British Go Home?
The conflicts among Actors Equity Association, British Equity and producers on both sides of the Atlantic have been likened to a “trade war” in a recent New York Times article by Samuel G. Freedman. Producers such as Bernard Jacobs, president of the Shubert Organization, advocate “free-trade” which would eliminate restrictions on how long and how many British actors might perform in U.S. productions. On the other hand, both the American and British actors’ unions seek to protect the jobs of their members by restricting the casting of foreign actors—in the same way that U.S. automakers promote restrictions on the import of foreign cars. Consequently, few American actors can work in Britain and few British actors can appear on American stages.
Exchanges of both individual actors and theatrical companies between the two countries are becoming more popular as a means of circumventing the problem. New York Shakespeare Festival producer Joseph Papp last year arranged to exchange his production of Thomas Babe’s Buried Inside Extra with the Royal Court Theatre’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Houston’s Alley Theatre has a continuing exchange program with Britain’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough—Elizabeth Diggs’ Close Ties was presented in Scarborough in exchange for a production of Alan Ayckbourn’s farce Taking Steps. American actress Carol Teitel was able to perform at England’s Nottingham Playhouse as a result of a trade with a British actress.
Freedman notes that in some cases when Equity refused permission for British actors to appear in the United States, American actors proved they could portray British characters successfully. A case in point is Judith Ivey, who received a Tony award for her portrayal of a British woman in Steaming. However, Papp believes that “there are certain plays that failed here because they tried to substitute Americans.” The conflict between free trade and protectionism in the theatre, like that of the automotive industry, defies resolution.
It has been two years since Richard Wright, general manager of the San Jose Symphony, and James Reber, artistic director of the San Jose Repertory Company, first put their heads together to come up with a joint project. The possibility became real when Merrill Lynch came up with a sizable grant—the largest corporate contribution in San Jose’s history—and the Merrill Lynch Grand Performance was born.
From May 17-20, for five performances only, the Symphony and the Rep will present Shakespeare’s Tempest, featuring a score by Jean Sibelius, conducted by Maestro George Cleve and directed by Dakin Matthews.
Because of its limited run, tickets will be made available to subscribers of the two organizations only, as a way of rewarding them for their loyalty and support. Speaking of the $60,000 grant, Reber noted, “This is an example of how an entire community can benefit when a corporate leader joins with performing arts leaders to create an event of magnitude and quality.”
Costing Going Up
The Council of Stock Theatres (COST) and the Institute of Outdoor Drama have both reached new agreements with Actors’ Equity Association. The COST agreement represents a 15 percent increase in salary and per diem for actors. As an added benefit, welfare payments have been brought up to the level of the new Broadway production contract. Actors’ weekly minimum salaries under the new agreement are $380.50; stage managers will receive $504.50 to $599 per week.
The Outdoor Drama pact provides for a five percent salary increase. The new minimum salaries for actors appearing in outdoor dramas, which include historical pageants presented as tourist attractions, is $328 per week; $390 is the minimum for stage managers, and $410 for stage managers of rotating repertory companies. An important innovation in the contract is that it extends for 18 months instead of the traditional year. The pact covers employment during the summers of 1984 and 1985.
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