It's an expensive new world for New York City's Lincoln Center Theater and Roundabout Theatre Company, but a more lucrative one for Broadway thespians.
The League of Resident Theatres (LORT) contract recently approved by Actors' Equity's council will up performers' salaries at those two companies' home theatres on Broadway by an average of more than 50 percent over the next three years. The bump affects actors pay at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre and Studio 54 and LCT's Vivian Beaumont Theatre — all Broadway venues operated by the respective troupes. Also involved is the Biltmore Theatre, future Broadway playing ground for Manhattan Theatre Club.
More significantly, the pact will also require Roundabout and LCT ventures which originate at Tony-eligible houses other than the nonprofits' home bases to operate under the Broadway Production Contract—the agreement that rules every commercial play and musical on Broadway.
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. All three began life at commercial Broadway houses not owned and operated by the nonprofits, and, under the former LORT settlement, were produced for much less than if they had been the work of for-profit producers.
The Roundabout has already announced two 2002-03 titles scheduled to open in Broadway theatres other than the AA: the musical Nine and Miss Julie, starring Natasha Richardson and Philip Seymour Hoffman, set for the Longacre Theatre. It is not inconceivable that the Roundabout will opt to shift these productions back to the AA, or stage them Off-Broadway, rather than pay the extra monies inherent in a Production Contract. Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes has already sounded off about the detrimental effect of the pumped up LORT basic salaries. Haimes said he may cut a planned 2002 2003 production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, which has a large cast, from the company's schedule. "There's a 50-50 chance we won't do it," he told Variety. "We're looking at the budget for next year and we may not be able to afford it... We can't do the same size productions as we did in the past, which for a theatre like ours that does classics is a problem."
Actors compensation will leap 57 percent at the American Airlines and 48 percent at the Vivian Beaumont over the course of the three-year agreement, resulting in a $1,000 minimum paycheck at both stages. In addition, if a Roundabout or LCT home-stage show extends, as they often do, the mounting will now instantly switch over from the LORT to a Production Contract.
Equity's executive director, Alan Eisenberg, said in a prepared statement, "Because of the dismal economic climate and funding cuts since the September 11th attacks, LORT came to Equity with proposals for rollbacks and freezes in several areas. We successfully resisted these attempts. Although we did not achieve all of our goals, we have made significant gains in many areas."
The even grand a week represents 75 to 80 percent of a thespian's pay under a Production Contract, according to Equity information. The $1000 minimum also applies to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
The fact that the Roundabout and Lincoln Center could produce on Broadway on less than typical budgets has long been a bone of contention for the unions and commercial producers alike. Broadway moneymen have often complained about having to compete for audiences and Tony Awards with "on-the-cheap" nonprofit ventures.
Actors, meanwhile, have long contended — often privately for fear of not working — that nonprofit New York companies charge Broadway-level prices and can earn Tony Awards important to marketing for their organizations, but do so on the sweat of actors who aren't making as much as their colleagues in a show at the "commercial" house next door.
Months ago, before the LORT talks began in earnest, Equity 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. MTC's Stage I and Stage II spaces are under the Off-Broadway (A) and (C) contracts.
Equity has also put to a stop another Roundabout practice frequently criticized by the guild: the use of non-union actors in some roles. By 2005, non-union perfomers will disappear from the American Airlines. They are not permitted at all at Studio 54.