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    Posted February 7, 2011

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New Members in New Works

By Sean Grady

Sean Grady

"Script is the kind of word that sounds edible," my mother has said, "like you can bite right into it." Growing up in a performing family, my mother an actress and my father a ballet dancer, I have always been surrounded by constructive, artistic situations. Eventually, new works were something I was drawn to like a raccoon to the shiny objects in the rubble.

New works are indeed shiny: new, fresh and untouched by another actor's stamp. This is the kind of script that is most bitable-not some revival of THE KING AND I with Yul Brynner expectations. No, we are performing a show that has not been interpreted by actors before. It is an artistically appetizing opportunity for any actor.

However, it is important to keep your business hat on as you splash around in your new character's colors. Know your rights and demand your rights. As Equity members, it is imperative that we have a contract or agreement signed and read thoroughly before we begin rehearsals. It is perfectly fine to sit at a friend's house and read the second draft of their script over coffee without doing this, but if you are in a rented studio with an invited audience, you should probably know better.

"Why is this important?" you might ask. One reason-artistic integrity. You yourself have helped shape this show. In the two original musicals I was part of, I was the first actor to speak some lines and sing some songs, giving the writers a clearer idea of who these characters are in the flesh, not abstract. The first was on a BAT (Bay Area Theatre) contract, and the show was performed in San Francisco and in Sacramento. A "right of first refusal," or the option for the actor to join the company for a subsequent production before the show's owners option a third party, is typical in this situation.

But, when the show moved to New York for a reading, I found this was not the case. The producer only retained one original cast member; according to the contract at that time, he had no legal binding to offer the rest of us our original roles. (At the time of this writing, due to my and my other cast mates' feedback on the BAT contract survey, the BAT contract has been re-negotiated. As a result of that important feedback that loophole has been closed.)

Frustrated, especially since the show's writer found one of my West-Texan line readings so funny that he had asked me to recite it at parties, I still let it go. However, having vested interest as a dance captain and keeper of the show's bible, I learned my lesson. At the very least the producers should have offered me the opportunity to audition, which didn't happen for me or my original cast mates.

When cast in my next new work, produced under a New York Showcase Code, I did my homework due to my previous lesson learned. I confirmed that there was a clause of first rights refusal. A regional theatre in Northern California subsequently produced the show. When hearing this, I contacted the show's writers, expressing my interest. I was told that they were "going ethnic" with my role. I was confused. I had played the role; there was nothing in the script to specify him to be of any particular ethnic origin. When I responded with this, I did not receive a message back. Ultimately, because I had signed the Code, Equity was able to pursue a claim against the theatre and made sure that I got the appropriate buy-out.

In the end, it seemed that the show's creators had already offered the role to another actor. However, due to my staying business-minded, I ended up with several weeks of pay for the production that I was completely entitled to. It was payment for helping create; my character, only referred to as "Man 1" with little back story, was now much more defined and specific, and would not have been had I not been part of the New York premiere.

It's nice to leave your stamp on a role; the bite you took out of that crisp script tastes twice as good.

Sean Grady joined Equity in 2005 and currently lives in New York City. You can follow him on twitter@ActorSeanGrady.

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