Actors’ Equity Ceases Development Contracts As Negotiations With Producers Stall

UPDATE, with League statement: Actors’ Equity Association, the labor union representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, will cease issuing contracts for work on productions in development as negotiations with the Broadway League have stalled.

“We never wanted it to come to this,” said Equity Negotiating Team Chair Stephen Bogardus in a statement, “but the wage package put across the table by The Broadway League was just plain unacceptable. Our members cannot afford to work on this contract at the proposed compensation levels over the next five years.”

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The union has been in negotiations with the League – the trade organization representing theater owners and producers – since January; the current contract expired February 11. The negotiations and the ceasing of development contracts does not impact current Broadway productions or shows opening later this season.

In a statement, the League responded to Equity’s announcement: “The Broadway League and our bargaining partners have engaged in good faith negotiations with Actors’ Equity on new terms for our development work contract, including agreeing to the Union’s request to utilize the federal mediation services to help facilitate this process. Our Development Agreement is specific to developing new works, and these negotiations have no impact on current Broadway and Touring productions or those opening this season. We remain hopeful that ultimately we can reach a deal that works for all parties.”

Equity’s announcement comes just a day after Brooke Shields, its newly elected president, made her public debut with an appearance on the Tony Awards to introduce the ceremony’s In Memoriam segment.

Equity’s decision to cease issuing contracts marks the second such action since 2019, when the union went on strike for just more than a month. Following that strike, Equity members received pay during the development process as well as a share in the show’s eventual profits. Those 2019 compensation levels, however, are now deemed by Equity as insufficient.

The development contracts cover workshops and readings, not current Broadway productions. But Equity points out in its announcement today that this past Broadway season included a significant number of shows that had “relied on the Development Agreement on their road to Broadway,” including Days of Wine and Roses, The Great Gatsby, Gutenberg! The Musical!, Harmony, The Heart of Rock and Roll, How to Dance in Ohio, Lempicka, The Notebook, Once Upon a One More Time, The Outsiders, Suffs, Water for Elephants and The Wiz. (None of those productions have recouped.)

The Development Agreement was created in 2019 as a restructuring of the previous Lab, Workshop and Stage Reading Agreements.

“Five years ago,” said Bogardus, “we ceased development work to get The Broadway League to acknowledge the work our members provide in the development of new work for the Broadway arena. Five years later, we are forced to do it again. We look forward to the day we can return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair wage on this agreement that meets our stage managers’ and actors’ needs. We are ready whenever The League is.”

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