October 30, 2003
MARK ZIMMERMAN, Actor and First Vice-President, AEA|
Actors' Equity Association
Rally, Duffy Square, NYC
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
President Patrick Quinn has asked me to tell you he regrets not being able to be here today, but he's currently in rehearsals for a show at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. Patrick valiantly led us in our 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.
We're here today because our work on the road is evaporating due to some producers lack of concern for the talent that audiences come to see. And I have one question for the producers of non-Equity tours: where's the money?
Last month, at Boston's Wang Center, the top ticket price for the non-Equity tour of MISS SAIGON was $75, with a minimum actor salary of $450/week. In the same theater, the top ticket price for the Equity Production Contract tour of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE was $78, with a minimum actor salary of $1,354/week. So, where's the money? Not in the pockets of those non-Equity actors and stage managers who sleep at least two to a room and often travel on their only day off for months on end - and yes, who have even been asked to load sets and costumes into a theater.
We're here today because non-Equity tours have reached a 40% saturation in the major markets. This not only impacts on our ability to find work, but it severely impacts Equity's Pension and Health funds. Fewer shows on contract means fewer payments into the funds - and we all know how serious that is. Just look at the news - health insurance is skyrocketing. Without jobs, actors join the millions of Americans unable to find affordable, or any, health insurance -- a massive problem that is affecting every theater professional.
This is all happening in the midst of an economic connection between Broadway and the road that is stronger than ever. Producers believe there is more money to be made on the road than on Broadway. They have developed many cost-cutting strategies - including producing shows outside union jurisdictions and licensing to non-Equity Producers - that make road profits greater and quicker to recoup than the money made here on Broadway. When they license directly to non-Equity producers, the Equity Producers directly avoid their obligations under the Production Contract. Do they expect us to really believe this isn't a flagrant attempt at union-busting? Come on.
To add insult to injury, these non-Equity tours play a week or more in our major markets - the non-Equity tour of MISS SAIGON, besides playing at the Wang Center in Boston and the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia, will be playing next week at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center just minutes away in Newark! NJ-PAC advertises itself as "Broadway without the hassle of the Hudson" - I ask you, where's the Broadway in a non-Equity tour?
And let's not be na´ve, producers are savvy. Their strategy is to increase pressure on Equity to reduce terms without economic justification. But why should actors, stage managers, musicians, stagehands, wardrobe, and other show personnel bear the brunt of some Producers' lack of conscience? We shouldn't - and if we continue to stand together, I can promise you that we won't.
Clearly, producers and presenters forget that we are also consumers. We have the same expenses as any other consumer, and without the protections provided by a union, the jobs they believe pay a living wage don't allow us to pay our expenses. We are not asking for charity, just fair wages and benefits for the talent and skill we have taken years to perfect and that audiences pay to see.
Across the country, theaters are misleading their subscribers by describing their seasons as "Broadway series" when those seasons include non-Equity tours.
- 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.
- 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!
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; and that we cannot and will not continue to allow them to avoid the consequences of their choices. And you know what? The Producers out there better be listening."