Actors' Equity Association and the New England Area Theatres reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract that will effect 14 Boston-area professional theatres, Equity announced April 9.
The new Equity-NEAT contract will be submitted to the Eastern Regional Board of Equity's Council on April 23 for ratification. The NEAT producers will meet within the next two weeks to vote to ratify the new agreement. Once approved, the contract will be retroactive to March 3, 2002 and will remain in effect until Labor Day 2005.
The following Equity theatres will now operate under the Equity-NEAT contract: Boston Playwrights Theatre, Foxborough Regional Center for the Performing Arts, Gloucester Stage Company, Jewish Theatre of New England, Lyric Stage, Lyric West, New Repertory Theatre, Nora Theatre, The Publick Theatre and the Wellfleet Harbor Actors' Theatre.
Four previously-non-Equity theatres — Boston Theatre Works, Coyote, SpeakEasy Stage Company and the Sugan Theatre — will also produce under the new pact.
Major changes in the new contract include: • For the first time, the agreement will be codified as its own separate rulebook, rather than as a rider to the Small Professional Theatres Contract, which many theatres used in the past.
• Open Auditions for Equity members for each individual production in a theatre's season, including musicals.
• Nine new salary categories based on the number of performances per week and the number of total work hours, including rehearsals, performance time, photo and costume calls, etc.
• Salary range from $176 (actor) and $211 (stage manager) to $445 (actor) and $534 (stage manager). There will be a cost of living increase in the second and third year of the agreement.
• Actors will receive full health benefits and Equity pensions.
• In order to enable large cast shows, the agreement has a more flexible non-pro ratio, which will not cost any Equity jobs.
• The theatres have agreed to the Environ stage smoke and fog guidelines.
• New EEO and non-discrimination language.
• Increased stage management staffing — assistant stage managers will be required when there is a cast of 10 or more, or an Equity chorus.
Equity's chief negotiator was senior business representative Rick Berg, who was assisted by Thomas Kaub. "This was a very productive negotiation and I'm particularly pleased with the increasing number of professional theatres in the Boston area, the growth in work weeks for our members, and new opportunities for Boston theatregoers," Berg said.
"This contract has grown from a little local six-theatre thing to a major local contract," Berg told Playbill On-Line. All the theatres in NEAT are in Massachusetts and are not-for profit companies, but other New England companies could conceivably join into that contract, Berg said.
"We would entertain the idea of theatres in Southern New Hampshire and Rhode Island as well," Berg told Playbill On Line. "In that market, actors pretty much cross those [state] lines to go to work. A Boston actor doesn't think much about going to in Providence, for instance."
NEAT has had a collective relationship with Equity for six years. Some of the previously non-Equity companies occasionally had guest contracts with Equity.
Rick Lombardo, president of NEAT, and producing artistic director of New Repertory Theatre headed NEAT's negotiating team. "These negotiations created a very positive atmosphere for the production of professional theatre in the Boston area, and will allow our member producers greater flexibility in the type of programming they can produce within this agreement," Lombardo said in a statement. "This contract is a real win-win for our member theatres and the local professional acting community."
— By Kenneth Jones