Once again, Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theatres and Producers find themselves in a tussle over the National Broadway Touring Awards, established in 2001 and scheduled to be presented again this spring.
The awards created controversy last year when AEA deplored the fact that non-union touring productions would be competing along with union shows. Equity eventually withdrew its objections after lengthy discussions between its executive director, Alan Eisenberg, and Jed Bernstein, president of the League. But the issue has not been resolved by any means: Earlier today, Eisenberg sent out a memo to all Equity members urging them not to participate in the awards, the entire text of which is reprinted below:
URGENT COUNCIL ADVISORY RE: NATIONAL BROADWAY TOURING AWARDS
Pursuant to a resolution by the Council, I am again urging you not to participate in the upcoming National Broadway Touring Awards (NBTAs) sponsored by the League of American Theatres and Producers and various presenting organizations.
* If you have been nominated, please request that your name be withdrawn from the nomination and the voting process.
* Please do not attend the awards ceremony in May.
*Please do not accept an award if you win.
The National Broadway Touring Awards were created last year to reward outstanding performances and productions on the road. Nominations and voting are done on a regional basis by e-mail by the public-at-large. Equity objected to the inclusion of non-Equity tours in this process and requested that the League respond to our objections in a positive manner by developing "branding" and other marketing tools with a commitment to distinguish Equity tours.
We strongly believed that an agreement was reached but not honored. Subsequent discussions with the League produced no resolution. Equity's Council, at its meeting on December 13, 2001, resolved to withdraw from the NBTAs and is strongly urging that Equity members not participate.
*Producers and road presenters continue to present non-Equity tours alongside Equity tours without distinguishing between the two. Non-union tours are marketed as "Direct from Broadway," which competes directly with Equity tours and threatens our livelihood on the road. In the 2000 Production Contract negotiations, Equity's proposal to "brand" Equity tours was rejected by the League.
*Presenters will not identify Equity tours in advertising and marketing, leaving theatergoers in the dark. Non-Equity tours are sold as part of the presenters' subscription, so the public is not free to choose.
*Presenters are charging the same, or nearly the same ticket prices for the non-Equity tours as they do for the Equity tours. The only difference is that the non-Equity actors earn much less than the prevailing Equity tours minimums and per diems and do not have the protections of a union contract.
*As you are aware, we are currently boycotting the "national tour" of The Music Man until we can achieve a fair contract, and are making every effort to educate the public about our issues.
*We are redoubling our efforts to negotiate contracts with non-union producers whenever possible.
We understand that some of you may consider this award to be an honor and we acknowledge the dilemma that this may present. The Council's resolution is moral, but not binding. Please stand in solidarity with us to send a strong message to the League and Road Presenters.
Thank you for your cooperation.
In response to TheaterMania's request for a comment on the above memo, a spokesperson for the League of American Theatres and Producers said: "We are going along as planned with the NBTAs. It's in its second year and it's an evolving process. We have done very well with theater fans lining up to vote. Our priority is to recognize the excellence of touring Broadway shows." According to the spokesperson, "No non-Equity shows are participating in the NBTAs this year." Keep an eye on Follow Spot for future developments.