Equity cries foul over ‘Kate,’ ‘Cherry’

Too many Americans exported, not enough Brits imported

NEW YORK — Broadway’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” which is heading to London, and the Royal National Theater’s “The Cherry Orchard,” which is coming the other way, have run into snags with Actors’ Equity.

San Francisco’s Best of Broadway series, under the direction of Carole Shorenstein Hays and Scott E. Nederlander, recently announced the National’s “Cherry Orchard,” starring Vanessa Redgrave, for its 2001-02 series, with plans to play S.F.’s Curran Theater in the fall prior to a possible 20-week run on Broadway.

Not so fast, Equity’s Alan Eisenberg tells Variety.

“There are many outstanding issues,” the thesp org’s executive director says. “I don’t know if it is happening, and I don’t get what they’re trying to accomplish by announcing (the production) this way,” he says of a Best of Broadway advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It is not the best way to negotiate a deal.”

At the heart of those ongoing negotiations is Equity’s much-debated exchange program with British Equity, which requires that an equal number of American actors be employed on the U.K. stage for English thesps hired here. (Exceptions are made for stars.)

Eisenberg says any announcement of a show with alien performers prior to the union’s approval of those actors is a breach of contract.

Greg Holland, CEO of Best of Broadway, did not consider the “Cherry Orchard” announcement premature. “On the producing end, both sides have now agreed,” he said. “One of the usual steps is engaging Actors’ Equity, and we are currently going through those mechanizations.”

If the National’s “Cherry Orchard” materializes on Broadway, its list of producers would include the National Actors Theater.

“We have been in talks with the Royal National Theater regarding two American productions going there,” NAT exec producer Manny Kladitis says. He would not specify which productions.

Eisenberg said that in his talks with Kladitis, the exec producer mentioned an exchange of “Judgment at Nuremberg” and “Man of La Mancha” for “The Cherry Orchard.”

“I told him I didn’t view those as realistic possibilities,” Eisenberg says, “and that we would not approve this exchange unless we had a guarantee of what the exchange project would be and when it was going to happen. We were not going to approve a wishful thought.”

According to Equity, there are currently two and a half times as many jobs due American actors working in Britain as Brits appearing here.

For that reason, “Kiss Me, Kate” producer Roger Berlind expected no problems in taking four American actors to the West End for the tuner.

Such employment of American thesps across the Atlantic would satisfy his exchange of four British actors who performed on Broadway in, respectively, “Judas Kiss,” “Amy’s View,” “Closer” and “The Blue Room,” which Berlind, in conjunction with others, produced in Gotham.

Unfortunately, neither Actors’ Equity nor British Equity allows musical performers to be exchanged for actors in straight plays.

Berlind called the musical-vs.-play distinction a “new standard that is unilaterally imposed” by the two unions. “This is an appropriate exchange of actors for actors,” he said of “Kiss Me, Kate” and the four British play imports. ” ‘One sings and the other doesn’t’ is not a valid distinction.”

Eisenberg said the actor-vs.-musical performer determination is not new and was included in contracts between the union and producers of “Closer,” “Judas Kiss” and “Blue Room.”

However, the unions did approve an exchange of Brit actors on Broadway in “The Iceman Cometh” for Americans on the West End in the musical “Rent.”

Eisenberg acknowledged, “We make concessions on occasion.”

Berlind remains optimistic. “The decision is not final,” he says. “Hopefully it will still work out.”