Equity Grievance Claims UK Producer Jumped Gun Announcing Cherry Orchard U.S. Run

News   Equity Grievance Claims UK Producer Jumped Gun Announcing Cherry Orchard U.S. Run Actor' Equity claims that the San Francisco-based producer of The Cherry Orchard, Carole Shorenstein Hays, prematurely announced plans to bring the Royal National Theatre’s UK production of The Cherry Orchard to the West Coast before a possible Broadway run.

Actor' Equity claims that the San Francisco-based producer of The Cherry Orchard, Carole Shorenstein Hays, prematurely announced plans to bring the Royal National Theatre’s UK production of The Cherry Orchard to the West Coast before a possible Broadway run.

Claiming that the producer jumped the gun and violated Rule 3 of Equity’s production contract, the theatrical actors’ union has filed a grievance seeking to block the import of British actors comprising the UK company of The Cherry Orchard. In the UK, The Cherry Orchard stars Vanessa Redgrave and Corin Redgrave. The controversial US engagement would run at San Francisco's Curran Theatre. Producer Hays and the Nederlander Organization own the Curran Theatre. Advertised as part of the "Best of Broadway" series, The Cherry Orchard was announced as part of the upcoming season there.

There had been negotiations on the matter between Equity and producers, but the allegedly premature announcement of the UK import, has “drawn Equity's ire” according to a union statement. News of the controversy has been published widely, including in Variety (May 7-13).

A call to producer Carole Shorenstein Hays was not returned by press time.

Equity must approve the import of foreign actors to the United States and reciprocal arrangements must be made--i.e., one U.S. job made available in England for every U.K. actor who takes a U.S. job here in the States. Even so, transfers are not typically approved except in those situations where an established star or major company is involved. "Obviously, Ms. Redgrave's qualifications are not in question,” explained Equity’s executive director, Alan Eisenberg in a statement. Eisenberg also stated that, "This is not a good way to do business. The producers are already violating the [production] contract, before we've concluded our discussions. In my conversations with Manny Kladitis [would be co-producer on U.S. Cherry Orchard at National Actors Theatre], he mentioned several exchange projects that didn't seem like realistic possibilities. I told him we would not approve The Cherry Orchard unless we had a guarantee of what the exchange project would be, and when it was going to happen."

Equity's spokesperson said that various ideas had been considered as ways of shifting an equal number of employment opportunities for American actors to the U.K. for the period of time that the British cast played in The Cherry Orchard here. "One idea was that Judgment at Nuremberg be exported to the UK," the spokesperson said.

According to a union statement, “Actors' Equity and British Equity renewed the British-American Equity Exchange on May 1, 2001, a joint agreement designed to encourage equal employment opportunities for British and American actors across the Atlantic. The exchange program originated in 1981 and was most recently revised at a conference in London headed by Eisenberg and British Equity director Ian McGarry.

“To hire non-resident aliens or companies of foreign actors under the exchange agreement,” the union statement reads, “a producer must guarantee comparable employment in the U.S. or Britain — defined by the size of the role, whether it is a dramatic or musical production, and length of run — if the producer wishes to employ a non-star alien or company in the other country. The producer must also comply with all federal laws and secure permission from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)."

Equity's spokesperson allowed that the idea of mounting shows and "creating jobs" a continent away just so a company of foreign actors could work here seemed unrealistic. "It's not unrealistic to expect a producer to hire a company of actors in the U.K.," the spokesperson said. "Given the flexibility of the British-American exchange agreement, it is realistic and quite reasonable to expect producers to fulfill an exchange over a period of time. The agreement allows for a period of one year following the closing of the American production. This grace period has been extended on numerous occasions to allow producers to reciprocate in the U.K. We're interested in jobs, not in their money. We are simply concerned with not losing American actors' jobs here."

—By Murdoch McBride