would suffer from being out of work, ”I think [a strike] could be a really good thing. This business is so corrupt, my hope is that if agents and studio executives have a few months to clear their heads, they might come back to work in a better place.”

Imagine — one of those people privileged enough to be overpaid, suggesting what so many people sitting in audiences have sensed for the last year: Too many people are producing work that nobody wants to see. Obviously, the strike is going to hit hard for the grips, the gaffers, and extras — people who go from job to job and don’t have that $2 million (or even $2,000) — in the bank. But maybe, as this actor suggested, there are benefits to the strike.

For the last few months, studios, agents, managers, writers, and producers have been working in a frenzied state to get their projects greenlit — ready or not — as if that project won’t ever get made if it doesn’t get made now. The result will be an onslaught of films that, frankly, will include a lot of dogs.

Imagine if the studios can take a deep breath and actually develop scripts again, make appropriate notes, meet with screenwriters, and come up with a story worth telling. Not because they’re on a deadline, but because the story is ready to be told. And as for those actors who are out of work, just WATCH them work.

Okay, maybe it won’t be on the screen, but for people who can get to New York, Hollywood may be coming full force. If there’s a strike, look for Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Allison Janney in a Broadway production of ”The Seagull,” directed by Mike Nichols. And just imagine the other talented directors, writers, and actors who might go back to the stage and hone their craft in front of live audiences, reconnecting with what makes people react, without the buffers of audience test scoring.

I hope there’s not a strike. I don’t want people who can’t afford to be out of work to suffer through unemployment. But on the heels of a year that has delivered the worst slate of movies I can remember, a part of me thinks that a strike might be for the best. If everyone has a chance to collect themselves, and think about the film they’re making rather than zipping through it in a blind panic, the result has got to be better than what we’ve seen this year. It might even be worth paying $9.50 to see.