They are the face of Broadway, despite the fact that thousands of other unseen and unionized workers, from musicians to dressers to props people to house managers, help make Broadway operate artistically, efficiently and safely.
When a union other than the actors' union chooses to strike, prompting the shutdown of theatres, what do the actors do? Where do they go at show time? And do they get paid?
The leadership of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers, has instructed its members to show up for work at half-hour — 30 minutes before curtain — and sign in, proving they were ready and able to work.
"My union representative informed me that I would have to sign in at every single half-hour and wait until the prescribed show time a half an hour later if I was to qualify for the union's 'strike fund' payment," said one Broadway star affected by the strike, who asked not to be named in this article.
Other actors confirmed to Playbill.com that signing in at half-hour would make actors eligible for money from the strike fund — unemployment-level emergency pay. Equity spokesperson Maria Somma previously confirmed that Actors' Equity's Council has authorized $2.3 million for a strike fund, allowing for emergency money to be doled out to members.
New York State unemployment law requires a seven-week waiting period before an individual can apply for traditional unemployment benefits in the case of a strike.
Stipends from Equity's emergency strike fund are meant to tide members over until state unemployment kicks in, in seven weeks. If the strike should be protracted, traditional unemployment would not be available until 2008, draining the strike fund.
The Equity strike fund payment is $405 per week per actor, no matter the contract — star and understudy are equals in this case, actors told Playbill.com. The $405 is far less than half of a week's minimum salary for, say, a chorus dancer.
Actors contacted by Playbill.com Nov. 11 said that Equity had not informed them when the distribution of strike fund money would start. (Everyone is waiting to see if bargaining — and thus, shows — will resume imminently.)
If IATSE Local One (the stagehands union) and the League of American Theatres and Producers go back to the bargaining table the week of Nov. 12 — re-lighting Broadway shows for the time being — the strike fund would not be necessary. The general wisdom is that the sides will not resume talks imminently.
Broadway performers affected by the (so far) Nov. 10-11 strike were already paid for the work week ending Nov. 11; pay day on Broadway is Thursday.
Actors also told Playbill.com that the sign-in documentation will be used to show producers that Equity members were not striking — and that management should pay them for the strike weeks. Equity is expected to seek strike-week salaries for actors through arbitration, actors said.
Playbill.com could not obtain a statement about this from Equity as of press time.
On Saturday and Sunday, producers and general managers of shows told actors in person or by telephone that they needn't sign-in, as there is no work at the moment.
Equity officially stands in support of Local One, and actors are welcome to stand with pickets, but are not obligated to march, actors told Playbill.com.