October 30, 2003
|ACTORS PACK DUFFY SQUARE IN NEW YORK CITY TO PROTEST NON-EQUITY TOURS|
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Photos by Steve Shevett
Call For Fair Treatment Of Actors And Stage Managers In Touring Shows And Honest Use Of The Broadway Label; Issue To Impact Broadway Contract Negotiations In 2004
Hundreds of actors, stage managers and their allies packed Duffy Square in the heart of the Broadway district in New York City today for a rally sponsored by Actors' Equity Association to protest the increase of non-Equity touring productions and to call for fair wages and work conditions for actors in these shows. The focus of the rally was the current tour of MISS SAIGON, which is produced by Big League Theatricals. Big League has repeatedly ignored the numerous requests by Actors' Equity to negotiate a contract.
"The proliferation of non-Equity shows is detrimental to Equity actors, and to the theater industry," said Alan Eisenberg, Actors' Equity Association Executive Director, noting that 60% of all touring shows are Equity in 2003, down from approximately 90% in 1993. "Not only do the shows impact the number of job opportunities for Equity actors, they undercut the wage and working condition standards that we have fought for on Broadway and on the road. We have tried repeatedly to meet with Big League to discuss a fair and equitable contract, but our efforts have been unsuccessful."
The rally featured an Equity performance of a one-act musical called THE JOBLESS CHRONICLES. The show, which is presented in select cities across the country as a protest of the non-Equity MISS SAIGON and Big League, is built around the true stories of a laid-off steelworker, an 80 year-old textile worker whose plant recently shut down, a restaurant worker from Windows on the World and a fictionalized story of a MISS SAIGON cast member who runs away from the production.
AEA First Vice President Mark Zimmerman emceed the event following an introduction by Broadway and film star Hugh Jackman. Zimmerman delivered a message of support from AEA President Patrick Quinn, who was not able to attend because he is in rehearsals in Philadelphia at the Walnut Street Theatre, for a show opening next week. "Patrick valiantly led us in support of Local 802 this past spring and I assure you he and I are prepared to lead us in next spring's Production Contract negotiations," he said.
Speakers at the rally included New York City Central Labor Council President Brian M. McLaughlin; SAG NY Branch President Eileen Henry and former SAG President Richard Masur; actor Jim Cooney (a dance captain who testified about working for non-Equity producers and their opposition to organizing), AFTRA National President John P. Connolly; and actress Sandy Duncan. Also attending the rally were AFM President Tom Lee, IATSE International President Thomas C. Short, as well as members of the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds and other unions.
Joining the actors and stage managers in the crowd were noted Broadway, film and television celebrities, including: Lucie Arnaz, Kerry Butler, Joanne Camp, Kathleen Chalfant, Thom Christopher, Andre De Shields, Christine Ebersole, Hunter Foster, Elizabeth Franz, Dee Hoty, Bill Irwin, Zeljko Ivanek, Larry Keith, Robert LuPone, David Marguiles, Donna McKechnie, Julie Halston, Mitch McGuire, Michael Mulheren, James Naughton, Denis O'Hare, Roberta Reardon (President, NY Local AFTRA), Tony Roberts, Mary Testa, and Fritz Weaver.
"Across the country, theaters are misleading their subscribers by describing their seasons as "Broadway series" when those seasons include non-Equity tours," said Zimmerman. "It is time for those theaters to stop cheapening the Broadway brand by using it to describe shows that do not compensate the actors, stage managers and all other show personnel as professionals. It is time for Producers to stop the economic bullying of young actors who are trying to build their experience and resumes. And it is time for Producers and Presenters to realize that there is a cost to doing professional theater, and that cost includes fair wages and benefits for ALL theater professionals."
Henry and Masur read a statement from SAG President Melissa Gilbert, who said, "the facts about non-union production are the same for theatre, television and film. Every non-union job is a job stolen from a union performer. Every job exported to another country is a job stolen from union actors in the U.S. Every non-union tour steals many jobs from union members."
The former Dance Captain from the non-Equity tour of THE MUSIC MAN, Jim Cooney, talked about dignity and the right to organize: "It is important for actors to know that all workers in America have this right and can stand together for what they deserve. We all came to realize that it really wasn't a question of talent -- it is about dignity and protection. I worked very hard, went to college, and still continued to study; so, with all of the time I was committing to my career, I wanted to be treated with the respect and professionalism we all deserve. After what I learned during the MUSIC MAN tour, I decided to join Actors' Equity and have since helped to organize another company to become Equity."
"Broadway is what makes New York City special," said AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney. "I'm here on behalf of the 1.5 million union members of New York City, 13 million union members in the United States, and the 40 million men, women and children who live in union households in our country to let you know that we are all standing with the members Actors' Equity in your struggle with non-union touring shows."
Zimmerman especially thanked AFM Local 802 for providing entertainment, as well as Teamsters Theatrical Local 817 and Sound Operating Engineers Local 30 for support.
"The current Production Contract expires next June, and non-Equity tours will be a major issue at those negotiations. Today is the first step in telling the League of American Theatres and Producers that the New York entertainment and labor communities, especially the members of Actors' Equity, care about the road; that touring is an issue that affects us all," added Zimmerman. "The current Production Contract with the League of American Theatre Owners and Producers expires next June, and non-Equity tours will be a major issue at those negotiations. Today is the first step in telling the League of American Theatres and Producers that the New York entertainment and labor communities, especially the members of Actors' Equity, care about the road; that touring is an issue that affects us all, and that we will not continue to allow them to avoid the consequences of their choices." Click here for entire text of the Zimmerman speech.
Actors' Equity will continue to protest MISS SAIGON at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJ-PAC) on Thursday November 6, 2003.