ASK PLAYBILL.COM: A Question About Artist Pay When Mother Nature Knocks Out Broadway
By Robert Simonson
When Broadway performances go dark due to an act of God, do show people still get paid? We were curious, so we asked.
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Question: When a weather event like Hurricane Sandy prompts the cancellation of Broadway shows, are the actors and crew still paid for lost performances?
Superstorm Sandy, one of the biggest and more destructive weather systems ever to hit the East Coast, made landfall on the New Jersey shore on Monday, Oct. 29. By the time it had moved on, dozens of people had lost their lives in many states, hundreds of trees were down, houses were decimated, large parts of lower Manhattan and waterfront of Brooklyn were flooded, Manhattan below 34th Street had lost power, and subway stations were under water.
A storm of that magnitude usually knocks out Broadway theatres for at least a performance. But that last-mentioned repercussion of the tropical storm — the interrupted subway service — kept Broadway dormant a little longer than usual.
There were scattered cancelled performances between Sunday night and Wednesday night. A city-ordered mass-transit shutdown starting Sunday evening caused The Broadway League to cancel performances for the nights of Sunday, Oct. 28, and Monday, Oct. 29. Following the downtown flooding and continued stalled subways, performances on the busier Tuesday were also cancelled. By Wednesday, Oct. 31, most of Broadway's offerings were up and running again, though a handful remained closed.
So, do cancellations owing to natural disaster mean the artists and crew are out of luck, pay-wise? Playbill asked a couple of the theatrical unions and guilds.
"Equity's Production Contract, which is negotiated with the Broadway League, does not require that the Actors and Stage Managers are paid for a lost performance due to what is termed an 'act of God,'" said Maria Somma, spokesperson for Actors' Equity Association. "However, when Hurricane Irene happened last year, Equity made the request that Equity members be paid and all the shows, with the exception of Rock of Ages, did pay the actors and stage managers. Equity hopes to again work with the producers in the next phase of this challenging and unprecedented situation."
The situation for directors and choreographers, who do not work on shows on a daily basis once it is open, is different.
"The weekly payments to the Directors and Choreographers on Broadway reflect the number of performances in any given week," explained Mauro Melleno, director of contract affairs at Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC). "If the artist is being paid based on a percentage of the gross weekly box office, then the gross is the gross despite the number of shows, but if the artist is being paid a weekly guaranteed amount, then that amount may be prorated based on eight performances in a week. Meaning if there are seven shows in a week, then the Artist is paid 7/8 their weekly amount; if there are nine shows in a week, then the payment is 9/8 the amount."
Playbill has also sought comment from IATSE Local One, the stagehands' union. We did not hear back by press time.
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