On Monday of this week, Red Bull Theater, the New York group that specializes in Jacobean bloodbath dramas (think Shakespeare, but gleefully less tasteful), was supposed to be online. The company had announced that they would be reconvening their company from their 2015 production of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore to read the play — unproduced, unrehearsed, Zoom-style aesthetic — and livestream it. Their normal Monday night series, Revelation Readings, was on indefinite suspension because of the coronavirus, and this free Facebook and Vimeo teleconference event was meant to engage their audience, revive spirits, and honor John Ford’s zippy, 400-year-old incest plot. “Love me or kill me, brother!” That sort of stuff.
But last Thursday, the union Actors’ Equity emailed to tell them that they were in breach of their agreement. A business representative from AEA wrote, “I want to reach out and remind you that the Revelation Reading agreement has a prohibition on recording and this wouldn’t be allowed under the terms of that agreement.” The Red Bull folks were flummoxed: It wasn’t a recording and it wasn’t a Revelation Reading, but still Equity had the power to shut it down. Some frantic emails over the weekend and phone conversations on Monday didn’t put the situation right. They were offered terms (paying the actors’ salary and health payments) that, artistic director Jesse Berger says, “were extraordinary for a company of our size — they were prohibitive.” Red Bull rejected those terms. On Monday at 5:30 p.m., the company had to announce that the free event, scheduled for just two hours later that night, was canceled.