Is paying your dues enough? Not if you're sitting on the sidelines, it isn't. Angered by the League of American Theatres and Producers' decision to keep non-active members of the League as "adjunct" members, with fewer privileges than regular constituents, several of the newly adjunct members have banded together and retained legal counsel for a possible lawsuit.
Stephen Wells, generally acknowledged as head of the opposition to the bylaws change, told Playbill On-Line the group had retained Gary S. Redish, of the firm Winne, Banta, Rizzi, Hetherington and Basralian. Interim counsel Tracy W. Young will also "continue as part of the team."
The group's beef is that until this season, all League members had the right to vote for the Tony Awards (and, as such, attend every eligible Broadway show in a given season). From now on, however, a producer who hasn't had some kind of major Broadway or touring production within four years becomes an "adjunct" member, no longer entitled to a Tony vote. They must still pay the same annual dues -- $1,000 -- as active members.
Several of the 127 affected producers refused to renew their memberships with one, David Landay, sending a $1,000 check with the proviso that it not be cashed until the League reverses its decision. "If I'm going to continue to be disenfranchised from Tony voting, please return the check," he reportedly wrote to Jed Bernstein, President of the League. The League has returned some of the checks, along with a form letter, dated Sept. 23, explaining the reasons behind the new policy. The letter stressed that League membership is meant for active producers with recent or current "first class" productions, and that the change was done hewing to "standard procedure and according to the by-laws." Bernstein also noted that those who wished to remain members would be entitled to buy set-aside house seats to the season's Broadway shows.
In a statement, producer Wells wrote, "From our discussions with many disenfranchised League members, they are prepared to fight this unjust act to the last bullet. Clearly, the high-handed nature of the League's act has touched a nerve." "This has never been done in other organizations like this," Wells told Playbill On-Line (Oct. 26). "Not in the Motion Picture Academy, not in the Television Academy. It's unprecedented to chop 25 percent of the membership. And most people who were lopped off are career professionals, not one-shot dilettantes. You can't arbitrarily take someone's status and toss it out the window. It's an insult to do something like this to a David Brown or a George W. George."
Wells, who called recent informal talks with the League "unproductive," also said the rule was unfair because of the sparsity of available Broadway theatres and the cost and travail of putting on a Broadway-level production. "Should the producers of Wit be subject to a four-year rule based on their previous show, because there wasn't a Broadway theatre that would let them in?" he asked.
Wells admitted he'd personally object to any time-frame, "but If the overall membership determined that it should be done, then I'd abide by it. But you can grandfather the people already in, and the rule would affect only new people in the organization. At least they'd know the ground rules going in."
Among other producers whom Wells termed "disenfranchised dissidents" are Gail Berman-Masters (now a TV producer), Tony LoBianco (who co produced his own solo, Hizzoner), and Stephen Friedman, former owner of the 46th Street Theatre.
Other producers reached by Playbill On-Line tended to agree with the League's position and saw the move as a way of clearing out dead wood. John Glines, a producer of Torch Song Trilogy as well as many off off-Broadway, gay-themed works, told Playbill On-Line, "[They] had a list of dropped people, but I declined to sign on. I'm not all that opposed to what happened; I think Broadway is about making money and not art, particularly, and has been for a long time. If it were about art, it'd include off-Broadway. What the League is doing is feeding the road, so presumably, you want a say in what wins the Tony Awards. I think being a voter is a wonderfully prestigious ego-boost. That's about it. The League doesn't do much else if you're not producing."
Continued Glines, "When I first came to New York, I second-acted everything. Last season, let's just say I `first-acted.' I feel obligated to see things, or at least the first act. But I'm not gonna miss [Tony voting] that much. I don't think much of the League anyway. If it all breaks up, that might not be such a bad thing."
The late Irving Siders, whose credits include Dancin', Dreamgirls and the recent Dreamgirls road tour (which did not make it to Broadway), told PBOL, "People have been on [the League] list for 20 years and haven't produced anything. A lot of them should have been thrown out years ago. Just paying your dues doesn't mean anything; they're paying $1,000 to get free tickets at Tony time, but they have as much right to vote for the Tonys as I have to fly to the moon.
"If you don't have a show up for five years or so," continued Siders, "you should be taken off the list. As soon as you do something, you say, `I wanna join the League,' and they put you back on. Period."
Brent Peek, a co-producer of Epic Proportions (at the Helen Hayes Theatre) and thus, like Siders, not affected by the bylaws change, was less inclined to take sides. "If I were in a position where I weren't producing or managing for five years, I'd be out of business anyway," he told PBOL. Peek, who sent in his renewal, admitted he didn't notice the bylaws revision. "I didn't realize there would be a problem. Still, I'd hate to see something like this just across the board. When you have, say, a veteran producer, who's really contributed a lot over the years, he's a valuable member whether or not he's produced anything in the last five years. There should be a way to take that into account."
Stephen Wells told Back Stage he wrote a six-page letter of dissent to the League and stressed that many of the affected adjunct members are "People who inspired me to become a producer in the first place. As Tony voters, all of them are seeing a lot of things they don't want to have to see -- often a couple of dozen plays in a six-week period.... They do it out of a sense of duty.... It's not about the money."
Eric Krebs, a new League member -- thanks to Electra and It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues, said he was too new to the organization to have an informed opinion regarding the structure of its membership. However he did say that "active and adjunct membership is worth exploring, if it's done fairly and logically. $1,000 is not an unfair amount if you're actively involved in producing. But there are `active' members who haven't been involved in theatre in many years. They're only paying the annual fee to get free tickets."
Producing artistic director of Florida's Coconut Grove Playhouse, Arnold Mittelman, told Playbill On-Line that while "certain and exemptions and modifications may be necessary...bylaws are there for a reason; if you don't enforce them, what's the point? Ultimately, members should take an active voice in figuring out what's best for the organization." Mittelman, whose theatre helped bring An Evening With Jerry Herman to Broadway and will be the first stop for the Broadway-bound Finian's Rainbow revisal, comes to New York six or seven times a year to fulfill his obligation as a League member and Tony voter. From his perspective, the issue not yet properly dealt with by the bylaws is regional theatres who develop shows that eventually wind up in New York.
"Maybe there'll be a need for a category for regional theatre directors whose theatres have been instrumental in the development of Broadway bound shows," said Mittelman. "The bylaws really need to take into account regional theatres that have created significant productions and made huge financial contributions to Broadway. It's a lot more than just being a presenter of something that just comes to town for a couple of weeks."
-- By David Lefkowitz