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January 29, 2004

'Aida' won't make Big League

Decision made after org, Actors' Equity failed to reach deal

  Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004


NEW YORK -- "Aida" won't be taking the non-Equity route down the Nile. Big League Theatricals has canceled its upcoming tour of the popular Broadway show by Elton John and Tim Rice, which was set to go out in September.

Big League's Dan Sher said the decision was made after his producing org failed to reach an agreement with Actors' Equity. The tour was projected to run 35 weeks, with receipts estimated between $16 million and $20 million.

In support of the thesp union, the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers will not execute contracts with the producer for its non-Equity tours, including the upcoming "42nd Street," unless Big League signs contracts with Equity.

In the past, SSDC members have worked on such non-Equity tours as Big League's production of "The Music Man," with director-choreographer Susan Stroman at the helm.

"It would be hoped that there will be difficulty finding directors and choreographers of sufficient skill to do the job," said Alan Eisenberg, Equity's exec director.

Sher said the unions' decision would not stop the upcoming "42nd Street" tour, set to go out in October.

"We'll have to find someone else," he said, referring to the show's director and choreographer. "It is sad, after working eight straight years (with SSDC) and being honorable employers, to hire non-union people when we would like to hire union members."

Sher said he had heard rumors of the SSDC decision but had received no official statement.

Fewer work weeks

The proliferation of non-Equity tours has been one of the major issues facing the thesp union. In the 1996-97 season, the number of Production Contract touring work weeks for Equity actors came to 44,000. In the 2002-03 season, the number dropped to 21,000.

Eisenberg said the SSDC decision regarding Big League represented an important show of support.

"We, in turn, will assist SSDC on a number of fronts," he said.

For example, Equity is attempting to arrange a meeting between SSDC and Chicago's Drury Lane Theater/Oakbrook Terrace, which does not have directors and choreographers under SSDC contracts.

In exchange for its support, SSDC secured promises from Equity that its dance captains and stage managers would not fill positions vacated by directors and choreographers.

SSDC exec director Barbara Hauptman said the org told Equity, "If we give up these jobs, you have to give up these jobs. Equity agreed."

The current SSDC action applies only to Big League, which has never had a collective bargaining agreement with the union. SSDC's contracts with such other non-Equity tour producers as Troika and Networks do not expire until 2006.

"When our contracts are up with Troika and Networks, we'll see where the situation is," Hauptman said. "The hope is that the Equity push in this direction can help change the landscape. If not resolved, SSDC has another hard decision to make in 2006."

Hauptman said her org had always enjoyed a good working relationship with Big League.

"It is a bold move for us. We're picking a fight with someone we're not mad at," the exec director said. "But solidarity is the route."

SSDC's contract with the League of American Theaters & Producers expires shortly after Equity's this summer.

Both Equity and SSDC belong to the Coalition of Broadway Unions & Guilds (Cobug), created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Date in print: Fri., Jan. 30, 2004


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