The Actors' Equity Council has passed a resolution asking the union's members to boycott the National Broadway Touring Awards (NBTA), the prizes established last year by the League of American Theatres and Producers.
Equity has charged union actors with the following (the capitalization is Equity's): "If you have been nominated, please request that your name be withdrawn from the nomination and the voting process. Please DO NOT ATTEND the awards ceremony in May. Please DO NOT ACCEPT an award if you win."
Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg urged solidarity, but said the resolution was "moral, but not binding."
The League created the NBTAs to honor performances and productions on the road. The voting is audience-oriented and done by theatregores via the internet or by mailing in ballots distributed in the lobbies of participating theatres around the country.
Equity objected to the prizes last year because many of the eligible shows were non-union. Thus, Equity actors would compete directly with non-union performers. The guild's protests resulted in the withdrawal of the event's two hosts, John Ritter and Henry Winkler—both Equity members. The two sides eventually hammered out a compromise concerning the voting process in which awards would be doubled up when the public votes for a winner who happens to be non-Equity. In such cases, the union player with the second highest number of votes is also presented with an award in the same category as the non-union frontrunner. A spokesman for Equity said the new boycott has nothing to do with the voting process or the awards themselves, but is a reaction to producers' increasing use of non-union personnel in national tours of Equity Broadway shows. A non-Equity road show of The Music Man has particularly incensed the union.
"Producers and road presenters continue to present non-Equity tours alongside Equity tours without distinguishing between the two," said Eisenberg in a statement. "Non-union tours are marketed as 'Direct from Broadway,' which competes directly with Equity tours and threatens our livelihood on the road. In the 2000 Production Contract negotiations, Equity's proposal to 'brand' Equity tours was rejected by the League."
The 2002 NBTAs will be held on May 20. On the NBTA website www.nationalbroadwayawards.com, The Music Man was not listed as one of the shows eligible for nomination. The Dodgers, who produced that show and tour, recently left the ranks of the League. A spokesperson for the League said none of the touring shows eligible for this year's awards use non-Equity actors. She added that the shows are going on as scheduled.
—By Robert Simonson