The New York Times ran an article this past week regarding a new campaign being promoted by Actor’s Equity Association. Actor’s Equity is the professional union representing both actors and stage managers in both commercial and not-for-profit theatre across the country. In an attempt to inform the theatre going public about the difference between Union and Non-union tours, Equity has begun an online campaign entitled “Ask if it’s Equity”. The campaign as of now is focused primarily in Chicago, with the website isitequity.org detailing which touring productions are on Equity Contracts and which are not. The campaign continues on social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter, with some cases of intense arguments in an online setting as well as Equity contacting ticket buyers directly over social media. The Times article also contained some excellent statistics about wages earnings on tour in both union and non-union setting.
I have spent the past few weeks learning about touring, trying to learn about the various components that account for the advance and transportation of a show, usually involving a quick turnaround. I haven’t been think about the union ramifications of touring however. I have rarely noticed the distinction between the two when a show on tour comes to town, or when an area venue such as Broadway in Boston announces their season. Usually in the first year a show comes away from New York and on to tour, the company is fully Equity, with the production going Non-Equity usually sometime after the first year-18 months.
The thing of it is, just because it is Equity, doesn’t mean it is going to be good.
Equity is stating a fair claim. Since members who are working on Broadway productions are in fact Equity members, it is fair to say that in advertisement, the caliber of actors on the tour are theoretically equal to their Broadway counterparts. However, there is no guarantee that the performance by the actors on tour will be as good as their Broadway originators. There is no way of knowing, its the nature of theatre. There is something disconcerting to me about the notion that Non-Union tours are being called out by Equity. With a decent portion of casts being fresh out of college young performers, there could be the fear that by working on a production that is non-union before joining Equity, they could be blocked from joining the union down the line.
It will be an interesting thing to watch what happens as the campaign moves out of one specific location, and to see how it affects both larger and smaller markets who may not be able to secure the large shows for extended stays. Only time will tell.