Equity and League Begin Negotiations on New Production Contract April 1

By Robert Simonson
March 31, 2004

The biggest backstage show of the spring begins April 1, when Actors' Equity Association, which represents nearly every performer on Broadway, and the League of American Theatres and Producers, which houses and backs the shows that employ those actors, sit down to hammer out a new pact.

The current Production Contract—as the most lucrative union deal in American theatre is called—is due to expire June 27.

The Production Contract governs Equity work not only in Broadway shows, but in national tours. Those road companies will be the major topic of discussion in the coming talks. The union has long been upset over the increase in non-Equity road shows, many of which sprung from Equity Broadway productions, such as Oklahoma! and The Music Man. Union efforts to stop such tours through protests have produced mixed results.

In the months leading up to the talks, both sides girded themselves by corralling allies. The League will team in the talks with non-League producers such as Disney and Dodger Stage Holding in a process call "coordinate bargaining." This strength in numbers strategy was approved by Equity.

Equity recently filed unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board against Dodger Stage Holding, as well as Clear Channel Entertainment, the Nederlander Organization, Equity charged that each had violated the Production Contract—the pact that rules Equity's work in Broadway and touring shows—by engaging the services of NETworks, Troika and Big League Theatricals, all of which produce non-Equity producers. Representatives for the League, Clear Channel, the Nederlanders, the Dodgers and Buena Vista Theatricals Ventures Inc. will all be at the negotiating table.

The union, meanwhile, has spent much of 2004 firing off salvo after salvo in its battle against non-union tours, making its intentions for the contract talks clear. Aside from the National Labor Relations Board filing, Equity recently welcomed the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers' (SSDC) resolution that it "would stand behind Actors' Equity that there should be no non-Equity tours." The society also decreed it would no longer do business with Big League Theatricals on its non-Equity tours of Aida and 42nd Street, unless Big League signed contracts with Equity.

The show of solidarity has arguably already had repercussions. Big League and Equity had been in talks for two months about a tour of Aida. Those discussions have now been abandoned and Big League is not pursuing the tour at this time. However, Dan Sher, executive producer of Big League, told Playbill On-Line that the cancellation was not contingent on SSDC's resolution.

To ensure that SSDC members would not lose non-union tour jobs to Equity member stage mangers and dance captains—a circumstance common in the past, with those Equity rank-and-file then applying for SSDC membership—the Equity Council passed its own resolution "instructing AEA members (who have always been restricted from non-union employment as actors and stage managers) that they can no longer accept employment in any production capacity (such as directors, choreographers, production supervisors etc) in Big League Theatrical productions." The Council also ruled that members must not accept jobs in non-Equity shows produced by Troika and NETworks.

Sticking firm in the memories of both the producers and the union is last year's four-day strike by the musicians union, which was backed by Equity, the powerful stagehands union and several other theatrical guilds. The work stoppage cost millions to Broadway showmen, who would not like to see history repeat itself. The musicians union has said it would support Equity in its talks, the New York Times reported.