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    Actors’ Equity Seeks to Unionize Broadway Production Assistants

    The position is one of the few nonunion segments of the theater industry’s work force.Actors’ Equity, the labor union representing American stage performers and stage managers, is seeking to unionize Broadway production assistants, one of the few nonunion segments of the industry work force.The campaign comes at a moment when labor unions in the United States have become increasingly restive; there are organizing efforts in many sectors of the economy, and Hollywood’s writers and actors have been on strike for months.Broadway production assistants work with stage managers in entry-level positions that are usually filled only during rehearsal and preview periods. Equity described them as “doing everything from preparing rehearsal materials to ensuring decisions made during rehearsals are recorded to being extra sets of hands and eyes during complicated technical rehearsals to efficiently running errands that keep the rehearsal productive.”Many of the workers are young and are paid minimum wage, according to the union.Late on Thursday, Equity asked the Broadway League, a trade association representing producers, to voluntarily recognize Actors’ Equity Association as the bargaining representative for production assistants working on commercial productions on Broadway and in sit-down productions, which are extended non-touring engagements produced by members of the Broadway League outside New York.If the League does not agree, Equity said it would ask the National Labor Relations Board to oversee an election.“Broadway is an extremely heavily unionized workplace, and these are some of the only folks without union contracts in these rooms,” said Erin Maureen Koster, an Equity vice president who represents stage managers. Koster said that without union membership, production assistants have less protection should they be injured or harassed or have other concerns.Equity said that there were only about a half-dozen people working in the job category on Broadway and in sit-down productions at any one time, but that about 100 people have worked in the position over the past two years. The union said the position was an important rung on the career ladder for people aspiring to work as stage managers on Broadway; even some people who have worked as stage managers Off Broadway or in regional theaters take temporary jobs as Broadway production assistants as a way to break into the industry.“As shows are getting more complicated, they are hiring more production assistants, and hiring qualified stage mangers into these roles,” Stefanie Frey, Equity’s director of organizing and mobilization, said. “It’s time.”The Broadway League said in a statement that it was considering the union’s request and looked forward to discussing it further. “The Broadway League and our members support the right of employees to lawfully choose a bargaining representative,” the statement said. More

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    New Broadway Labor Agreement Includes Pandemic-Prompted Changes

    The deal, ratified by members of Actors’ Equity, provides salary increases for performers and stage managers, and allows producers to make short-term hires.The union representing theater actors and stage managers has ratified a new contract that provides pay increases for those working on Broadway and, in a move prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, allows producers to make short-term hires to cover absent actors.Actors’ Equity Association announced Monday that its membership had voted in favor of the three-year contract, which by late 2024 would raise the minimum salary for performers working on Broadway to $2,638 per week. That reflects three years of pay increases: 5 percent this year, 4 percent next year, and 4 percent the following year.The Broadway contract, negotiated by Equity and the Broadway League, applies to commercial productions on Broadway, as well as to so-called sit-down productions, which are extended runs of commercial shows elsewhere in the country.The contract is important because Broadway is the segment of the American theater world where artists can most reliably make a living wage, and also because provisions in this contract influence others in the industry. The union will next turn its attention to negotiating contracts for touring shows and regional theaters (the regional theater contract also applies to the four New York nonprofits that operate Broadway houses).This Broadway contract, which goes into effect immediately, is the first negotiated since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. As shows returned, the challenge of staying open when company members tested positive for the coronavirus called attention to the important work of understudies, swings and standbys who keep shows going when illness strikes, and also highlighted the tension between a historic show-must-go-on ethic and disease transmission.The contract is the first to provide paid sick leave for anyone working on an Equity contract; previously, those earning above a certain amount were not entitled to paid sick days. In another first, the contract caps how many roles a swing can cover in one performance.And the contract allows for the use of short-term actors, with rehearsal time, to cover performer absences. The provision was a concession by the union to the producers.The union also highlighted a few wins for its members: a limited number of very long rehearsal days, and fewer rehearsal hours post-opening.The contract includes several new provisions prompted by discussion within the industry, and the broader society, about diversity concerns. Among them: commitments to employ technicians for certain hair styles, to consider gender identity when identifying spaces for dressing rooms and bathrooms, to set up a committee to talk about onstage intimacy, and to improve casting notices for those with disabilities.Kate Shindle, the president of Actors’ Equity, said the deal was a compromise reflecting the economics of the moment. The contract was ratified by a smaller margin than some previous pacts, suggesting disagreement within the union’s membership about whether it was good enough.“The industry is not entirely back yet, and while we were looking to reinvent the whole way the theater industry operates, we’re also faced with real financial considerations,” Shindle said.She said the wage increases were significant at a time when inflation is high, as are real estate costs in New York (which, of course, is where many Broadway workers live). She also noted that many in the industry had not had work while theaters were shut down, making their current salaries more important.Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, said in a statement that she was pleased with the ratification of the agreement, “which we believe represents a significant step forward for our industry.”She said several provisions “were ultimately directly responsive to the push from the union for less time spent in rehearsal and more time off for actors,” and she also hailed the diversity provisions, which were, she said, “in the forefront of our priorities.”“A key component to these changes is language that will allow us to hold everyone, including actors working on our productions, to the same standards when creating a safe and inclusive working environment for all,” she said. “We were able to achieve all of these significant improvements for each side while providing a meaningful and yet responsible economic package.” More

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    Patti LuPone Says She Resigned From Stage Actors’ Union

    The actress left months ago, and revealed her exit on Monday after her name arose during discussion of the errant reprimanding of a “Hadestown” patron who was using a captioning device.The much-honored stage actress Patti LuPone said on Monday that she resigned from the labor union Actors’ Equity months ago, revealing the news after her history of reprimanding cellphone-using audience members was invoked in a new controversy about the policing of electronic devices.The drama that consumed the corner of social media obsessed with theater began to unfold last week when a “Hadestown” audience member with hearing loss said she had been reprimanded by one of that show’s current stars, Lillias White, while using a theater-approved captioning device mistaken for a cellphone.“On a daily basis, actors are confronted with digital devices illegally capturing their work,” the musical’s producers said in a statement on Monday. “In this case, following a terrible miscommunication, in the middle of a live performance, Lillias mistook the closed-captioning device for a cellphone.”The “Hadestown” incident, for which the show apologized, prompted significant criticism of White. Then, on social media, LuPone’s name was cited in the discussion because she had in the past been celebrated for seizing a cellphone from a texting theater patron.Some of the criticism directed toward White was ugly. “The discourse on social media around the incident has devolved into racist, ageist and other abhorrently discriminatory language we unequivocally condemn,” the production said.The tenor of the criticism of White, who is African American, prompted some on social media to recall that LuPone, who is white, has been lauded on occasions when she has chastised misbehaving theatergoers.Because the patron White reprimanded was using a device for legitimate purposes, it is an imperfect comparison. But LuPone turned to Twitter on Monday in an apparent effort to distance herself from the situation, writing: “Quite a week on Broadway, seeing my name being bandied about. Gave up my Equity card; no longer part of that circus. Figure it out.”LuPone left the union over the summer, long before the “Hadestown” incident, upon finishing her Tony-winning run in a revival of “Company.”“When the run of ‘Company’ ended this past July, I knew I wouldn’t be onstage for a very long time,” LuPone said in a statement emailed in response to a question about her tweet. “And at that point I made the decision to resign from Equity.”Her departure came after a change in union rules that eliminated a cap on dues collected from high-earning performers. She had expressed concern about the change and the way it was communicated, according to people familiar with the thought process behind her resignation.Her spokesman, Philip Rinaldi, when asked about the issue, said only: “It was a number of issues that led to her decision. Patti was an Equity member for 50 years.”It is not clear what the statement means about her professional future. But this is not the first time LuPone, 73, who also won Tonys for her work in “Evita” and a revival of “Gypsy,” has said she was going to step back. In 2017 she said she expected “War Paint” to be her final musical; a year later she was back onstage in “Company” in London.In some instances, it is possible for performers who are not members of Equity to perform on Broadway. It is also possible to rejoin a union.The “Hadestown” controversy has also renewed discussion about monitoring audience behavior. The playwright Jeremy O. Harris urged reconsideration of such policies, saying, “Having a more realistic relationship to technology as well as more generous read of the actions of others would stop things like this from happening.” More

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    In the Theater, Workers Are Demanding Better Conditions

    Getting to play Cinderella in a Broadway revival of “Into the Woods” sounds like a young musical theater performer’s dream, until you break your neck doing the pratfalls built into the role.That’s what Laura Benanti says happened to her in 2002. “I was a 22-year-old girl who didn’t know how to say ‘this doesn’t feel safe to me,’” she wrote on her Instagram page nearly two decades later, after suffering “intense pain every single day for seven years,” two surgeries and much heartbreak.At the time, people bad-mouthed her for missing performances.Disastrous tumbles and physical danger are so much a part of theater history that they’ve become treasured backstage lore instead of causes for concern. I am ashamed to admit to laughing when I read about the dancer who fell into the “Anyone Can Whistle” orchestra pit in 1964, landing on a saxophone player, who promptly died. In 1991 we all gossiped merrily when the tempestuous Nicol Williamson ignored his fight choreography in “I Hate Hamlet” and struck his co-star Evan Handler with a sword. (Handler quit; Williamson got applause.) For much of the early 2010s, the mayhem of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” was an endless source of schadenfreude.Laura Benanti as Cinderella in the 2002 Broadway revival of “Into the Woods.”Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesBut concussions, broken ribs, a fractured skull, a crushed leg and an amputated foot — those are just the “Spider-Man” injuries — aren’t actually funny. And they are only the most visible part of the story of harm endured by theater workers onstage and off. In return for the privilege of scraping by in a field they love, they are commonly expected to endanger themselves physically and emotionally.They dance till they drop. They work punishing hours. They strip themselves, often literally, and enact trauma over and over. If they are parents and nevertheless insist on sleeping more than five hours a night, they may see their children — as Amber Gray, a star in the original cast of “Hadestown,” told me — barely more than 50 minutes a day.The pandemic put a temporary end to all that, reuniting families and helping injuries heal. The pause also gave theater workers, perhaps for the first time ever, plenty of time to consider the lives their profession requires them to lead. It’s no surprise that, as theaters reopened, calls for change therefore emerged with greater urgency. This summer I’ve been grappling with those demands, and in earlier parts of this series I’ve looked at ridding the art form of the “great man” inheritance that built cruelty into its DNA and the movement for fair pay.But getting back to business has also reminded show people of the specific weirdness of their work. In sync with the resurgence of labor activism nationwide, actors, dancers, stage managers, technicians and others have been questioning the nuts and bolts of their contracts — both the documents that detail their jobs and the wider assumptions about what they owe an audience. Can the theater, they ask, find a way to uphold them more holistically as humans, even as they continue to gut themselves every night?Some people will not even agree that it should. The idea that theater is a calling, not a job, and that the two categories are mutually exclusive, is so ingrained in the industry’s ethos — not to mention its business model — that demands for shorter working days, more understudies, intimacy coordinators, mental health stipends, child care reimbursements and other accommodations are often met with doubt or derision. Caring for actors, some say, is coddling. Suffering is a badge of honor, and the theater is properly a purple-heart club.Amber Gray received a Tony Award nomination in 2019 for playing Persephone in “Hadestown.” She said her schedule began to make her feel like “a deadbeat mom.”Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThat indoctrination goes deep. Stanislavski saw his students as votaries in an ascetic cult. The men who created the dominant forms of American theater assembled their power by extorting it from others. Musicals have often romanticized the idea that a good artist is a starving one. And Broadway dancers, many trained in a system even more repressive than the theater’s, have traditionally been expected to perform like robots, retire early and shut up in between.Perhaps the most pervasive and pernicious maxim is the one that says the show must go on — no matter what. Work rules that would seem ludicrous in any other business are, in the theater, built into the contracts. Performers represented by Actors’ Equity Association, the national labor union for actors and stage managers, are typically engaged for eight-show weeks, but productions can increase that number under certain circumstances. During holiday seasons, many offer 10-show schedules, and nonunion gigs can exceed even that.Another rule, governing the number of hours a company can work during technical rehearsals, is so reviled it has been the subject of a 2015 backstage comedy. In Anne Washburn’s “10 out of 12” — named for the clause in Equity contracts that permits 12-hour days if there are two hours off — the under-slept and daylight-deprived company of an absurd plantation melodrama undergoes a kind of mass psychosis while the tech teams adjust lights and scenery.The ReformationThe world is changing, and so is the theater. Our chief critic looks at how.Sacred Monsters: Is it time to cut loose the “great men” who helped America create its classics and its institutions?Paying Dues: Poverty is part of the identity, even the glamour, of the theater. It’s not sustainable.The Hard-Knock Life: The physical risks of the theater have many demanding their basic needs as humans.It’s not fiction. Kate Shindle, the president of Equity, has lived it herself. As a working actor she spent part of 2018 at a regional theater having “an awesome creative experience,” she told me in an email. (She declined to name the theater.) “But the schedule was no joke. On the longest days, I left my apartment at 9 a.m. and didn’t return home until after 1 a.m. And to be clear, the employer wasn’t bending or breaking work rules. This is the intensity that the American theater has been relying on for generations. The workers have helped sustain a model that simply needs to be rewritten.”At its annual convention last year, Equity delegates endorsed the elimination of 10 out of 12s — along with five-show weekend-performance schedules and six-day workweeks. But while these were just recommendations for future contract negotiations, some theaters have already begun to experiment with the ideas.For Donya K. Washington, the festival producer at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the experiment has its roots in 2016. It was then, while working at a different theater, that a production department head told her how the 12-hour tech calls for actors were nothing compared to what he experienced. To manage his crew, implement changes and debrief later, he arrived at the theater well before the cast and stayed well after. As a result, he was working 16-hour days for days at a time.“That’s not sustainable,” Washington said in a recent Zoom conversation. “I didn’t know what to do about it, but it stuck in my head.”After arriving in Oregon in 2019, where she was drafted onto the team creating the intensely complicated schedule that allows a repertory company to function, she started looking for ways to eliminate the 10 out of 12s. It was then that a worker “began proselytizing” for another quality-of-life improvement: the five-day workweek. “We had just finished building the calendar for the 2021 season, and my brain broke,” Washington said.But the pandemic — which closed the festival’s theaters for 14 months — gave her time to think. Over the course of 50 calendar drafts, she played with the parameters. What if the company produced five shows instead of the usual 11? What if they mounted one show at a time instead of several in rep? In one of those passes, since the exercise “wasn’t real anyway,” she decided to see if “you could do a five-day, 40-hour week and still get a production up. And lo and behold you could.”On a spreadsheet, anyway. In reality, when the festival fully reopened this April, the five-day week was not quite attainable. (They got as low as five-and-a-half.) But Washington feels it will be possible in the future, by adding about two additional weeks of rehearsals per show to make up for the lost time. The cost, she said, “would not be ginormous.” Already 10 out of 12s have been eliminated without trouble, reduced to 8 out of 10s — a step in the right direction. “And even if just from a business perspective it makes sense,” Washington added, because happier, healthier, better-rested companies produce a better product.“Sometimes we have a mind-set of doing something for the sake of doing it, because that’s how it’s always been done,” she said. “But step by step we have to retrain ourselves. And not just actors. Even I have to remind myself I’m not supposed to work seven days a week!”When I pointed out that we were having this conversation on a Sunday afternoon, Washington smiled and shrugged.The theater is unlikely to become a model workplace anytime soon. It’s always going to be a very tough life choice for most people. But who gets to make that choice is one of the things at stake in the calls for bettering a work-life balance that more often presents itself as a work-nonwork nightmare. Those who can’t afford to be penniless must generally opt out of theatrical careers, and if they do get a job they can’t afford to complain.Among that group, traditionally, have been parents of young children. Even if you have a stay-at-home partner or the means to hire full-time care, the mismatched hours of a baby’s schedule and an actor’s can be unbearable. Gray, the “Hadestown” star, was horrified to find that her older son, now 6, at some point started to cry whenever she sang, having learned to associate the sound with her going away. “It’s brutal,” she said, “when your child hates what you do. I felt like a deadbeat mom.”From left, Satomi Blair, Tina Chilip and Maechi Aharanwa in Playwrights Realm’s 2019 production of “Mothers.” The company created a pilot program during the 2019-20 season to accommodate parents.Richard Termine for The New York TimesNot that working while pregnant was less worrisome. “We sign contracts that say we must always be able to fit the costume,” she told me, adding that she hid her second pregnancy “because there are so many stigmas.”But general acclaim for her performance in “Hadestown” — and a 2019 Tony Award nomination to cap it — emboldened her when her contract was up for renewal. “I asked for an alternate for the Sunday matinee and Tuesday night, so that I could be home at least one day when my kids are too.” Previously, like most actors, her only day off was a Monday.When the producers, to her surprise, said yes, Gray found that the block of three days off, Sunday through Tuesday, made a huge difference. Finally getting enough sleep, she could “bang out” her two-show Wednesday “like nothing.” Her partner felt supported, she could play with her children, she could see other people’s work and attend the galas where connections are made. And even though the pandemic soon shut down that arrangement, it remains a model. Elizabeth Stanley, the star of “Jagged Little Pill,” made a similar deal when she returned to that show from maternity leave, splitting the role of Mary Jane with her friend Heidi Blickenstaff.These are, so far, one-off solutions, available to women considered important to the commercial success of a show. To test whether the idea of supporting parents could work in the nonprofit sector, the Playwrights Realm, an Off Broadway company devoted to early-career playwrights, created a pilot program called the Radical Parent-Inclusion Project. Roberta Pereira, the Realm’s executive director, explained that during the 2019-20 season, which included a production of Anna Moench’s “Mothers,” the company basically tried every possible accommodation to make parents welcome not only onstage and backstage but also in the audience.Among those accommodations was a caretaker reimbursement of up to $750, available to anyone working on the theater’s programming that season. (The credit was good for any kind of caretaking, including eldercare.) Rehearsals were cut back to 30 hours over the course of five days from 36 hours in six, necessitating an extra week to make up the difference. Broadway Babysitters, an arts-focused child care company, was hired to mind children during open auditions and callbacks, and a 4 p.m. matinee was added to the schedule. “For children who are younger and take naps,” Pereira said, “that was a much better time than 2 p.m.”The free child care was not just for performers, by the way; audience members brought a total of 22 children, half of them less than a year old, to the matinee — which perhaps as a result sold out.“Not that every theater should try this at the level we did,” Pereira said, “but you could see which things work for you. Some cost nothing, some cost a lot.” In all, the season’s caretaking enhancements added about $38,000 to the company’s $1.3 million budget, most of it covered by increased grants from its usual funders. That’s in line with what PAAL, the Parent Artist Advocacy League for Performing Arts and Media, has found at other theaters experimenting with child care programs. For Elevator Repair Service, a New York-based company, the cost of those programs amounted to less than 2 percent of the budget, PAAL reported.As a result, Pereira said, actors who effectively used to pay to be in a show — or just to audition for it — may no longer have to make the choice between plays and parenting.For the 2019 Broadway production of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon worked with an intimacy director, who helped stage the nude scenes.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesAchieving a better work-life balance is something you might expect to read about in emails from the human relations departments of companies promoting Yoga Thursdays. And though by no means common in American business, child care stipends are at least a familiar concept. But some of the other changes happening in the theater are intensely specific to the needs of the stage.One is the growing presence of intimacy directors, who help shape moments of physical contact in ways that feel safe to the people performing them. Intimacy Directors & Coordinators, one of several organizations created to further the field, defines its aim as the creation of “a culture of consent” in storytelling. Though that culture was traditionally the responsibility of a show’s director, the history of abuse in rehearsal and production has led many actors to advocate for the hiring of dedicated professionals on every show where the subject may come up — which is to say, virtually all of them.“To not have someone in that position is asking for trouble,” Audra McDonald told me in a recent phone interview. She first worked with an intimacy director in 2019, when Claire Warden helped stage the nude scenes and other physical interactions between her and her co-star, Michael Shannon, in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” Having been in previous situations where she felt she “didn’t have the right to speak up about what was happening,” McDonald found Warden’s presence “revelatory.”“Knowing what the boundaries and parameters were for what Michael and I had to go through on that stage, we could push up against them as hard as we possibly could while knowing what lines not to cross,” she said. “It’s about knowing where the bottom of the pool is, so you feel safer about diving all the way down and then swimming as fearlessly and fiercely as you want.”“Pass Over,” Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s harrowing play about the precarious lives of two young Black men, also had an intimacy coordinator, Ann James. But its producers offered the cast another protection against the potential trauma of the story: a mental health allowance.From left, Jon Michael Hill, Gabriel Ebert and Namir Smallwood in “Pass Over.” They had access to a “health and wellness” allowance during the play’s Broadway run last year.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThe allowance permitted actors to seek reimbursements of up to $250 a week for expenses deemed beneficial to their “health and wellness as it relates to performing this show eight times a week,” the policy stated. Matt Ross, the lead producer, added that the definition of “health and wellness” was deliberately broad; it could mean, for instance, a therapist or a voice lesson or a massage.Cody Renard Richard, the production stage manager, said it was only fitting to offer that support. “From their first class, actors have been asked to bring their traumas into a certain space, been nagged to call up personal stuff so they can cry in a scene. To ask them to open their wounds like that and not give them the help to deal with the result is incredibly unfair.”The additional cost of the mental health stipend, along with the production’s intimacy coordinator and the equity, diversity and inclusion consultant, Nicole Johnson, was “minuscule,” Ross said. “Probably less than 1 percent of the overall weekly costs.”But low cost is not the main selling point for advocates of such changes; undoing the harm built into the system is. And one of the reasons there is so much resistance to what seem like obviously worthy goals is that the harm has never been evenly distributed. When I spoke to Wayne Cilento, who originated the song “I Can Do That” in the 1975 musical “A Chorus Line,” he seemed proud of his ability to work on that show despite what he described as constant back and knee injuries. Later, in Bob Fosse’s “Dancin’,” which earned Cilento a Tony Award nomination in 1978, he missed only two performances in one-and-a-half years “while other people who didn’t have my urgency were dropping all around,” he said. “Stepping out was not my way.”From left, Jovan Dansberrry, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Manuel Herrera, Dylis Croman, Ron Todorowski and Jacob Guzman in a revival of “Dancin’” at San Diego’s Old Globe this spring.Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York TimesStill, in preparing to direct and choreograph a revival of “Dancin’” for Broadway, he said he was more conscious of looking out for his dancers than Fosse was. (Fosse “never had a conversation about how’s your back or how’s your hamstring.”) For the tryout at San Diego’s Old Globe this spring, he cut the material from three acts to two and divvied up “his” track — the sequence of dances he’d done in the original production — among several men because it now seemed too much to ask of just one. For the planned 2023 Broadway production, he is rethinking the number of swings and covers to step into any role at any time so that injured dancers will feel less pressure to perform. And he is much more collaborative with the ensemble than Fosse was with him.“But it’s a fine line,” he said. “Incorporating the ensemble in the conversation makes them feel trusted and cared for, and it’s good for the show. But — this sounds awful — even though I want to hear your problems, at some point I don’t want to. The bottom line is: What you have to do for the show is what you have to do for the show. And the director, the choreographer, is the one who decides what that is.”Cilento is touching on a problem that underlies the uneasiness some people feel about the changes advocates are seeking. So much of what we are used to in the theater, so much of it thrilling, is ultimately the result of individual virtuosity being inspired by individual vision, even if the individual with the vision is a tyrant. When everyone is equally empowered what happens to it? If the theater ever does become a worker’s paradise, will it still produce heavenly art?Another source of unease is that those of us — I include myself — who grew up in the harsh, sometimes inhumane ways of thinking about the theater may have developed a kind of Stockholm syndrome. About the harshness we are blasé or even sentimental. When, in “A Chorus Line,” Cilento sang, with the rest of the ensemble, “What I Did for Love,” we understood the response to be: Everything. Anything. The gift was ours to borrow.Now I’m pretty sure that’s not the right answer. More

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    ‘Paradise Square’ Faces New Complaints Over Payments

    The shuttered show is facing legal action from the actors, stage managers and designers who worked on the production.A union representing the director and choreographers who worked on the recently closed Broadway musical “Paradise Square” is asking a federal court to enforce an arbitration award that was agreed upon in May, according to a lawsuit filed late last month.The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society asked the Federal District Court in Manhattan to confirm and compel payment of nearly $150,000 that is owed to the union; the show’s director, Moisés Kaufman; the choreographer Bill T. Jones; and a few others who worked on the production.The suit, filed on July 22, said the production company still had not “satisfied its obligations under the award.”The lawsuit names as defendants the limited partnership that produced “Paradise Square,” a musical set amid the racial strife of Civil War-era New York City, as well as Bernard Abrams, a producer who is a member of the Broadway League.The show, however, has been most closely associated with the producer Garth H. Drabinsky, who had a successful run as a theatrical impresario in the 1990s until he was charged with misconduct and fraud in the United States and in his native Canada, where he eventually served prison time.Drabinsky had hoped that “Paradise Square,” which ran at the Ethel Barrymore Theater from mid-March until July 17, would be his comeback. The show originated a decade ago as a musical called “Hard Times,” written by Larry Kirwan of the band Black 47 and leaning on the music of Stephen Foster, who wrote “Oh! Susanna” among other American standards. Delayed two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, it made its way to Broadway after out-of-town productions in Berkeley, Calif., and Chicago. The show received 10 Tony nominations but took home only one award, for the actress Joaquina Kalukango, whose performance was a signature of this year’s Tony Awards ceremony. The show struggled at the box office throughout its run, and it did not recover the $15 million for which it was capitalized.Richard Roth, a lawyer for the “Paradise Square” partnership, said on Monday, “My understanding is that everyone is going to be fully paid.”Abrams did not respond to requests for comment Monday.Through Roth — who pointed out that Drabinsky is not a member of the limited partnership — Drabinsky released a lengthy statement arguing that Covid had proved an insurmountable roadblock to the show’s sales and finances. He added that bonds worth nearly $450,000 that were put up by the producers should cover most of what the actors were owed.“Equity holds this bond security,” Drabinsky said, and “the lawsuits that have been filed by unions are simply to evidence the collection of amounts for which the partnership has previously consented. In this regard, I have never been a signing officer of the production, nor do I have any authority with respect to the signing of any bank instruments. Any delay in benefit payments was simply a function of available cash flow.”The Hollywood Reporter first reported the existence of the legal filing Monday.The unions representing actors and designers who appeared in or worked on the musical have also received arbitration awards for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In July, the United Scenic Artists’ local also went to federal court to seek confirmation and enforcement of its award. In the spring, the Actors’ Equity fund trustees went to court to enforce an arbitration award.The unions have also placed Drabinsky on their “do not work” lists. The directors and choreographers union automatically placed the producers on a similar list until the outstanding arbitration award is paid, according to a union official.The president of the local union of the American Federation of Musicians, Tino Gagliardi, said through a spokesman that “Local 802 and the musicians’ benefit funds are taking every legal action needed to recover wages and benefits that are due to the musicians.”Al Vincent Jr., the executive director of Equity, added in an email statement that the dispute was not over, saying, “Our process of getting our members appropriately paid for ‘Paradise Square’ continues with a number of outstanding grievances moving into arbitration.”Local 829, the scenic artists’ union, put Drabinsky on its “boycott list” because of “continued inaction and lack of communication regarding the significant payments and benefits,” said Carl Mulert, the local’s national business agent. “It is unfortunate that the legacy of this Broadway production, which includes the indelible contributions of our colleagues and kin on and off the stage, has been marred by a story of exploitation of and injustice for the many artists that have brought ‘Paradise Square’ to life.” More

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    On Broadway, One Show Decides to Keep Masks. No, It’s Not ‘Phantom.’

    Three days after the Broadway League announced that all 41 theaters would make masks optional starting July 1, one of those theaters has decided to stick with mandatory face coverings.The producers of a starry revival of “American Buffalo,” which is a 1975 drama by David Mamet about three schemers in a junk shop, announced Friday that they would continue to require masks through the scheduled end of the show’s run at Circle in the Square Theater on July 10.That’s only 10 days beyond when Broadway plans to drop its industrywide masking requirement, and it’s just one show, but it suggests that the unanimity among producers and theater owners may not be rock solid.There are several factors that make the “American Buffalo” situation unusual.The play, starring Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne and Darren Criss, is being staged at Broadway’s only theater-in-the-round (it’s actually almost-in-the-round, because the seating doesn’t entirely encircle the stage), which means there are more patrons seated within spitting distance of actors than at other theaters.Also, Circle in the Square, with 751 seats as it is currently configured, is the only remaining Broadway theater that is not operated by a large company or a nonprofit organization, so its decisions are not tied to those of a bigger entity.Rockwell expressed concerns about the end of the masking policy in an interview this week with the New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante.The show announced the change in policy in a news release, saying that it was “due to the close proximity of the audience to the actors as a result of the intimate size of the theater and the staging in the round.” The production and theater owner did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, said of the “American Buffalo” decision, “As the optional mask policy takes effect in July, there may be unique situations which would require the audience, or some of the audience, to be masked.”It is not clear whether the decision will affect other Broadway shows. The vast majority take place in theaters operated by a handful of big landlords who endorsed the mask-optional decision. Broadway’s four nonprofit theater operators, who have been more Covid-cautious, do not have any shows this summer. And summer fare on Broadway is dominated by big musicals, where the audience tends to skew toward tourists, many of whom come from places where masks are long gone; older New York playgoers are scarcer at this time of year (and the volume of shows is lower, too: there are only 27 shows now running on Broadway).After “American Buffalo” closes next month, Circle in the Square is scheduled to be vacant until October, when a new musical called “KPOP” begins previews.Actors’ Equity, the union representing performers and stage managers, has declined to comment on the audience safety protocols, but this week sent an email to its members, previously reported by Deadline, saying, “This decision was made unilaterally, without input from your union or any other, and the unions were only given advance notice a couple of hours before the announcement.”Although the decision was announced by the Broadway League, it was made by theater owners and operators, and they plan to reconsider the protocols monthly. More

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    Broadway Deal Over Rudin Shows Will Limit Nondisclosure Agreements

    Performers and stage managers were released from agreements they signed to work on four shows that were produced by Scott Rudin after their union, Actors’ Equity, filed complaints.Performers and stage managers will be released from the nondisclosure agreements they signed to work on four Broadway shows connected to the producer Scott Rudin under a settlement between the Broadway League and Actors’ Equity Association.The union said that the two parties had agreed that, going forward, producers would no longer require actors or stage managers to sign such agreements unless approved by the union, which might sign off on them in limited circumstances to protect things such as intellectual property or financial information. The League declined to comment.The settlement arises from a labor dispute that began last year, when Rudin, long one of the most powerful producers on Broadway, was facing accusations that he had behaved tyrannically toward a variety of people who worked with him, prompting an Equity stage manager to alert the union to the nondisclosure agreements required by some Rudin shows.Last spring, the union asked Rudin to release employees from the nondisclosure agreements, and in January, the union filed a pair of unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board regarding “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “West Side Story,” both of which were at the time produced by Rudin.The union argued that nondisclosure agreements illegally restricted worker rights. Its complaints were initially filed against Rudin and his general manager; in recognition of the fact that Rudin is not currently actively producing on Broadway or in Hollywood, and last year resigned as a member of the Broadway League, the complaints were expanded to include the Broadway League, which is a trade association representing producers.The union said it has since learned that nondisclosure agreements were being used by four recent Broadway productions, including not only “Mockingbird” and “West Side Story,” but also “The Iceman Cometh,” on which Rudin was a lead producer, and “The Lehman Trilogy,” on which Rudin was among the lead producers.The union withdrew the National Labor Relations Board complaints earlier this month, after reaching a settlement agreement with the League. According to a copy of the settlement agreement, the League has agreed to release from confidentiality, nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements any actor or stage manager who signed such an agreement with the four recent productions. (The agreement does not affect workers in Rudin’s office, many of whom were required to sign detailed nondisclosure agreements as part of their employment contracts.)The settlement comes at a time when nondisclosure agreements in many workplaces have come under increasing scrutiny.“Exploitation feeds off of isolation,” said Andrea Hoeschen, the union’s general counsel. “There is no stronger tool for an abuser or a harasser, no matter the setting, than silence.”It is not clear how frequently nondisclosure agreements are used on Broadway.“We intend to tell our members broadly about this settlement, and if they are asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement, we are going to push back on those as violative of our members’ rights,” Hoeschen said. More

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    Leaked Video of Jesse Williams’s Staged Nude Scene Denounced by Union

    Despite an attempt to ban smartphones in the theater, a video of the actor’s nude scene in the Broadway production of “Take Me Out” circulated widely online.The first time “Take Me Out,” a baseball play with nude shower scenes, arrived on Broadway, there were no iPhones in the theater, because they hadn’t been invented yet.This year, when the acclaimed play returned for its first revival, the nonprofit presenting the show instituted a no-phones policy, requiring patrons to put their phones in locked pouches before entering the theater, in an effort to prevent the photographing of naked actors.The effort failed.This week, someone posted to social media video of a naked Jesse Williams, a star of the play, in a shower scene. The video circulated widely.The incident prompted outrage both from Second Stage Theater, the nonprofit producing the play, and Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents stage performers.“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the creation and distribution of photographs and videos of our members during a nude scene,” Kate Shindle, the union president, said in a statement. “As actors, we regularly agree to be vulnerable onstage in order to tell difficult and challenging stories. This does not mean that we agree to have those vulnerable moments widely shared by anyone who feels like sneaking a recording device into the theater.”Second Stage, which distributes Playbills with an insert reminding patrons that “photos and videos are strictly prohibited,” issued its own statement, saying “we are appalled that this policy has been violated” and that “taking naked pictures of anyone without their consent is highly objectionable and can have severe legal consequences.”The theater said it was seeking to have the online videos removed, and was adding security at the theater to enforce its phone ban.Second Stage has been using Yondr pouches to restrict phone use — when patrons arrive, they are asked to turn off their phones and put them into the locked pouches, which the patrons hold through the show, and then hand back to be unlocked after it is over. The system, used at some comedy shows, pop music concerts and other live events, is imperfect — some people have figured out how to open such pouches, while others smuggle in phones despite the rules.“Take Me Out,” written by Richard Greenberg, is about homophobia in baseball; Williams plays a team star who comes out as gay and confronts discomfort among some of his teammates. In 2003, the drama won the Tony Award for best play; this week the current revival picked up four nominations, including one for best revival, and three for actors, including Williams, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Michael Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer can also be seen, naked, in some of the online video.In the run-up to the show, Williams, best known for “Grey’s Anatomy,” discussed the nudity. “It’s terrifying in all the right ways,” he said on “The Ellen Show” last year. In an interview this year with The New York Times, he was more sanguine. “I’m here to do things I’ve never done before,” he said. “I have got one life, as far as I know. It’ll be fine.” More