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High cost of raises on big-cast shows

New contract puts kibosh on theaters

NEW YORK — Actors’ Equity won a key victory alongside its latest League of Regional Theaters (LORT) contract: It obtained significant raises for actors hired for mainstage productions at Gotham’s three biggest nonprofits, the Roundabout Theater Co., Lincoln Center Theater and the Manhattan Theater Club.

Actors appearing in shows at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater, Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont and MTC’s upcoming Biltmore Theater now will be paid a minimum of $1,000 per week.

The theater companies previously paid the LORT rate, $728 a week, for their mainstage productions, despite the fact that the shows were Tony-eligible Broadway productions with Broadway-sized ticket prices. (MTC did not have an official Broadway theater, but was hoping to use the old LORT contract when it began performing at the renovated Biltmore.)

“From now on, these theaters will be paying 75% to 80% of the full Production Contract salaries,” Actors’ Equity exec director Alan Eisenberg said in a statement, referring to the standard Broadway contract that mandates a weekly salary of about $1,250 a week. Eisenberg called the agreement a “landmark achievement.”

The contract also applies to Studio 54, where the Roundabout production of “Cabaret” is housed, and the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, when that theater produces its own shows (it also books in national tours). It also mandates that by 2005, non-union actors will not appear at the American Airlines Theater.

Furthermore, when shows are extended beyond the initial subscription period at the theaters in question, salaries will be increased to the standard Broadway level. And when a production from one of the three theater companies originates in, or moves to, a Tony-eligible theater other than the companies’ home base, Broadway Production Contract minimums will apply.

Roundabout Theater Co. artistic director Todd Haimes told Variety the theater’s upcoming Broadway production of “Our Town” might have to be canceled, and other large-cast plays might be difficult to consider for the American Airlines Theater under the new terms.

“Equity told us they wanted higher minimums and less employment, and that’s what they’re going to get,” says Haimes. “It concerns me artistically because we’ve specialized in producing classics with large casts that few theaters do anymore.”

Haimes said the new LORT terms would add $1.2 million to the Roundabout 2002-03 season as announced this spring.

Lincoln Center Theater executive producer Bernard Gersten estimates the new contract will increase the theater’s annual expenses by somewhere from 5% to 12%.

“Our response has to be the usual response to increased expenses,” Gersten says. “We’ll need to generate greater earned income or greater contributed income. We don’t plan to alter the kind of work we do. We are not going to limit ourselves to one-set or five-character shows. The sky isn’t falling.”

In the LORT contract, which applies to the org’s 80 member theaters as well as 16 additional resident theaters, the union won various salary increases ranging from 9.89% for actors and stage managers at the top-level theaters to 6.2% increases in the lowest-level houses over the three-year terms of the agreement.

The new LORT contract now must be ratified by the union members who worked under the previous contract. Ballots were mailed July 8 and are due back July 31.

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