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American bans work with ‘Big Three’ non-union producers

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American Equity took another step forward in its battle against non-union tours with a decision by the Equity council forbidding any of its members to work on non-union productions produced by Troika, NETworks and Big League Theatricals – the ‘Big Three’ companies when it comes to presenting non-union works.

While Equity has never allowed its members to work in non-union productions as actors or stage managers, this recent decree will prevent these groups from employing Equity members as directors, choreographers, production supervisors, dance captains, or in any other production job. The ruling takes effect immediately and any union member found in violation of this edict will face the possibility of a fine and expulsion from the union.

At the same time, the Society of Stage Directors and Chorographers has announced that its members will no longer work on any non-Equity production produced by Big League Theatricals. The SSDC has contracts with NETworks and Trioka running through 2006 but has never had a formal agreement with Big League, instead working out arrangements on a show-by-show basis. 

Equity is trying to arrange a meeting between SSDC and the management of Chicago’s Drury Lane Theatre/Oakbrook Terrance, which does not have an agreement with SSDC and is currently on that union’s strike list. Equity also has pledged that none of its members will take any jobs that have been vacated by SSDC personnel.

David Sher, executive producer of Big League Theatricals, told The Stage: “It’s unfortunate that [the SDDC], with whom we’ve had a wonderful relationship over the last eight years or so, has suddenly decided to prohibit its members from accepting work from us.” He added that his company would have to search for an alternative source of employees. “If history has proven anything in the theatre, it is that people want to work. I’m sure in this case when the opportunities arise, the pool of creative talent will make itself known.” 

Two Big League projects affected by the SSDC decision are the planned upcoming tours of 42nd Street and Disney’s Aida. SSDC President Pamela Berlin noted: “SSDC and Actors’ Equity share a commitment to ensure that our members have a good chance to make a living in the theatre. [Each union] working together on this and other fronts is the most effective way to achieve this common goal.”

These recent moves by the unions can be considered a preemptive strike in their upcoming contract negotiations with the League of American Theatres and Producers. The subject of non-unions tours is expected to be a major, and potentially volatile, issue. According to Equity, in 1993 approximately 10% of all road tours were non-union. Today that figure stands at 40%, with many of the non-union tours going into major markets that were once totally under Equity’s jurisdiction.  

However, taking into account the ever-increasing costs of mounting a Broadway tour and with Equity contracts usually one of the biggest expenses for producers, especially where big musicals are concerned, it is unlikely the League will be willing to do away with non-union vehicles, which are becoming more and more a major source of revenue. 

AEA’s contract with the League expires on June 27, with the SSDC’s agreement ending shortly thereafter. Both unions have a combined total of approximately 50,000 members who work on Broadway, the road and in theatres across the United States.

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