Is paying your dues enough?
That's the question hounding two sides of a fractious internal battle brewing at the League of American Theatres and Producers. More than a hundred members of the League are affected by a recent bylaws change that has taken away their privilege of voting for the Tony Awards.
Until this season, all League members had the right to vote for the Tonys (and, as such, attend every eligible Broadway show in a given season). As reported by Back Stage, the new rule says that a producer who hasn't had some kind of major Broadway or touring production within four years becomes an "adjunct" member, no longer entitled to a Tony vote. They must still pay the same annual dues -- $1,000 -- as active members.
Back Stage reported that many of the 127 affected producers are refusing to renew their memberships with one, David Landay, sending a $1,000 check with the proviso that it not be cashed until the League reverses its decision. "If I'm going to continue to be disenfranchised from Tony voting, please return the check," he reportedly wrote to Jed Bernstein, President of the League.
For other producers, however, the rule is a way of clearing out dead wood. Irving Siders, whose credits include Dancin', Dreamgirls and the recent Dreamgirls road tour (which did not make it to Broadway but may soon start up again in London), told PBOL (Sept. 9), "People have been on [the League] list for 20 years and haven't produced anything. A lot of them should have been thrown out years ago. Just paying your dues doesn't mean anything; they're paying $1,000 to get free tickets at Tony time, but they have as much right to vote for the Tonys as I have to fly to the moon. "If you don't have a show up for five years or so," continued Siders, "you should be taken off the list. As soon as you do something, you say, `I wanna join the League,' and they put you back on. Period."
Brent Peek, a co-producer of Epic Proportions (soon to open at the Helen Hayes Theatre) and thus, like Siders, not affected by the bylaws change, was less inclined to take sides. "If I were in a position where I weren't producing or managing for five years, I'd be out of business anyway," he told PBOL. Peek, who sent in his renewal, admitted he didn't notice the bylaws revision. "I didn't realize there would be a problem. Still, I'd hate to see something like this just across the board. When you have, say, a veteran producer, who's really contributed a lot over the years, he's a valuable member whether or not he's produced anything in the last five years. There should be a way to take that into account."
Stephen Wells told Back Stage he wrote a six-page letter of dissent to the League and stressed that many of the affected adjunct members are "People who inspired me to become a producer in the first place. As Tony voters, all of them are seeing a lot of things they don't want to have to see -- often a couple of dozen plays in a six-week period.... They do it out of a sense of duty.... It's not about the money."
Eric Krebs, a new League member -- thanks to Electra and It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues, said he was too new to the organization to have an informed opinion regarding the structure of its membership, however he did say that "active and adjunct membership is worth exploring, if it's done fairly and logically. $1,000 is not an unfair amount if you're actively involved in producing. But there are `active' members who haven't been involved in theatre in many years. They're only paying the annual fee to get free tickets."
Producing artistic director of Florida's Coconut Grove Playhouse, Arnold Mittelman, told Playbill On-Line that while "certain and exemptions and modifications may be necessary...bylaws are there for a reason; if you don't enforce them, what's the point? Ultimately, members should take an active voice in figuring out what's best for the organization." Mittelman, whose theatre helped bring An Evening With Jerry Herman to Broadway and will be the first stop for the Broadway-bound Finian's Rainbow revisal, comes to New York six or seven times a year to fulfill his obligation as a League member and Tony voter. From his perspective, the issue not yet properly dealt with by the bylaws are regional theatres who develop shows that eventually wind up in New York.
"Maybe there'll be a need for a category for regional theatre directors whose theatres have been instrumental in the development of Broadway bound shows," said Mittelman. "The bylaws really need to take into account regional theatres that have created significant productions and made huge financial contributions to Broadway. It's a lot more than just being a presenter of something that just comes to town for a couple of weeks."
A spokesperson from the League, reached Sept. 9, was not yet ready to comment on the situation, apart from noting that the bylaws change was not so recent, but this was the first time the League had decided to enforce the rule.
-- By David Lefkowitz