Sunday, August 15, 2021

Is Bad Publicity Really Better Than No Publicity?

Look at what happens when you Google. 

The answer to this age-old question is one that many great press agents and publicists have been wrestling with since the days of Hedda Hopper and Charlie Chaplin. Because almost every bad story about a client given to a great press agent offers an opportunity for redemption. It’s a challenge that many would rather not contend with, but that is why they make the big bucks.  I would venture to guess that this week Broadway fans are wondering what the camp of Tony Award© nominated actress, Laura Osnes, is doing right now.  

It was reported in Page Six, and the story has been picked up by many news outlets, including Newsweek, that Laura Osnes was released from an event in the Hamptons when it was revealed that she was not vaccinated, nor did she intend to get vaccinated.  For those of you not familiar with her, it doesn’t really matter.  Those who are familiar probably could care less, because the writing was on the wall the minute the vaccine became available. 

I have reached out to a few of the publicists that I know, and no one wanted to go on record, but my guess is that spinning any of this is dependent upon the client and their "Why?" Once that is sorted out, then the real work begins on trying to repair an image, career, and even a life.  Under normal ‘bad celebrity’ behavior, there almost seem to be protocols to resolving, restoring, and reviving one’s career. The Mea Culpa Tour, community service or charity endorsement, and 6-12 months of staying under the radar, are how career healing begins.  Somehow, I think Ms. Osnes will have a harder time recovering from this,  especially now that in addition to all of this, she is known for being a very strident, conservative Christian.  How someone can have those beliefs and still work in theatre is both fascinating and irritating.  Some of them are trying, but having a hard time doing it.  Ask Chad Kimball. He will not be in Apple TV’s filmed version of COME FROM AWAY, nor is he in the post pandemic, returning Broadway cast, too.

Because Ms. Osnes is an attractive and talented white woman in this country, she has been given all kinds of passes for her alleged backstage energy. The privilege to perform, especially in the Hamptons, is truly a gift. However, can we all be honest about something?  There is no shortage of talented white women in the pool of entertainment who would run her over with a car to get a third of the attention she has. 

If you ask any of them: stagehands, hair stylists, and costume assistants, then they will have a few pointed tales to tell, especially if you throw in a bottomless mimosa brunch. A few of my actor friends had a few choice words, too. Not to dogpile on what I am sure has been a shitty week for Ms. Osnes, it does lead to a bigger question: In an industry that requires an unusual amount of closeness in physical and emotional distance between its employees, is it wise to allow someone, unless for true medical reasons, to be unvaccinated in that environment?

According to a large number of ignorant and selfish people, it is their inherent right to walk around as a public health threat to the rest of us.  Alright that is how I see it, but I digress.  With the information that is available about COVID-19 vaccine development, it is hard to stomach the whinings of college educated adults, many of whom would not have their degrees now had it not been for the  measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. 

But getting back to the Typhoid Marys and Martins of the world who want to bring their “anti-vaccine” stances to a workplace, there is an unspoken rule: If you don’t feel well, then don’t come to work.  When you say flu, chicken pox, or stomach “thing”,  people will flee from you with a quickness. Why? Because no one wants to get sick, and no one wants to get sick if it can be avoided.  

In the entertainment industry, especially theater, we are taught that the “show must go on” at almost any cost. This explains the certain safeguards that have been put in place, like understudies, 2nd and 3rd stand bys, or in the case of the many other departments like lighting, music, costuming, hair, and makeup that have an endless list of supplemental staff who can be called in, if things get crazy in a show. 

Because of the ferocity and the tenacity of the latest strain of COVID and the randomness of how it affects an individual, no production can really afford to lose an entire company from top to bottom because of COVID.  Recently, the West End company of HAIRSPRAY had to halt performances for 2 weeks because of a potential outbreak in the cast.  What insurance company will insure a production that may have a willy-nilly policy of maintaining a protocol to keep the production safe?  COVID is already costing studios, film, and television producers a lot of money to produce anything.  

How do I know? I recently was booked to do some background work on television. Before stepping anywhere near the set, I had 4 COVID tests. The first one was to make sure that I wasn’t already infected. The second one was just to go to a costume fitting, and the third one was done 2 days BEFORE the shoot to ensure that I was still not infected.  Once on set with masks and the whole megillah, I had to have yet another test. All of this testing in the 7 days from booking to set, and I am vaccinated. The production company also has to pay each performer for their time to come in and take the COVID tests.    

All of that energy and money is being spent on Extra #4. Add to that everyone up the call sheet, including all of the folks in costumes, makeup and hair, lighting, camera, sound, etc. If there is just one unvaccinated (possibly asymptomatic or without medical exception) actor, camera person, hair stylist, or even a director, walking amongst the set, then it is pretty dangerous and costly. It totally makes sense now that Netflix requires that everyone working on their US shows must be vaccinated, and many of the studios are doing the same thing.     

2x Tony Award© Nominee, Pre-Pandemic, Laura Osnes. 

The word is out on Ms. Osnes, honey. More people will definitely learn more about her, thanks to NEWSWEEK’s headline: “ Who Is Laura Osnes? Broadway Actress Removed for Alleged Anti-Vaccine Stance”. The amount of press this has generated for her has not been favorable. In full disclosure, I have had the opportunity to interview Ms. Osnes on a few occasions.  She was absolutely pleasant, but when you are promoting something it behooves you to not irritate your interviewer, especially a queen like me, because the older that I get, the less I care about holding back how I feel. 

As many times as her name has been googled, it is safe to say that many people now know who she is.  Sadly, many of her major accomplishments will be overshadowed by this incident because of her belief system.  She is absolutely within her rights to feel as she does, and she can speak on the subject in any way that works for her. Is it worth it? Perhaps, she is seriously thinking about it now.   For those of us watching it unfold, we do enjoy the drama. Being an actress in this current climate with those beliefs, she might not be doing any acting or singing anytime soon, except maybe in Branson. Ms. Osnes has responded to the ISSUE:

However, people often forget that freedom of speech always comes with consequences, and in her case, she also gets publicity for it, good or bad.