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FIVE
Springing the Trap

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After John Buzzetti’s October 2015 tantrum on the phone, we didn’t communicate much. Via terse emails, I agreed to work with his client Michael Mayer as director. Buzzetti allowed no options for directors not in his stable, and I did not want to trigger another explosive tantrum by expanding the field. As an agent, Buzzetti's job is fiduciary; he was in my employ; but his Putin-like bullying had created an ugly reversal in status, where I was expected to do his bidding.

In January, I was accidentally included on the CC list of an email chain between the producers and my agent and lawyer. (Remember: Head Over Heels was my property.)

 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 10:43 AM
From: John Buzzetti
To: donovan leitch, Jeff Whitty, Conrad Rippy, Rick Ferrari

 

I just spoke with michael mayer and he said that new York stage and film called him and asked him if he would want the first workshop slot up there with reading dates of july 1, 2 and 3. It could start two weeks prior to that date or one week. might be fun to do this? Let me know everyones thoughts?
---

 

Jan 6, 2016, at 11:07 AM
From: Conrad Rippy
To: Donovan Leitch, Rick Ferrari, John Buzzetti, jeff Whitty

 

What’s the plan re: sharing this news w/ Jeff?  I can take on the Go-Go’s but I think that Jeff should hear this probably from John (and me?) first … John, what do you think? 
---

 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 11:43 AM
From: John Buzzetti
To: Donovan Leitch, Jeff Whitty, Conrad Rippy, Rick Ferrari

 

JEFF IS ON THE EMAIL!

 

As haplessness goes, it's hard to beat an all-caps revelation that an unwanted party is on an email chain while keeping the unwanted party on the CC list.

 

Why the guilt? And what was my lawyer doing there? I had no idea what maneuvers lay in store from my agent and his flying monkeys.

 

My representatives sprang their carefully laid trap on February 13th, 2015, when my career’s best work was flushed down the toilet in an instant. They left it to the naïve Donovan Leitch to drop the bomb:

 

Friday, February 12, 2016
 
Hi Jeff,
 
I'm boarding a flight now from Chicago to LA so I can't talk on the phone right this moment but I want to discuss composer/arranger since things are moving quickly. Rick and I adore Carmel as do The Go-Go's as you know, but the collective feeling is that we are going to start with a completely fresh creative team except for Bonnie and of course you. Michael met with Tom Kitt this morning and he wants to do this. I don't think we can get much better than Tom and both you and Michael have a great relationship with him.
 
I will speak to Carmel myself and I know how much you love her and what a tough situation this presents. Because she is close with you, Michael, and Tom I want to let her know it's not about her but a decision that the producers and The Go-Go's are making which is true.
 
I'll be landing at 6:30 pacific and we can speak then. Thanks,
Donovan
 

I was stunned. Floored. Michael Mayer and Tom Kitt were clients of my agent. Donovan had no idea of the damage he was doing. He never once solicited a discussion to evaluate the effects of such a reckless move.

 

Also: I brought Carmel aboard, and she worked like a consummate professional for not much money. Firing an artist in such circumstances is deadly serious. I responded to producers Donovan and Ferrari, and included Buzzetti and Rippy as well.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
 
Wow, I'm -- wow.
 
Okay.
 
I would be the one to make the call to Carmel. She could never forgive me if two relative strangers broke the news. She will be destroyed (as will Sonja, who never got real dancers). Carmel was my right hand. I put her on the title page so great was her influence. I brought her on board before anyone else. She showed me so much, opening whole worlds of possibility as far as the musical storytelling ... None of you can know what she contributed because you were not there. This decision troubles my intuition deeply. ...
 
You would make me start from scratch. It's honestly, in the months prior, what I would have described as the worst possible outcome and the one to alienate me from HOH altogether.
 
Note: before I am seen as "difficult" realize that nowhere am I fluffing my own bed. I am simply not comfortable with losing what works or will work with revision.
I vowed to myself that I would simply step off as creator if the show's journey led it into a world where it felt inauthentic. The lack of communication or discussion with me is revealing; that I was left holding the promissory note still stings; and if the show is a product of your soul, not mine, then by all means pull the car over and leave me at the curb.
 
I need next week to consider and will have my decision by Friday. I am not bullshitting; I began this as a resignation letter; I'm trying not to lead with impetuosity; to simply step off now would feel like a simple shedding of skin. …

 

It's time now as well to put on your thinking caps for another writer to bring HOH into a commercial sphere where it will please audiences, as opposed to what happened in Ashland. [Note: this is irony, as the show was a massive sold-out word-of-mouth hit in Ashland.]
 
I'll collect every possible penny of residuals. I killed myself on that show as did Carmel and Sonja.
 
I smell fear behind these decisions and have from the start. "When you foster fear you foil the play" (Gynecia).
 
See your journey to its end, Alphas. I could tell you what it will be but "What fun is there in giving up the spoilers?" (Oracle).
 
JW

 

When I mention the Oracle (a character in the show), I am dead right. My two decades in the field gave me perspective to recognize the dangers of such unjustified maneuvers.

 

They were making a flop. I knew it then.

There's a reason that Cassandra, the mythical Oracle, was widely hated. She spoke the uncomfortable truth in the face of dizzy delusion.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Donovan Leitch
 
Jeff,
 
This is not easy for anyone. I've been an actor for over twenty five years myself and I've been through this more times then I care to remember.
 
We love Carmel but everybody you've cc'ed along with every single Go-Go don't think she's the right fit.
 
Let's talk about this on the phone because we (John, Conrad, Rick) have worked hard to put together the greatest creative team possible with Michael Mayer, Tom Kitt, and yourself.
 
There's no fear in these decisions. We aren't crazy. You've written pure magic and this baby is destined for greatness. Please trust us.
 
I can put in every call with you if you'd like. Don't resign Jeff. Have we steered you wrong yet? We've supported your every move.
 
I am on a plane and land in 30 minutes and will call you as soon as I get off the plane.

 

There is much that is wrong here, and some that is flat-out untrue. The Go-Go’s were delighted with the production and Carmel’s work, and while they had notes on her arrangements, they gave every indication that they were pleased with our first draft. Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s shared her enthusiasm in a June 18, 2015 interview:

 

All of the arrangements were great, done by a woman--which is perfect! Her name is Carmel Dean. The whole team behind this production is stellar, from choreography to the costumes, and of course the playwright Jeff Whitty. It has everything going for it.

 

Why is Leitch relying on the artistic opinions of my agent and our lawyer, who are way out of their areas here? Why do they even get a vote?

 

I’m hardly new to the awful position of firing people, as I have been party to personnel dismissals several times in my career. Such matters are never pleasant, and only done when absolutely necessary - until now. Leitch forgets that during the production I dismissed the show’s original director at a make-or-break moment. My dismay wasn’t about hurting people’s feelings. It was about losing my livelihood from a show that was, after all, my property and primary source of income.

 

I was astonished to be treated as the novice by novices. The Dunning-Kruger Effect was in full force. This condescending atmosphere was the work of Rippy and Buzzetti, who had no clue of how the sausage actually got made. I work in the thick of the crowd. They show up on opening nights.

 

Recall that Buzzetti and Rippy laid the groundwork for this switcheroo in the original contract. But my agent and lawyer knew better than to show their hand. They certainly never expected me to notice (and I wouldn't notice for a couple more years). Lest he be caught, John Buzzetti instead resorted to bullying – this was my agent, please consider - and laid the groundwork for another explosive tantrum in front of producers, designed to humiliate and intimidate me into following his orders:

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: John Buzzetti
To: All
 
Jeff,
 
I'm confused. we all agreed that if Mayer was directing we were wiping the slate clean except for Bonnie. I don't think this is surprising information is it?

 

It was indeed surprising - and shocking as hell. Mayer had floated the possibility of firing Carmel, but I was certain that he’d never be so reckless as to do so without consulting me about the losses to the show. Buzzetti is rewriting truth to grab my control over my property, which he declared “would run forever.”

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty, All
 
PS Mayer joined under those conditions so I am happy to call him tonight and tell him it's off if that's what you wish. That decision certainly can't wait until Friday.

 

Had I had taken my bullying agent up on his threat, I’m certain that I wouldn’t be writing these words today and would instead enjoy several million dollars in the bank.

 

Let it be said: I was not accustomed to working in an atmosphere of division and conflict, largely because I work so hard to smooth conflicts in my work environment. A fearful, tentative atmosphere is a deadly creative climate. But when pressed, I press back. My only concern was preserving that which worked beautifully before audiences - the results of years of trying and failing to which none of these men were privy.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Jeff Whitty
To: John Buzzetti, All
 
Um, once again with the bullying brinksmanship, John -- who are you representing?
 
Hi. I'm Jeff. The fact is nobody called me for months except Conrad. My Ouija skills are rusty. Examine please how difficult I have really been and where my energies are going: to the glory of Jeff? No. To protect the integrity of the art he makes? Ding ding. Do call Michael if your temper demands it. I have kept him off of this because I want our relationship to be a productive clean slate. But DO dirty the waters for the future if it means you win for now.

 

I eventually learned that when I have to ask my representative “Who are you representing?” it’s time for said representative to go.

 

And then Leitch sent an email to my lawyer and agent – once again forgetting to remove me from the email chain:

From: Donovan Leitch
To: Conrad Rippy, John Buzzetti, Jeff Whitty, Rick Ferrari
 
Thanks Conrad - Rick is gonna reach out - let's get him on board and let cooler heads prevail. We've lined up a stellar team. He gets Bonnie and his script.

 

Oops! Here is hard proof that Rippy was working behind my back, strategizing with my agent and the producers in order to manipulate me.

 

And the comment that “He gets Bonnie [the one surviving actor] and his script” reveals a stunning, patronizing ignorance of the decimation of the show - and their rights as producers. By pulling Carmel Dean’s structural arrangements, the script was no longer mine. It was destroyed. It was insensible. And in his dark final sentence, Leitch implies an assurance that the producers could take my script if they wanted – as if I should be grateful.

 

It's my property. I made it. They had no idea what a gift I gave them. 

 

And let it be said: at this point I still hadn’t been paid the $25K owed me by Leitch and Ferrari since the previous April.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Jeff Whitty
To: All
 
Thanx. "He gets." Eewwww. …

 

Is anyone in the room here in my corner, which is to whit: I feel really gross about this, you must listen to me because our actions have consequences even if it's respecting the author's basic ethics and hearing them, I made no decision, I need time.
 

My point is valid: there was no conflict on Head Over Heels until my agent introduced it. I was deliberately blindsided here. This was a sneak attack, the moment when my “defenders” turned around with knives.

 

They forced me into an awful ethical position, because my collaborators were all fired with no reason given. Artists invest their time in developmental productions with a reasonable expectation that they will continue if they do well. Everyone else on the email chain was at a comfortable remove.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Conrad Rippy
To: Jeff Whitty
Subject: Re: HOH music
 
Hey sweetheart.
 
Um, should we discuss? I don't want this to spiral. You know? Xoxo

 

I was too blindsided to call Conrad out for not defending me. No one was in my corner despite the fact I was paying two of these four men to represent me as fiduciaries. They were looting my corpse.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Jeff Whitty
To: Conrad Rippy
 
Then strongly encourage John to cut it out. I'm sorry honey. … The spiraling is John's doing.

 

If Rippy did not wish this to "spiral", he should have mounted an assertive defense of my clearly stated interests instead of waffling and playing the peacemaker. I hired him as a lawyer, not as a mediator. Why was he not calling out John Buzzetti instead? Why was he implying that I was responsible for the "spiraling”? Was I supposed to just lay down and let my work get destroyed?

 

I am curious to know what conversations were going on beyond my view. But at this point, it was Rippy’s job to defend my position – not to stand by pretending to wring his hands helplessly.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty, All
 
Jeff you're not right. You knew Mayer felt this way! I told you that and everyone before I even started the deal. You're rewriting history which is fine, but I'm not being blamed for something I was crystal clear about from the beginning.

 

and why do you care if I call Mayer? You said earlier you were quitting.

 

As the saying goes, “The narcissist accuses you of what he’s doing,” such as the claim that I am “rewriting history.” The primary “rewrite” is my agent’s assertions to the producers – and the industry – that my show was “bad” and could only be saved by his clients.

 

If my show was bad, why did he want his clients on it at all? It's Narcissist's Upside-Down Day.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Rick Ferrari
To: All

 

Everyone needs to retreat to their corner and just let everyone calm down. No one is calling Mayer.

 

Sorry, Rick. The hysteric in the room was Buzzetti. I was responding to Buzzetti’s abuse – without a lawyer to back me up, for what position could Conrad Rippy take given that he represented all sides?

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty, All
           
Jeff that is not true!!! I wouldn't have spent a month and a half on a deal if it wasn't clear that was how michael felt.

 

In John’s mind, his “month and a half” of self-dealing negotiations trumps the three years that I spent creating the musical in question so that I could earn an income. And again: he is my AGENT. I have no reason to be invested in the work he does for other clients.

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Jeff Whitty
To: John Buzzetti, All
 
Rewriting history -- it was never a fait accompli. I have no record of you calling me ever after the "You're crazy" moment -- I looked. And where in the last email did I say I had quit? John -- just stop. Apology goes so fucking far. Stop stop stop. See this through my eyes: I lost everything of that experience with nothing going forward that I can be sure of. Am I not allowed a moment of messiness? Justified or not?

 

For it was true: Buzzetti made a waste of the many hundreds of hours that I spent mounting the OSF production as he portrayed the production as “bad” throughout the industry – and to the suggestible producers, who loved the show (as he did) on opening night. This was gaslighting at its most basic. 

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
From: Jeff Whitty
To: John Buzzetti
Subject: Re: HOH music
 
Wow. John you never communicated with me. There is a paper trail. Sorry.

 

And my possession of the paper trail - these very documents - would put me in genuine peril as the situation escalated in the coming years. 

 

In his unhinged rage, my agent grabbed for the lowest-hanging fruit available, in the most abusive moment I’d yet experienced in my career:

 

From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty, All
 
Yeah and we all lost a lot of time and energy and money because of your stupid fucking ideas of Ed and osf. You were ON DRUGS the whole time. The show was NOT good! It's a great script that is seriously overwritten and produced with all the wrong collaborators. take a look at reality. If it was as good as you think it was we would have a Broadway theatre and producers and gogos excited. They're not.
 
Bye girl. I'm out. and so is Mayer if I have anything to say about it.

 

John Buzzetti was my agent. I considered him a friend. I hired him to promote me.

He was doing the exact opposite. He would depict me as "crazy" to the industry in boilerplate narcissistic fashion - but what can be crazier than his behavior here?

John Buzzetti had recently learned that I was struggling with an addiction for the first time in my life at age 45, a heartbreaking complication in my personal life back then – and one that did not affect my delivery on the show. I’m very open about it, and willing to discuss any aspect, but the fact is that despite my personal struggles I delivered Head Over Heels like a champion, and one needs but ask my stage manager or anyone who was actually there mounting the show.

 

No one else on this email chain was present during the process. They sat at desks, far removed.

 

John Buzzetti used my personal struggles as a weapon to shame and humiliate me. There is no excuse for dragging my personal struggles in front of producers. None. Especially when he's discrediting and destabilizing me for his own selfish ends.

 

And he felt free to do so in the knowledge that Conrad Rippy would not come to my defense.

 

And I must be careful in saying this, for I try to walk the high road: I never cared for cocaine, a drug well-known to cause addicts to explode in unhinged rages.

 

If it was as good as you think it was we would have a Broadway theatre and producers and gogos excited. They're not.

 

And the reason they were not excited was … the very man typing those words. Only with his clients Mayer and Kitt installed did my agent throw his weight behind Head Over Heels – while smearing the originating artist who held the evidence of his bullying and abuse.

 

I will say it again: A hit musical can be worth a billion-plus dollars these days. Control over such a revenue-generator is the prize.

 

From here on out, as a result of John Buzzetti's abuse, I would get no respect at all from any aboard the show – even though without my passionate crafstmanship there would be no show. My agent made sure that I would henceforth be treated like human garbage. And my lawyer Conrad Rippy did nothing to stop him, collecting instead on the revenue of my exploitation.

 

I was in despair.

 

I realized that I had to fire Buzzetti for my own safety, but his malicious scorched-earth approach made it a scary prospect. I had to be careful lest I trigger more of his calculated rages. He was on the phone all day to the industry and did not tell the truth when his ego was at stake. I was an artist alone with no defenders.

 

After John Buzzetti's ugly display, even Conrad Rippy suggested that I drop him, though now it seems possible that Buzzetti wanted me out. He had lifted his leg on my work. He felt the precious thrill of control. The artist was easily discarded.

 

For years John Buzzetti always said that I was his easiest client, as I was incredibly self-sufficient and low-drama. John had to do very little work as I looked after my own career by and large. He had thrown tantrums with me in prior years, and every time he pulled that nonsense I demanded (through Conrad Rippy) that he send me flowers with an apology before I’d engage with him again.

 

On March 23rd, I got flowers once again – but there was no apology.

 

On April 26th, Buzzetti sent me an email:

 

April 26, 2016 
FROM: John Buzzetti
TO: Jeff Whitty
SUBJECT: Hey

 

Just trying to get some clarity on where we are….let me know what you’re thinking/want. X

 

Here we go.

 

I took a day to consider my reply, deciding on a “soft breakup.” Staying with John was irrational, given his toxic abuse. But leaving him would be tricky. I did not understand the term "narcissistic injury" at the time, but my intuition warned me to tread carefully given his mental health issues.

 

I decided to proceed as if the split were already assumed. I'd soften the blow by staying at WME and simply changing theater agents. Also, I was developing a relationship with a film agent there.

 

April 27, 2016 1:17 PM
FROM: Jeff Whitty
TO: John Buzzetti
SUBJECT: Re: Hey

 

Hi John,
 
Thank you for writing. I hope you are well.
 
If things continue to go well with Ryan (who is great, thanks again) I’ll remain at WME if that’s cool and meet the theater agents there, or I’m happy to go with who you recommend. I know WME doesn’t allow split representation. (…)
 
So if it sounds reasonable, I think Conrad can handle whatever’s left with me on HEAD OVER HEELS so you don’t need to deal with it. I don’t know how these things work, whether it just gets handed off to the next agent or what.
 
I hope all’s well in NYC and in your life. Take care, John.
 
Sincerely,
Jeff

 

That was the last communication I had with John Buzzetti, though he was far from done with me. I began working with another agent at WME, Scott, who was once John’s assistant.

 

Years later I would learn that John spread throughout the industry that he dropped me because of drugs.”

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