In 2001, Broadway saw Lincoln Center Theater productions of Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love and the musical Thou Shalt Not, and the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.
If Actors' Equity had its way, none of those productions would have happened — not, anyway, under a League of Resident Theatres contract, which was employed by all three shows. On Jan. 22, the acting union and representatives of LORT will begin negotiations for a new pact, at which Equity will fight for a prohibition of "LORT-to-Broadway" transfers by LCT and Roundabout.
According to a union representative, Equity has already begun talks with the two theatres, the two biggest non profits in the U.S.
"Equity is seeking to prohibit the use of the [LORT] contract by these companies when they mount productions away from their home theatres," said Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg. "When productions like Follies, Thou Shalt Not and The Invention of Love are A) presented in Production Contract house; B) Tony eligible; and C) are charging Broadway ticket prices, the actors and stage managers must be compensated at Broadway rates."
The Production Contract, which covers all commercial Broadway productions, is considerably more lucrative for union members than is the comparatively economical LORT agreement. Commercial Broadway producers have often complained about having to compete for audiences and Tony Awards with "on-the-cheap" nonprofit Broadway ventures. Equity also said it would work for new rates of production at the American Airlines Theater and the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, the Broadway-level home bases of the Roundabout and LCT, respectively.
According to the union, Equity recently rejected a bid by Manhattan Theatre Club—another powerhouse nonprofit which has often transferred its Off-Broadway successes, such as Proof, to Broadway houses—to have its projected new home, the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway, fall under a LORT contract. Additionally, Equity has requested that the Center Theatre Group use the Production Contract when it produces at the 2000 seat Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
Should Equity achieve its goal, the ramifications would be far-reaching. One almost certain result would be fewer Broadway projects from the Roundabout and LCT. For example, the lavish Follies would very likely have proved financially untenable for the Roundabout under the terms of a Production Contract. Too, LCT's upcoming revival of Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven, with its large cast of veteran actors, probably would have become too expensive.
The Roundabout declined to comment on the negotiations. LCT did not respond by press time.
Talks will continue until Jan. 26 and then resume Feb. 25-March 3.
—By Robert Simonson