In a meeting that began at 3 PM and ran to 7:30 PM Nov. 5, the Council of Actors' Equity, the actors' union, voted to delay the process of ratification for the new Equity contract. This comes in response to what was perceived as a mass firing hitting the cast of Broadway's Les Miserables by producer Cameron Mackintosh.
Twelve actors are being replaced, with a number of others being re-cast and re-approved by Mackintosh and director John Caird.
The Council had approved the new contract for sending to those members who've worked under the old contract, for ratification. That mailing will now be indefinitely delayed.
Asked whether delaying the ratification process would hurt Actors' Equity members as much or more than it would help them (since new contracts usually come with raises, better job security, etc.), Helaine Feldman noted that any changes in the new contract would, as usual, be retroactive, probably dating back to the time of the expiration of the previous contract on June 29, 1996. She also pointed out that the contract process is generally a lengthy one anyway, implying that a delay at this point isn't exactly earth-shaking.
Les Miserables cast members were at the Equity meeting to deal with other issues that surround what's been dubbed "the Miz Massacre." Equity press representative Helaine Feldman wouldn't comment on the issues under further discussion, but she did confirm that Alan Eisenberg, Actors' Equity's executive secretary, came under attack because he apparently had an inkling cuts were going to hit Les Miz but didn't inform the membership. According to his story in the New York Post, Ward Morehouse was told by a Les Miz actor that Eisenberg DID warn Equity president Ron Silver that firings were coming, but Eisenberg really didn't know the extent of the cuts. Helaine Feldman told Playbill On-Line that despite the tough grilling for Eisenberg in the meeting, the Council took a unanimous vote of support for him. Mid-afternoon, Nov. 6, Actors' Equity Association released a statement confirming what Playbill On-Line had reported earlier: "The Actors' Equity Council has endorsed unanimously Alan Eisenberg, Executive Secretary, in his dealings with the producers of Les Miserables. Mr. Eisenberg acted in consultation with members of the Council and in accordance with provisions in the Production (Broadway) contract.
"The Council yesterday also vowed to work with the cast of the show and meet with the Mackintosh organization to discuss a resolution to the announced cast changes. The Council also asked the Executive Secretary to arrange a meeting with The League Of American Theatres & Producers to discuss the termination provision in the Production Contract.
"Further actions and discussions of the Council on this matter, including ratification of the Production Contract, are pending the completion of those discussions."
The most recent news, as of 4:45pm, Nov. 6, is that Alan Eisenberg was still meeting with Alan Wasser, general manager of the Broadway and U.S. touring productions of Les Miserables.
Equity press rep Helaine Feldman again waved off the idea of Equity calling a strike over the issue, as had been reported by CBS radio news.
In his story on the Les Miz shakeup for Variety, Greg Evans got a clearer picture of the controversy from Alan Eisenberg, who told him that on Sept. 21, Cameron Mackintosh viewed at the production and commented that a few of the actors looked too old for their roles. Nevertheless, it came as a shock to Eisenberg when Alan Wasser came back Oct. 24 and announced the wave of layoffs. Equity members' anger at Eisenberg stemmed from his knowing this information three days before they were told -- on Oct. 27.
There's also a sense that Wasser and Mackintosh used the Just Cause clause in the Equity contract as a loophole. Had they fired an actor for being, say, chronically late, the actor could then fight that decision in arbitration. If the actor won, he would be entitled to a maximum of $17,150 recompense. The $25,000 paid by Mackintosh to the fired performers is 50% higher than that figure, yet -- in an admittedly expensive way -- skirts the whole process of firing for just cause.
As of Thursday, Nov. 6, 2:30pm, Equity press rep Helaine Feldman noted that Eisenberg was still meeting with Wasser ("I just saw them a half hour ago"). She also mentioned it would be unlikely that any further news or press releases would come from the Equity office until meetings were finished and Equity had come up with a full, official response to the Les Miz situation.
Playbill On-Line asked Phil Smith, President of the Shubert Organization for his thoughts on the whole situation, since Shuberts, too, would be affected by any contract changes. "I have absolutely no comment on that," was his terse reply.
For background on this controversy, please see Playbill On-Line's previous story on the Les Miserables firings: "Equity Calls Meeting on Les Miz Firings Nov. 5."