On Jan. 12, SSDC's executive board passed a resolution that it "would stand behind Actors' Equity that there should be no non-Equity tours." The society also decreed it would no longer do business with Big League Theatricals on its non-Equity tours of Aida and 42nd Street, unless Big League signed contracts with Actors' Equity Association. Equity has of late targeted Big League in its ongoing fight against of non-Equity road shows, which lately seem to be spreading like wildfire across the U.S.
"This is a very important show of support for Actors' Equity by SSDC," said Alan Eisenberg, executive director of AEA, in a statement. "We, in turn, will assist SSDC on a number of fronts where our united strength will help SSDC achieve its goals."
The show of solidarity has arguably already had repercussions. Big League and Equity had been in talks for two months about a tour of Aida. Those discussions have now been abandoned and Big League is not pursuing the tour at this time. However, Dan Sher, executive producer of Big League, told Playbill On-Line that the cancellation was not contingent on SSDC's resolution. "That's false," he said. "Our decision came on Jan. 8 or 9." He characterized the Aida talks with Equity as productive and having been conducted in "good faith."
The move is a risky one for SSDC, which, in the past, has had a good working relationship with Big League, society members often working on the organizations' tours. The two have never had a long-term contract, but had always teamed a "one-off" basis.
Explaining the society's change of stance, Barbara Hauptman, executive director of SSDC, told Playbill On-Line, "When we first got involved [with non Equity tours], they were not competing with first class national tours. They were playing the 'B' markets. Now they clearly are competing with Equity tours." About SSDC's resolution, Sher said he was "Unbelievably sad. We've really enjoyed working with them. [I'm] disappointed and shocked."
To ensure that SSDC members would not lose non-union tour jobs to Equity member stage mangers and dance captains—a circumstance common in the past, with those Equity rank-and-file then applying for SSDC membership—the Equity Council passed its own resolution "instructing AEA members (who have always been restricted from non-union employment as actors andstage managers) that they can no longer accept employment in any production capacity (such as directors, choreographers, production supervisors etc) in Big League Theatrical productions." The Council also ruled that members must not accept jobs in non-Equity shows produced by Troika and NETworks.
Asked where Big League will find directors for its non-Equity tour now that SSDC has resolved not to cooperate, Sher replied, "That's a great question," then added, "Where there's a will, there's a way."
Equity and SSDC's new closeness seems an extension of the team spirit seen during the March Broadway strike, in which many theatrical unions joined striking musicians on the picket line. Hauptman observed, "Ever since 9/11, when the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds (COBUG) was formed and started meeting once a month, the sense of solidarity among the unions has truly intensified."
The agreement between the two guilds will no doubt influence the upcoming Production Contract talks between Equity and the League of American Theatres and Producers. Non-Equity tours are expected to be a, if not the, major issue on the table. The current Production Contract (which governs Equity work in Broadway and touring productions) is due to expire June 27. Initial negotiations dates have not yet been determined.
Hauptman said she had not yet heard from the League regarding its reaction to the resolution. SSDC's contact with the League expires at the end of August.