The urban circuit began in the early 1900’s when African-American performers were barred from working at white theatres, staying at white hotels and eating at white restaurants. A touring circuit sprang up, taking black performers across the country. The popularity of the circuit faded in the 1960’s and saw a rebirth in the 1980’s with plays like Mama I Want to Sing. Today, plays and musicals on the urban circuit reach more than 1.5 million theatregoers annually.
Based on Equity’s Short Engagement Touring Agreement, The Urban Broadway Contract "acknowledges the unique aspects of the urban circuit which includes one night and split week performance schedules, substantially lower ticket prices and a different guarantee package than other tours," according to press notes.
The Contract offers competitive salaries, health and pension benefits and work rules for the actors and stage managers in these productions. Although Talbert, who also writes and directs his productions, has always provided similar employment packages, the signing of this Agreement with Equity "formalizes the business model and is an important first step in bringing shows that play the circuit under the imprimatur of the Union."
In signing the agreement, Talbert said, "I've always wanted to create an opportunity in which I could work with so many wonderful Equity performers and still recognize the importance of the circuit and the audiences who see my shows. By acknowledging the varied aspects of our touring business and the caliber of our performers, this contract bridges the best of both worlds. And happily, we will continue to make the kind of theater that mirrors and celebrates the lives of everyday people."
“This first agreement between Equity and David E. Talbert will hopefully set a standard for contracts in Urban Broadway productions, just as David's shows set a standard of quality,” added Flora Stamatiades, Equity’s National Director of Organizing and Special Projects. “We are excited to have these new opportunities available for our members of color, and hope that other Producers will follow David's lead.” The first Talbert production to utilize the Urban Broadway Contract will be What My Husband Doesn't Know, a contemporary drama about a kept woman torn between her husband and her lover. It stars Morris Chestnut, Michelle Williams, Ann Nesby and Clifton Davis and will tour to more than 20 cities through November.