Less than a month after levying a $52,214 fine against Sound of Music star Barry Williams for allegedly violating rules and participating in a non-union tour, Actor's Equity is signalling a change in strategy. Seeking to limit (if not preclude) non-union tour launches altogether, the theatre union is now offering providers like Troika, Big League and Networks new contracts for "low-guarantee tours."
As the "non-Equity touring saga," continues, Equity is believed to be addressing the possibility that Cats, Miss Saigon and The Music Man may go out as non-union tours. A call to the publicity office for The Music Man to confirm a non-union tour was referred to Big League. A call to Big League was not returned, but the company's "hold music" featured Meredith Willson's "Seventy Six Trombones," from the score to The Music Man.
The new contracts for "low guarantee tours" mark a profound addition to the strategic profile at Equity and point to something of a paradox; having held the line on an individual case with former "Brady Bunch" star Williams, Equity is now demonstrating its flexibility as an organization. By developing new contracts, the union signals that it can make significant compromises if its fundamental franchise is at stake.
While Cats and Miss Saigon have already enjoyed long-term Equity runs, the prospect of The Music Man coming out of the box as a non-union tour reportedly has the union on tenterhooks. Such a tour would mark the first time in a while, if not ever, that a major successful Broadway show has gone on to tour non-Equity direct from Broadway. The Music Man is currently running at 65 percent capacity according to the League's statistical report for the week ending Feb. 11.
Saying that Equity's leadership is "very concerned" about the issue, a source said the union's governing council has just approved "two new touring contracts for low-guarantee tours" which are being offered to Troika, Big League and Networks "to prevent the non-union tours from happening." Last month, non-union producer Troika issued a statement concerning Equity's depiction of the circumstances leading to the Barry Williams' fine over Sound of Music, as well as the union wages that were being allegedly lost due to his involvement with the non-Equity show. "It costs over $2,600 a week to put a single actor on stage," the statement read. "That comes to an annual compensation package of over $135,000 bare minimum, no matter what the size of the roll. Yet, Equity condones numerous other contracts with compensation at less than half this amount. Equity's treatment of the Sound of Music production is untenable and has made it impossible for the producers to employ their membership. The have no one to blame but themselves."
Still another Troika statement issued last month indicates that "Actors' Equity has numerous performer contracts tailored to different situations; many of which sanction salaries well below the minimums paid on this production [Sound of Music]. The union has refused to differentiate between a 30-week tour such as ours and the 15-year runs of the mega musicals that have recouped their investment many times over. This show has a very large cast and an expensive physical production. Although we have asked repeatedly, the union has refused to grant meaningful concessions."
Equity continues its informational picket of Troika's Sound of Music tour, and has staff on location in San Antonio for that purpose at this writing.