There will not be an Off Broadway strike.
Thursday evening, the Assn. of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers and the League of Off Broadway Theaters and Producers came to what both call a compromise agreement for a new five-year contract. Talks began in early June and had reached a stalemate over the issue of extra pay for press agents and company managers who work on shows that come to Off Broadway via larger out-of-town venues paying Broadway scale.
The league begins contract negotiations with Actors Equity next month and the extra-pay issue will definitely be center table again.
Ben Sprecher, lead negotiator for the league, said the controversy centered primarily on shows coming to Off Broadway after a two-week tryout at such venues as Connecticut’s Stamford Center for the Performing Arts, a 700-seat theater that pays Broadway scale. Off Broadway theaters seat under 499.
“It’s always good for a play to go out of town for a few performances,” said Sprecher. “What ATPAM had proposed rendered that whole process impossible.”
He mentioned such plays as “Dinner With Friends,” by Donald Margulies, and “Power Plays,” by Elaine May and Alan Arkin, both of which performed at Stamford prior to their Gotham runs at Off Broadway venues, where they converted back to a normal lower-scale Off Broadway contract.
Under the compromise agreement, press agents and company managers will be paid an extra $150 a week for work on shows performing in Off Broadway’s larger theaters, so-called category D venues that seat 400 to 499.
ATPAM president Maria Somma said that members’ salaries at smaller theaters would also be increased; however, with the exception of category C venues (300 to 399 seats), shows playing those smaller theaters rarely come to New York via an out-of-town Broadway-size house such as the Stamford Center.
The Off Broadway 10
Adding to the drama of the negotiations was a Monday letter from 10 ATPAM members who also belonged to the league. It read in part:
“We would like to confirm our solidarity with the position of the Off-Broadway League in these negotiations.” The letter writers also expressed opposition to signing an interim agreement proposed by the union. The old contract had expired last month.
ATPAM posted the letter on its Web site, complete with names of the signees: Denise Cooper, Maria DiDia, Nina Essman, Roy Gabay, Nancy Gibbs, Roger Gindi, Paul Morer, Albert Poland, Marc Routh and Billy Russo.
Routh, who is lead negotiator for the league in its negotiations with Actors Equity, said the intention of the letter was to include members of both orgs “to show we were supportive of the negotiating committee.” He called the Web posting of the letter “unusual.”
Somma said the 10 members were principally general managers. “For the most part, they’ve moved their careers into management and don’t do much work as company managers.”
She did not rule out a reprimand. “As president, I’m looking into what this means under the ATPAM constitution, as well as the (Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) constitution, when members in good standing take the management side in face of the union during negotiations.”