Recently, however, the union came up with a very 21st-century solution to the ongoing problem.
In September, Equity launched an ad campaign directed not at producers or particular productions, but at the public. And it is reaching out to those theatregoers through social media portals like Facebook and Twitter.
“It was born out of some really out-of-the-box thinking by the staff and leadership of the union, as we considered how touring should happen and how we should participate in touring,” explained Mary McColl, the union’s executive director.
“We know the people we can talk to: our bargaining partners and producers,” she continued. “But there are a whole other group of people who are attached to the touring industry that we don’t have a direct relationship with, most exclusively the presenters.”
The tag line of the campaign is "Ask If It's Equity." If the campaign works, that question will be on the lips of every ticketbuyer who approaches a box office at any touring house outside New York. And that feedback would theoretically get back to the presenters, who would then be more likely to book Equity shows. According to the union, there are 26 Equity tours of Broadway shows currently playing around the nation. While the union doesn’t have a set mechanism to track the number of non-Equity tours, it is estimated that the number lies between 18 and 20—a not insignificant figure.
Chicago is actually not one of the great offenders in this arena. Most of the tours in the Windy City, at present, are union. Nevertheless, the town’s Equity leadership asked for the campaign to begin there.
“At this moment in time, the Chicago market, til the end of this year anyway, has more Equity touring than non-Equity touring on their market,” said McColl. “We wanted to bring attention to that as well.”
“Ask If It's Equity” ads on the union’s Facebook page link to a website, titled IsItEquity.org, that lists Equity and non-Equity touring productions currently playing in Chicago. In addition, Equity has been tweeting their message (leading not only to numerous retweets, but to some heated Twitter arguments) and also contacting ticketbuyers through a direct mailer. The program does not involve traditional ads in newspapers or magazines.
While Equity has enlisted the help of a marketing consultant to analyze impressions on social media, “the bulk of the work is in-house,” said McColl. “If we determine we’re going to broaden this and go to other touring markets, which would be the intent, based on whether we deem this to be a successful campaign, then we would need some external help.”
Additional expenditures would have to be approved by the Equity Council.
“I think it can have a significant impact on a theatre community and how it sees traveling theatre as it comes to their community,” said McColl.