Actors Equity continues its “informational picket” campaign to inform theatre patrons about the non-union status of Troika Production's The Sound of Music. After a successful demonstration in Pittsburgh in November, Equity plans similar actions in Cincinnati and Cleveland aiming to bird dog the show with its “non-strike” public awareness campaign.
In Pittsburgh, theatre patrons arriving to see the show were made aware that Troika’s production was a non-Broadway element in a Broadway subscription series.
The popular non-union show is produced by SFX and has become a focus of Equity activity following a highly publicized entanglement between the show’s lead, former “Brady Bunch” star Barry Williams, and the union. Williams wavered over doing the show initially but later opted for (diminished) financial core status with Equity, which essentially led to his current confrontational status in favor of doing the non-union production.
Williams and his spokesperson have maintained that the actor meant no harm in taking the Troika job and took financial core status so that he wouldn’t be a full-fledged member working in violation of union rules. Seeking to set an example, Equity says Williams will “face a disciplinary hearing later this year, which may result in fines and suspension. “
At this time, entertainment labor relations are making headlines for a number of reasons. The pressure to perform economically is motivating management like never before. Union talent is also more sophisticated about intellectual property rights and perpetual revenue streams. And both sides are being forced to come to terms over the commercial reality of the Internet. Following the Screen Actors Guild commercial strike this year, and with a Writers Guild strike anticipated next summer, Equity is clearly posturing, hoping to build the strongest profile it can with its membership and with its union brethren at SAG, AFTRA, the AFM and other talent/performer unions. In fact, one of the lasting results of the SAG commercial strike is that talent union members say they have a renewed sense of unity and feel the need to cooperate across the board. Reversing its more isolationist position and reaching out to other unions was critical to SAG in 2000: On Sept. 27, IATSE’s Tom Short appeared before the full negotiating committees from SAG and the commercial advertisers and pledged his union’s support for the actors’ picket lines——many felt this was a critical turning point in those negotiations.
As reported earlier, some 50 Equity actors turned out for the initial Troika demonstration in Pittsburgh and distributed fliers to patrons and passersby. The Pittsburgh Tribune ran a front page story on the demonstration. “It went great,” said Equity spokesperson David Lotz. “It was never intended as a work stoppage, but rather a public awareness effort.”
According to Equity, “Protesters peacefully handed out handbills and carried signs, proclaiming GREG BRADY IS A SCAB and THIS SOUND OF MUSIC IS NOT A BROADWAY SHOW. They were joined by Equity President Patrick Quinn, who flew in from Equity national headquarters in New York to help handbill. ‘I am delighted with the turn-out and support from our local membership,’ proclaimed Quinn, who also thanked representatives from AFTRA, SAG, the musicians union and IATSE Local #3.”
Troika’s The Sound of Music is the single non-union presentation in the SFX "Broadway Series" this season. Actors Equity’s informational picket against the show coincided with the production’s Pittsburgh's Benedum Theatre opening on Nov. 21.
Featured in the Sound of Music cast are Barry Williams, Jessica Murphy, Amy Ross, Emily Herring, Gaelen Gilliland, Jennifer Avery, Fred Armstrong, Stefani Miller, Erin Braithwaite, Jason Slattery, Michaela Tomchow, Nicholas Druzbanski, AJ Luca, Caset McIntyre, Alexa Campbell, Warren Freeman, Sasha Wexler, Brittany Pixton, Joe Dodd, Tim Carroll, Leslie Forell, Richard Ercole, Amy Ross, Sasha Wexler, Don Adkins, Shawn Pennington, Melissa Calabrese, Chris Carfizzi, Sean McIntyre and Danielle Campbell.
The Sound of Music played in Ft. Myers' Barbara Mann Theatre , Memphis' Orpheum Theatre, Jacksonville's Moran Theatre and New Orleans' Saenger Theatre prior to the Pittsburgh picket on Nov. 21.
A recent Pittsburgh Tribune Review article by Alice Carter pointed to the fact that audiences are buying Sound of Music tickets as part of a Broadway Series and paying prices equivalent to those being charged for union shows.
"The theatregoer is buying a quote Broadway package end quote," explained the Equity source, "but the show they're seeing, except for Barry Williams, features talent that has probably never been on Broadway before. We see this as a marketing and quality issue."
—By Murdoch McBride