When the Shuberts and Actors' Equity last made headlines together, the union hosted producer Gerald Schoenfeld and actor Patrick Stewart at a hearing concerning the latter's controversial onstage remarks following a performance of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. That matter long resolved, the tables are now turned. This time, it's the Shubert Organization that finds itself hosting a special Equity rally at the Royale Theatre on Sept. 7.
The two-hour rally is being held to generate support among actors in their ongoing strike against the producers of commercials that are broadcast on radio and television.
SAG called the strike against the producers of commercials on May 1 over residual payments to actors for broadcast work and to force the issue of a better royalty system for commercials. SAG also seeks recognition of the commercial value of work presented on the Internet.
An organizer and spokesperson for the Sept. 7 Equity rally, actor Philip Bosco is currently starring at the Royale Theatre in the Tony Award winning Best Play, Copenhagen. Bosco told Playbill On-Line that the rally has been called to specifically help bring Equity's theatre actors onboard in the ongoing SAG commercial strike.
"With the rally on Thursday," Bosco told Playbill On-Line, "we're trying to get members of Equity to understand that it's their hash that's involved in this commercial strike. We will set a terrible precedent if we cave in. You see, you rarely get a union member who is just a member of one union--they're usually members of all three, AFTRA, Equity and SAG. And while there is a tendency for some people in Equity to think they don't necessarily have an interest in this strike, that really is a mistake. In reality, if the unions cave in, there is a ripple effect with all the other unions in terms of health, welfare, pensions and employment." "It's serious business," Bosco said, "the commercial producers are not giving in a bit and they refuse to give in unless we cave in. So, we're going to exert some pressure on the publicity angle. The JPC [Joint Policy Committee, the commercial producers' negotiating entity] is not impressed with ordinary foot soldiers, the 'non-names,' so we're going to gather the actors who generate interest with the press. We'll use our people to go on record and give interviews -- and the corporations [that produce commercials and that use SAG talent] do not want bad publicity. "
Bosco said there has been clear support for the rally effort throughout the theatre community. "We had a meeting a week and a half ago with prominent actors in Equity," Bosco told Playbill On-Line. "We met with Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Richard Dreyfuss, Celeste Holm, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and other leading actors. And the Shuberts have generously allowed us to use the Royale Theatre for about an hour and a half. We expect a considerable number of people from SAG, AFTRA and Equity to attend. "
Bosco implied that the timing of the rally is critical to the prolonged labor struggle. "We've already spent something like $2 million from the strike fund," Bosco said, "but it's not a bottomless pit...we've got to come to some agreement soon. I'm usually a skeptic about a lot of these things, but I've come to believe that this is probably the worst crisis the entertainment unions have faced since they were founded. If they get us to cave in, it could be a terrible blow, almost a death blow. What they want is a buyout, to be able to run commercials in perpetuity without having to pay for play. "
For information on the strike, SAG runs a strike headquarters at (212) 582-6158.
-- By Murdoch McBride