The Council of Actors' Equity Association has announced that, at its meeting on June 24, 2002, it accepted the terms of a new, three-year LORT (League of Resident Theatres) contract by an overwhelming majority and has recommended the contract for ratification by its members.

The council meeting followed negotiations with the LORT theaters in January and February 2002. Equity held separate negotiations with three New York City institutional theaters--the Roundabout Theatre Company, Lincoln Center Theater, and the Manhattan Theatre Club--through June and secured minimum wages of $1,000 per week minimums for actors at the American Airlines, Studio 54, Vivian Beaumont, and Biltmore theaters, as well as the Ahmanson in Los Angeles. Alan Eisenberg, executive director of AEA, said that he was "proud of the new contract," which governs employment at 96 major professional theaters throughout the U.S.

In hammering out the new terms, Equity negotiators specifically addressed the controversial use of the LORT contract for Broadway productions by the Roundabout, Lincoln Center, and MTC. The negotiating team has secured $1,000-a-week minimums in the first year at the American Airlines, the Beaumont and the soon-to-reopen Biltmore. Over the three-year term of the agreement, salaries will rise by 57% and 48% respectively at the American Airlines and the Beaumont; the $1000 minimum will also prevail at the Ahmanson in L.A. when the Center Theatre Group produces shows there. "From now on, these theatres will be paying 75% to 80% of the full Production Contract salaries," said Eisenberg, who called this a "landmark achievement." The terms of the contract also provide for a rise to Production Contract minimums, with other benefits and increments, when a show is extended beyond its initial subscription period at these venues.

Because the Roundabout, Lincoln Center, and MTC function under LORT contracts, they have thus far been able to pay actors salaries far below the normal Production Contract minimums when presenting such shows as Follies and Thou Shalt Not on Broadway, even though ticket prices have been equivalent to those of commercial productions. Under the new contract, when a show originates in or is transferred to a Tony-eligible house other than the home theater, Production Contract minimums will henceforth apply.

In a recent article in Variety, Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes was quoted as saying that the theater's planned 2003 production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town might not go forward under the new contract because of the relatively large size of the play's cast. "There's a 50-50 chance we won't do it," Haimes said. "We're looking at the budget for next year and we may not be able to afford it." He added that "We can't do the same size productions as we did in the past, which, for a theater like ours that does classics, is a problem." Until now, the Roundabout has been paying its actors a minimum weekly salary of $728 as compared to the $1,252 Production Contract minimum; under the new contract, that gap will narrow considerably.

In its negotiations, Equity also achieved pay increases for actors and stage managers in LORT "A," "B," and "C" theaters. Other provisions address increments for dance captains, stage managers' compensation, actors' accrual of vacation time, audition practices, employers' contributions toward health insurance, and overtime payment for rehearsals after opening when a commercial producer has expressed interest in a LORT production.

The new contract terms must now be ratified by the AEA membership. The ratification ballots were scheduled to be mailed out yesterday, July 8, and must be returned by July 31. Once ratified, the new contract will be retroactive to March 4, 2002 and will expire on February 27, 2005.