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    Posted July 20, 2006

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Coconut Grove Playhouse Closes

Equity Steps In, Steps Up To Help Members in Florida As Coconut Grove Playhouse Closes

It was Equity to the rescue of its members when the famed Coconut Grove Playhouse in South Florida closed its doors in May, 2006 due to its highly publicized financial problems. With pay checks bouncing, thousands of dollars in hotel bills being charged to members' accounts, and the theatre in turmoil, Equity was able to reassure members and reimburse them with monies from the theatre's bond. Equity Business Representatives in New York, including Senior Business Representative Zalina Hoosein, monitored the situation daily and Southeast Traveling Rep Doug Truelson met with the company.

The saga began Monday, April 10, when LORT Business Representative Beverly Sloan learned that payroll for the previous show hadn't been released. This was quickly followed with information that the current show's weekly payroll would not be forthcoming. More bad news came when Equity staff learned that hotel room bills going back to January, not paid by the theatre, were now being charged to actors who had left a credit card imprint intended solely to cover incidentals. Ms. Hoosein, together with Ms. Sloan and support staff, acted quickly to reconcile employment records submitted by the theatre with payroll records, receipts for transportation and other expenses due the actors according to contractual language. As the team accrued the documentation, the Equity Bond Department prepared checks for distribution to the actors.

"Salary, the hotel room charges, transportation reimbursements, and other expenses, which were either documented by receipts or provided for in the LORT Agreement itself, were paid out of bond," said Ms. Sloan. The final tally of the bond pay-outs, approximately $90,000, covered actors engaged in almost every production in Coconut Grove's 2005-06 season, including seven members of the Sonia Flew company (five actors and two stage managers) in the midst of rehearsal when the theatre's financial troubles became glaringly public.

Equity's Bonding Policy and How It Works
The Equity Bond is one of the Union's cornerstone provisions to protect its members. It has been in place in Equity's contracts for decades, and has been used on numerous occasions to rescue members from defaulting producers or theatres. To learn more about Equity's bonding policy, click here for more information...

Matthew Dellapina was the deputy for the Sonia company, his first time in this position. "Equity's bonding system really proved its value," he said. "The Union was there for us in the midst of total chaos, advising us on how to proceed and supporting and protecting us as the situation at the theatre deteriorated. Thank goodness, we had a Union." Asked, after this initiation under fire, if he would consider being a deputy again, Mr. Dellapina responded: "Absolutely."

Coconut Grove, which operated as an Equity LORT B theatre, was celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2005-06 season. Several recent hurricanes, most notably Wilma in October 2005, contributed to the theatre's growing financial woes. This storm affected sales and marketing, and caused cancellation of an expensive planned transfer to the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale for an extra week of performances. As the production of Sonia Flew got underway and the financial difficulties exacerbated, Lucie Arnaz, star of the production, pledged $50,000 to help defray costs and raised additional monies to enable the show to open. Nevertheless, reporting a $4 million deficit, the theatre's Board of Directors cut short the show's run, let administrative staff go, and forced embattled Producing Artistic Director, Arnold Mittelman, to resign.

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