PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 22-28: Union Doings

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 22-28: Union Doings
 
Lots of union news this week. The most important bit was the declaration of a new agreement, effective immediately, between the Dramatists' Guild and the Public Theater.
Nick Wyman
Nick Wyman Photo by Matthew Blank

Under the pact, the nonprofit theatre will not collect any subsidiary royalties from a production until the playwright has earned a minimum of $75,000 in licensing fees. If a work does not generate the sum within ten years, the agreement will expire and the Public loses it stake in any future subsidiary rights.

The new agreement is retroactive through all productions presented on the Public main stage through 2008. The two organizations have been in discussions detailing subsidiary rights for over a year. The Public declined to comment on the terms of their previous producing agreement.

In recent years, the Dramatists' Guild has worked hard to free its members from injurious arrangements with powerful nonprofit theatres, in which the companies laid claim to a goodly chunk of future royalties on new plays that the theatres helped to first produce. Earlier this season the Roundabout Theatre Company announced that it would completely forgo any claim to royalties from living playwrights whose work is produced in their Off-Broadway venue, the Laura Pels Theatre, unless the production was extended for more than 18 weeks, at which point the terms were up for negotation.

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Over at Actors' Equity, the stage actors' union, Nick Wyman, an actor and long-time Equity councillor, was elected president. Wyman, a member since 1974, has served on several production contract negotiating teams and is the chair of the Alien Committee. He has also been a Pension and Health Fund Trustee for the last ten years. Wyman will have his hands full. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that The American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents dancers and singers at companies including New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera, is trying to make an end run around Equity, hoping to wrest control from Equity over performers in many Broadway musicals. Last week, the Journal reported, "AGMA sent a letter to the Associated Actors and Artistes of America, a federation of entertainment unions in the AFL-CIO, asking that AGMA be given jurisdiction over any musical in which two-thirds of the performers sing and dance, but do not speak lines. In his request, AGMA national executive director Alan Gordon described the current standards as "obsolete." "We believe that those standards need to be modernized so as to reflect the world within which our respective unions now represent performers," Gordon wrote.

Naturally, Equity didn't take kindly to the overture. "He doesn't understand the complicated nature of Broadway," Equity's acting executive director Carol Waaser said. "Nobody is just a singer or just an actor. Anybody in a musical has to be able to do it all. You can't separate them out."

Gordon said his request was prompted by his belief that AGMA should represent the performers in American Idiot, the rock musical adapted from the album by Green Day, because most of the performers only sing and dance.

That crazy rock music. Always stirring up trouble.

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The upcoming Broadway production of David Mamet's two-character A Life in the Theatre will play the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, currently the home of A Behanding in Spokane, which ends its run June 6. Previews will begin Sept. 17 with an official opening date to be announced.

Meanwhile, David Hirson's 17th-century-set satire La Bête — another play about actors — will begin Broadway previews at the Music Box Theatre Sept. 23.

Downtown, Michael McKean, last seen on Broadway in Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, will join the long-running Off-Broadway production of Our Town as The Stage Manager in June. The show has been at the Barrow Street Theatre since February 2009, and has run longer than any of the five Broadway incarnations of the Thornton Wilder play.

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Ken Ludwig
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Where would playwright Ken Ludwig be without Lend Me a Tenor? A whole lot poorer, that's for sure. Ludwig's 1989 hit comedy — his best known work by a country mile; it has been translated into 16 languages and produced in more than 25 countries — is currently enjoying a starry revival on Broadway. And this week it was announced that a previously reported musical version of the farce (adaptors Peter Sham and Brad Carroll are doing it) will begins a pre-West End run at the UK's Theatre Royal, Plymouth. It will begin performances there Sept. 24 for a run through Oct. 6, prior to an anticipated West End transfer in the fall, to a theatre to be announced. Directed by Ian Talbot and produced by Martin Platt and David Elliott in association with Eileen and Allen Anes, it will have a cast of 27 — far larger than what the play requires — which will be led by Matthew Kelly, Damian Humbley, Michael Matus and Sally Ann Triplett.

Will the show eventually come to Broadway. Who knows? But, remember, the original play version of Lend Me a Tenor premiered in the West End at the Globe Theatre in 1986.

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Critics aren't overly loved within the theatre community. But Michael Kuchwara, a steady presence on the aisle as a longtime theatre critic for the Associated Press, seems to have been the exception. Kuchwara died on May 22. Since his passing, many testimonials to the man have been penned, all mentioning his kindness, genuine love for the theatre and the esteem and affection with which people regarded him. On Tuesday night, the lights were dimmed on Broadway for a minute, a rare tribute that is usually reserved for theatre artists.

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