If you've been planning to develop your plays and musicals using professional actors in a “developmental” production environment, you may have to put your plans on hold.
Earlier this week, the union declared a strike against members of the Broadway League (the association that represents producers) on development of Broadway shows. The Union's action bars its members from taking part in the so-called. “lab” sessions that have become popular as a way for writers to enlist performers aid in developing new shows. These labs are similar to Workshops and Stage Readings, which are also covered by the Strike.
What's at issue?
Primarily, his strike is about pay for the actors who participate in Labs. The weekly rate in the current lab agreement is $1,000, and hasn't changed in nearly 12 years.
In addition, the union is seeking a share of 1% of the shows' post-recoupment profits for the actors who participate. Over the 2-year course of negotiations to date, the League has been unwilling to agree to such a provision.
Over the years, the union asserts, performers have contributed more and more creative contributions to the dialogue, staging, and choreography, but haven't been compensated accordingly.
With 2018 reporting the highest gross revenues ever for Broadway, it's not surprising that performers want a more meaningful share in the rewards from successful shows they've helped develop.
What is a “Lab?”
Increasingly popular as a way to create and polish a show, these labs are several-week long working sessions in which writers and performers meet to try out variations in script, music, and staging in an effort to fine-tune the material that often becomes a major broadway production.
Some of the more famous recent Lab-developed shows include “Hamilton”, “Mean Girls” and “Frozen”, all of which have agreed to share profits with actors, but the Broadway League has yet to agree to make this a requirement of the Lab Agreement.
According to AEA, since 2016, there have been 75 projects developed under the lab agreement, with more than half of those going on to further productions. Around one-fourth of shows used the lab model before their Broadway openings.
Who does this strike affect?
First off, this will not impact shows currently running on Broadway or touring. Only Labs, Workshops and Readings from members of he Broadway League are subject to the Strike. Until a contract agreement is reached, these kinds of projects will not be able to proceed using AEA members.
Although the strike is directed only at the League, it's likely that non-league producers and creative teams will encounter friction when trying to move forward with developmental work on their shows.
Moreover, in an announcement today, Actors Equity told non-union actors and stage managers that they will be denied membership in the union in the future, should they agree to take work that's subject to the strike. Strikebreakers, beware!
What does this mean for producers Off-Broadway and of productions in other cities like Los Angeles and Chicago?
Well, to the extent those producers are members of the League, they ARE subject to this Strike. For those who are not League members, it may still be possible to stage small productions under other agreements, but with the Strike and AEA's threats against non-union actors, I expect a chilling affect across all new play development.
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