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Springing the Trap

In an ugly email chain, my agent begins abusing me openly in front of producers in order to feather his own bed.

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.


My representatives sprung a 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 1:17:27 PM
From: Donovan Leitch
To: Jeff Whitty
Cc: Rick Ferrari
Subject: HOH music
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[1] 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,

I was stunned. Floored. Donovan had no idea of the damage he was doing. He never once opened a discussion where we’d consider the effects of such a reckless move. He did not understand the effects of these mass firings.With this move, every open slot on the creative team was populated with my agent’s clients as Director and Music Director.


Saturday, February 13, 2016 1:09:16 PM
From: Jeff Whitty
To: Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari
Cc: Conrad Rippy; John Buzzetti
Re: HOH music
Wow, I'm -- wow.
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 -- as I said before "She was doing Ed's [the original director’s] vision; now she can collaborate with someone else." None of you can know what she contributed because you were not there. This decision troubles my intuition deeply. …

Please realize: I have to call on the phone every single person you are tossing. All of them. Because it is my nature to do so; because when I was similarly dumped as an actor a couple of times those calls meant everything. What a horrid slog.
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.
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).


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.

Saturday, February 13, 2016 1:27:40 PM
From: Donovan Leitch
To: Jeff Whitty
Cc: Rick Ferrari; Conrad Rippy; John Buzzetti
Subject: Re: HOH music
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 and thoughts on her arrangements, they gave every indication that they were pleased with this first draft.


And why is he relying on the artistic opinions of my agent and our lawyer, who are way out of their areas here?


I’m hardly new to the uncomfortable position of firing people. Leitch forgets that during the production I dismissed the show’s original director, at a make-or-break moment and saved the show. 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.The director I released was brilliant but inexperienced, replaced by Bill Rauch, head of the festival, at the beginning of previews, who snapped the unfinished work together beautifully in a scant few days.


I was astonished to be treated as the novice by novices. This condescending atmosphere was the work of Rippy and Buzzetti, who had no clue of how the sausage actually got made.


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 the deletions across the drafts. Lest he be caught, John Buzzetti instead had to resort to bullying – this was my agent, please consider - and began laying the groundwork for another explosive tantrum in front of producers:


Saturday, February 13, 2016 2:15:01 PM
From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty
Cc: Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari; Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music
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 suit his ambitions to gain my control over my property, which he once declared “would run forever.”


From:   John Buzzetti
Saturday, February 13, 2016 2:17:21 PM
To: Jeff Whitty
Cc: Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari; Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music
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 agent up on his threat, I’m sure I wouldn’t be writing these words today and would instead enjoy several million dollars in the bank.


I was not accustomed to working in an atmosphere of conflict, largely because I work so hard to smooth conflicts in my work environment.


Saturday, February 13, 2016 2:55:50 PM
From: Jeff Whitty
To: John Buzzetti
Cc: Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari; Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music
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.


Saturday, February 13, 2016 2:26:21 PM
From: Conrad Rippy
To: John Buzzetti
Cc: Jeff Whitty; Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari
Subject: Re: HOH music
Just seeing all of these emails as have been away from my iPhone. Let me review. Thanks.  


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


Saturday, February 13, 2016 2:43:23 PM
From: Donovan Leitch
To: Conrad Rippy
Cc: John Buzzetti; Jeff Whitty; Rick Ferrari
Subject: Re: HOH music
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. By pulling Carmel Dean’s structural arrangements, the script was not 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.


Again: Leitch and Ferrari are first-time producers. John Buzzetti and Conrad Rippy manipulated them into a false sense of crisis, casting blame on me – the artist who created an audience-pleasing work over three grueling years. I delivered on all of my promises like a pro. And at this point I still hadn’t been paid the $25K owed me by these producers since the previous April.


Saturday, February 13, 2016 3:02:23 PM
From: Jeff Whitty
To: Donovan Leitch
Cc: Conrad Rippy; John Buzzetti; Rick Ferrari
Subject: Re: HOH music
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.


And this put me in an awful ethical position, because my collaborators were all being fired with no clear reason why. Artists invest their time in developmental productions with a reasonable expectation that they will continue if they do well. Instead, all of my collaborators were fired despite doing great work.


Saturday, February 13, 2016 2:59:03 PM
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 is in my corner though I am paying two of these four men to represent me.


Saturday, February 13, 2016 3:06:41 PM
From: Jeff Whitty
To: Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music
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 the one “spiraling”?


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 3:12:05 PM
From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty
Cc: Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari; Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music
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 such “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 so bad, why did he want his clients on it at all?


Saturday, February 13, 2016 3:43:05 PM
From: Rick Ferrari
To: John Buzzetti
Cc: Jeff Whitty; Donovan Leitch; Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music

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 is Buzzetti. I am responding to Buzzetti’s abuse – without a lawyer to back me up, for what position can Conrad Rippy take given that he represents all sides?


Saturday, February 13, 2016 3:16:15 PM
From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty
Subject: Re: HOH music
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 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 3:18:04 PM
From: Jeff Whitty
To: John Buzzetti
Cc: Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari; Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music
Rewriting history -- it was never a fair 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 thousands 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.


Saturday, February 13, 2016 3:19:56 PM
From: Jeff Whitty
To: John Buzzetti
Subject: Re: HOH music
Wow. John you never communicated with me. There is a paper trail. Sorry.


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:


Saturday, February 13, 2016 3:23:46 PM
From: John Buzzetti
To: Jeff Whitty
Cc: Donovan Leitch; Rick Ferrari; Conrad Rippy
Subject: Re: HOH music
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.


This guy was my agent. I considered him a friend.


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 happy to discuss any aspect of it, 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 any of my actors.

But my personal struggles became a useful weapon to shame and humiliate me. So the agent whom I am paying to be my champion, protector and voice in the industry dragged out a painful aspect of my personal life to parade before producers in order to discredit and destabilize me.


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


And I must be careful in saying this: I never cared for cocaine, a drug well-known to cause addicts to explode in unhinged rages. The hypocrisy here is disturbing.


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 is … the 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.


And contrary to his “revisionist history,” the Go-Go’s were over the moon on opening night and appreciated Carmel Dean’s work. I reiterate that Carmel’s work was splendid and, like mine, still very much a work-in-progress. Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s shared her enthusiasm in a June 18, 2015 interview [EXHIBIT E]:


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.


Encouraged by Conrad Rippy’s passive enabling, John Buzzetti went way beyond the pale here, his abuse now engraved in the paper trail.


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, I would get no respect at all from any aboard the show – even though without my passion and hard work 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 artistic exploitation.


I realized that I had to fire my agent, but it was 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.


Even Conrad Rippy suggested that I drop him, though now it seems possible that he suggested that I leave my agent at my agent’s own behest. He had lifted his leg on my work now and the artist was easily discarded.


John said for years that I was his easiest client, as I was incredibly self-sufficient and low-drama. He had thrown tantrums with me in prior years, and every time I did I demanded (through Conrad Ripp) that he send me flowers and an apology note before I’d engage with him again.


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


On April 26th, Buzzetti sent me an email:


April 26, 2016 11:14AM
FROM: John Buzzetti
TO: Jeff Whitty

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


This was the moment. I took a day to consider my reply, deciding on a “soft breakup,” proceeding as if the split was already assumed. I’d met a film/TV agent at WME who I liked, and decided to soften the blow by staying at WME and simply changing theater agents.

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

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.


That was the last communication I had with John. I began working with another agent, 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.”

Oh, the hypocrisy.


[1] This is Bonnie Milligan, the sole actor that Mayer kept on. Every other actor and designer was fired.

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