UPSET WITHIN THE ACTORS EQUITY COMMUNITY…
I know most of the readers of this blog are on their way to being professional actors, so this might not apply to exactly where your at in your career at the moment, but since (I hope) most of you are aspiring to be members of the Actors Equity Association, I thought it was important to address this crazy storm that seems to be brewing.
Here's my quick recap of what's been happing, as I've seen it, and a few links to other articles explaining their sides of the issues. (I'm addressing only how this affects the actors in these productions. The crew members and musicians etc are important too… and they have their own unions representing their positions.)
At the end of December, two audition notices were posted on the Actor's Equity Association website. One audition was for the national tour of Newsies and one was for the national tour of Kinky Boots. Newsies has been reported as the “fastest Disney production to turn a profit,” and Kinky Boots recouped it's $13.5 million in 6 months, faster than Book of Mormon, Matlida and Pippin. So most performers expected that the actors who were cast in these tours would be given a “Production Contract.”
However, these tours are set to go out as “Tiered Production Contracts,” which means that the actors on this tour will be payed significantly less than those who are in these shows on Broadway.
This is something that might be confusing to performers who aren't familiar with the way Equity contracts work… so here's an explanation of a “Production Contract” according to the AEA website.
“First negotiated in 1919, the Production Agreement covers Broadway, National and International Tours. It is also used for touring productions at large performing arts centers such as the Kennedy Center. This agreement can be used by both commercial and not-for-profit producers, for either limited or open-ended runs. It covers both musical and dramatic productions and is the only agreement with provisions allowing non-resident alien performers to work in the United States. In June of 2001, a 401(k) Plan was added to the Agreement. MassMutual provides financial services to help Actors save for retirement.
Payment of per diem is required to rehearse and/or perform away from the productions “Point of Organization” city (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco). For many decades, this agreement has bargained with the League of American Theaters and Producers. Disney Theatrical Productions has negotiated an individual Agreement.”
Also according to the AEA website – here's the financial details of a Production Contract – (SM means Stage Manager. ASM means Assistant Stage Manager.)
So, it would look like an Equity Actor who is cast in a musical and offered a Production Contract would be payed $1,807 a week, plus per diem. (Per Diem is a specific amount of money that is paid on top of a salary to cover the crazy costs of staying in a hotel and living on the road. Currently, the AEA established per diem is around $860 a week.)
However, here's the audition notice for Kinky Boots…
As you can see, the weekly pay is roughly $800 dollars a week LESS than a full scale production contract.
Well, people have FA-REEEAKED out. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have been packed with outcries from performers who feel that AEA elected officials have let the union members down by agreeing to these terms and AEA elected officials who feel they have done everything they can to ensure that these contracts are not lost to non-union companies.
An anonymous blogger over at www.annoyingactorfriend.com (parents, this blog is hilarious, but the language is def not kid friendly) put it this way – “This isn’t so much about the Newsies and Kinky Boots touring companies making between $37,000 and $43,000 less per a year than their Broadway counterparts. It’s about what those two shows represent in this industry. They represent success. They have proven, and highly publicized the fact, that they break records in making money. They are the top. If they aren’t paying their actors accordingly, how will that affect every other touring and regional contract below them?”
According to an article posted on www.BroadwayWorld.com where Maria Somma, national director of communications for Equity, was interviewed, the following seems to be the reason that AEA approved these tired contracts. “Between 2000 and 2004, Equity lost 40 percent of the road in one-week markets. ‘Now, because we’ve put these tiers in, we’ve regained 90 percent of the road in these one-week markets,” said Somma.
SO – what's next?
As luck would have it… the Annual Membership Meetings are set to take place over the next few days. Here's a link with details for each region. So actors in NYC have banned together to make sure as many members as possible show up at the Eastern meeting which takes place today at 2pm. Several AEA members have even changed their Facebook profile pictures to this photo – (ACT stands for Actors Coming Together)
They've made such a loud cry via social media that AEA officials have set up a special town hall meeting devoted to discussing the issue of touring contracts on January 27th at 1pm EST. Here's more info and a letter from the AEA president, Nick Wyman.
From what I've seen, the actors
So – How do I feel about all of this??
I have found myself to be in a weird place with all of this, partially because I'm not performing at the moment. (You know, the whole giant baby in the belly thing). However, I obviously have strong opinions about what it takes to be a working actor, and I am a truly proud member of this association. I was the Equity Deputy on the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tour and I learned so much working as the liaison between the actors and AEA. I know every issue has more than one side. More than anything it makes me sad. It makes me sad that there people who will work so ridiculously hard to be at the absolute top of their field (have you SEEN WHAT THE PERFORMERS IN NEWSIES DO?) and yet, they are being told that there is little to know way for them to be compensated fully for their hard work. I also fully believe that $50,000 a year is a nice amount to be paid for doing what you love, but these are supposed to be THE TOP of the industry.
I'm also a little saddened and surprised by some of the responses I've read that are supposedly from the elected officials at Equity. I am the first to admit that actors are dramatic and crazy, but the comments from most of the actors I know have been thoughtful and focused on working together to come up with solutions. However, comments I've read from some of the officials at Equity have seemed rude and sarcastic and actually come pretty close to downright name calling.
And, finally, I find the whole thing incredibly ironic. Both Newsies and Kinky Boots are about workers who are standing up to keep their jobs and to increase their pay. I mean, Newsies is all about a strike. Helloo! Pretty Crazy.
I'm so interested in seeing where this meeting and the meeting on the 27th takes all of this.
If you'd like to follow the meeting from where ever you are today, there will be live tweets happen from @ACT4AEA – here's the link – https://twitter.com/ACT4AEA
So, what do you think about all of this? Does it affect your idea of what it takes to be a working performer? And, do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments below.