Connolly Exits as Equity's Executive Director; Waaser Is Acting Director

By Kenneth Jones
30 Nov 2009

Actors' Equity Association's executive director John P. Connolly has stepped down from his position and will not seek a second term, the union announced on Nov. 30. Carol Waaser has been appointed acting executive director.

In leaving his post before the March 2010 end of his term, Connolly said in a statement, "My experience here at Equity has been an extraordinary and exciting opportunity that has meant a great deal to me as a union leader and member. But these three years have also taught me how much I truly long to return to the stage and screen as an artist. Therefore, I have made the difficult decision to set aside the wonderful sash of Equity office for the uncertain but compelling field of the audition room, the rehearsal hall, the theatre, the sound stage. But the most compelling reason for this decision has been the too frequent and long separations from my lovely wife Bronni, since our primary home is in California and the bulk of my work has been at Equity headquarters in New York. We are meant to be together, and it's become too great a sacrifice to be apart. Simply put, it is immeasurably better to be with Bronni than to have to endure missing her."

He added, "I came home to my parent union as Equity's executive director on a mission with two important elements ó to help the union regroup after the terrible tragedy of my lifelong friend Patrick Quinn's untimely death, and to move forward the process of change and evolution crucial to Equity's ability to survive and thrive in the changing world of theatre and live performance. I believe that I've achieved substantial progress in addressing these challenges and I wish Equity well in the next phase of its growth and success."

Connolly assumed the role of executive director in 2007, "coming to Equity at a vital time in the Unionís history when the sudden passing of Equity president and executive director designee Patrick Quinn shocked both the Union and the theatre industry," according to Equity. During Connolly's tenure, Equity negotiated the Production and LORT contracts, "successfully winning ground-breaking advances in recognition of Actors' intellectual property rights in their images and performances along with compensation for their recording and use." Together with the leadership, "Connolly conducted historic Expanded Regional Board meetings across the country to discuss Equity's strategic direction and priorities." As a result, "Equity broadened its relationship to the national labor movement, initiated a strategic organizing program, and adopted a more activist profile regarding public policies that affect the livelihood of its members, including health care reform, affordable housing, tax reform, human rights and marriage equality."

Equity president Mark Zimmerman said in a statement, "I have known John Connolly since our days as struggling actors and he is a close friend whom I greatly admire. John has brought a steady and progressive leadership to Equity. He has been a strong advocate for change and has provided a great deal of insight and practical knowledge that have positioned Equity to be a strong leader in the industry."

Actors' Equity Association (Equity) represents more than 49,000 professional stage actors and stage managers nationwide.

Waaser assumed her new position as of Nov. 23. She will "direct the collective bargaining process for more than 30 national and regional contracts, oversee the Union's finances and supervise Equity's large professional staff," working closely with the Equity Council, the Union's governing body, to implement national policies and build consensus and entertainment industry support on key issues."

In addition, Waaser will serve as spokesperson for Equity with media, labor, employers and government officials.

A member of the Equity staff since 1983, Waaser most recently served as the Eastern Regional Director (ERD) for 12 years. In that capacity she assisted with the 2008 Production Contract negotiation and was chief negotiator for collective bargaining agreements with Walt Disney World, League of Off-Broadway Theaters and oversaw the negotiations of several other contracts. She was involved in dispute resolutions throughout the region. As the ERD, she supervised a staff of 45 in the New York City and Orlando offices. In her tenure with Equity, Waaser has been a Traveling Business Rep, the Director of Membership Education and Communications, and as a Senior Business Rep, directed organizing efforts for a number of projects.

Prior to joining Equity, Waaser served as the operations manager for the Chicago City Ballet, acted as a company manager and casting director for a number of theatres and as a stage manager for theatre and ballet. Waaser has B.A. from Wilson College and an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama.

The Equity Council will announce a search for a new National Executive Director sometime after the first of the year. Waaser, who was scheduled to retire in February, will remain until a new executive is in place.