The good news for Actors' Equity members is their union successfully fought for basic salary increases in the recent League of Resident Theatres (LORT) contract negotiations. The bad news is that the new pact may cost the guild 20 or more jobs.
This according to Variety, which reported July 3 that the Roundabout Theatre Company, one of the largest LORT theatres in the U.S., may cut a planned production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town from its schedule because of increased actors salaries.
"There's a 50-50 chance we won't do it," Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes told Variety. "We're looking at the budget for next year and we may not be able to afford it."
The trade daily reported that LORT's minimum weekly salary for actors has gone up from $728 to $1,000. Equity has not confirmed these numbers. Haimes said the new contract would add $1.2 million to the 2002-03 line up, which includes productions of The Boys from Syracuse, Tartuffe, Miss Julie, Nine and The Look of Love. The Roundabout typically produces one or two large-cast shows a season—plays which, because of their cast requirements, are seldom done on the commercial Broadway stage. Past shows which could be said to fall into this category are Clare Booth Luce's The Women, Stephen Sondheim's Follies and Kaufman and Hart's The Man Who Came to Dinner.
"We can't do the same size productions as we did in the past, which for a theatre like ours that does classics is a problem," Haimes continued. "There are few other places to cut than the size of the production." Mark Brokaw is set to direct Our Town. No official announcement has been made regarding the show's fate.
Negotiations toward a new LORT contract began on Jan. 22. Equity used the talks to fight for a prohibition of "LORT-to Broadway" transfers by LCT and Roundabout.
According to a union representative, Equity has already begun talks with the two theatres, the two biggest non profits in the U.S.
"Equity is seeking to prohibit the use of the [LORT] contract by these companies when they mount productions away from their home theatres," said Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg. "When productions like Follies, Thou Shalt Not and The Invention of Love are A) presented in Production Contract house; B) Tony eligible; and C) are charging Broadway ticket prices, the actors and stage managers must be compensated at Broadway rates."
The Production Contract, which covers all commercial Broadway productions, is considerably more lucrative for union members than is the comparatively economical LORT agreement. Commercial Broadway producers have often complained about having to compete for audiences and Tony Awards with "on-the-cheap" nonprofit Broadway ventures.
Equity also said it would work for new rates of production at the American Airlines Theater and the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, the Broadway-level home bases of the Roundabout and LCT, respectively.
According to the union, Equity recently rejected a bid by Manhattan Theatre Club—another powerhouse nonprofit which has often transferred its Off-Broadway successes, such as Proof, to Broadway houses—to have its projected new home, the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway, fall under a LORT contract. Additionally, Equity has requested that the Center Theatre Group use the Production Contract when it produces at the 2000 seat Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
Should Equity achieve its goal, the ramifications would be far reaching. One almost certain result would be fewer Broadway projects from the Roundabout and LCT. For example, the lavish Follies would very likely have proved financially untenable for the Roundabout under the terms of a Production Contract. Too, LCT's upcoming revival of Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven, with its large cast of veteran actors, probably would have become too expensive.
The details of the new LORT contract are expected to be revealed on July 8.