Several hundred thesps, stage managers and supporters rallied Wednesday at Duffy Square in the Broadway district of Gotham to protest the proliferation of non-Equity touring shows.
The event drew Hugh Jackman, Lucie Arnaz, Kathleen Chalfant, Kerry Butler, James Naughton, Mary Testa and Christine Ebersole and featured statements of support from SAG, AFTRA, AFM, IATSE and AFL-CIO prexy John Sweeney. Equity’s contract expires next year.
“I don’t want to talk about a strike. That is premature,” said Equity exec director Alan Eisenberg. “It is our goal to reach an agreement through collective bargaining.”
Even though Wednesday’s rally was to protest a non-union “Miss Saigon” production in New Jersey produced by Big League Theatricals, a rally in Broadway’s front yard has to send chills through any Broadway producer’s checkbook. “We want producers to know how strong we feel about this issue,” Eisenberg said.
“The Boy From Oz” star Jackman kicked off the celeb portion of Wednesday’s rally. Not many thesps were in the crowd, despite it being a matinee day.
“A lot of actors who were asked to participate declined,” said Sandy Duncan, who explained the thesps expressed concerns about their employment prospects.
Actors’ Equity estimates the number of non-Equity tours has doubled in the past decade. In the 1996-97 season, the number of “Production Contract” tour workweeks for union thesps was 44,000. That number dropped to 21,000 workweeks in 2002-03.