AGMA (the union that represents professional opera performers, dancers and concert musicians in the U.S.) originally presided over the Twyla Tharp-Frank Sinatra musical when it premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta last September under the title Come Fly With Me.
In late December 2009, AGMA filed federal unfair labor practice charges against Come Fly Away producers when the parties were unable to come to an agreement for the Broadway production and Actors' Equity Association was approached to represent the cast. The dance musical opened on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre March 25 under AEA jurisdiction.
On April 9 AEA stated that it would comply with the "Four A's" (Associated Actors and Artists of America) ruling and "out of respect for the Four A’s and its long-time president, Theodore Bikel, Equity will disclaim further interest in representing the actors and stage managers in the Broadway production."
The cast of Come Fly Away was represented under the AEA contract through the April 11 performance, according to a spokesperson for the actors' union. Producers will now work to reach an agreement with AGMA.
AGMA national executive director Alan Gordon informed Playbill.com that the production contract for Come Fly Away remains in effect, but will now be overseen by AGMA. The union intends to meet with producers to discuss improvements to the contract that would suit the specific needs of dancers. Gordon also said, "AGMA's philosophy of contract negotiation and administration is markedly different from Equity's. We are much more participatory, and ask the cast what it would like to accomplish, rather than just telling the cast what we've done. Our members participate actively in both negotiation and administration, and it may take the producers some time to become familiar with that."
He continued, "In the longer run, we've always believed that Broadway dancers should have the same kind of working conditions and safety provisions that other AGMA dancers share and, toward that end, we'd hope to negotiate a direct contract with the League to represent Broadway dancers, not only on dance shows like Fly Away and Movin' Out, but also for groups of dancers within other Broadway productions. After equity selects a new, permanent Executive Director, we look forward to working with him or her towards an inter-union understanding about such shows."
Previous sticking points between AGMA and Come Fly Away producers were that the union sought creative royalty compensation for characters created by each cast member, as well as salary raises for the cast if Come Fly Away earned the Best Musical Tony Award. In addition, the contract provided for pay increases for any cast member who earned a Tony Award or nomination. (Salary increases for Tony honors are typically negotiated between a performer's agent and the producers). AGMA also stated that the terms of their agreement were tailored to the specific health, safety and career longevity of dancers.
Previously, AGMA and AEA had locked horns over production contracts for Tharp's Billy Joel musical Movin' Out. The "Four A's" awarded AGMA jurisdiction over Movin' Out and AEA handled the production contracts, with both parties sharing union dues. Tharp's short-lived The Times They Are A Changin' was represented by AEA initially and later came under AGMA jurisdiction.