On Jan. 28, Local 802 is scheduled to begin talks with the Off-Broadway League of Theatres and Producers. The goal is to negotiate an industry-wide agreement that sets standards for wages, benefits and working conditions in the Off-Broadway arena.
The League consists of Off-Broadway theatre owners, producers of Off-Broadway shows and general managers. “Off-Broadway” is defined by the size of the theatre (from 100 to 499 seats) as well as by funding and location. For example, Actors’ Equity considers a theatre to be Off-Broadway if it is outside the “Broadway box,” which is bounded by Fifth and Ninth avenues from 34th to 56th Street and by Fifth Avenue and the Hudson River from 56th to 72nd Street.
Setting industry standards for Off-Broadway has been a goal for Local 802 since the early days of the Glasel administration. Discussions with the Off-Broadway League were attempted in the early 1980s but broke off with no agreement in place, leaving a legacy of distrust between the parties. Since then, 802 has had to negotiate agreements show by show or, in the case of non-profits, through ongoing collective bargaining agreements with specific companies.
Achieving contracts Off-Broadway has required 802 to organize the musicians who were being offered the work. This has not always been easy, because for many years musicians saw this work as something to do until the “real” thing came along. But gradually the importance of Off-Broadway has changed, in the minds of both employers and musicians.
When such shows as Rent and Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk went from Off-Broadway to Broadway, musicians began to see the advantages of winning “identity with the product” (first-call rights to any additional work) in Off-Broadway agreements, and earning pension contributions that could contribute significantly to vesting years.
Producers also have seen the advantages of staging productions in the lower-budget Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway arenas. Now, even some Broadway League members are actively showing an interest in producing Off-Broadway.
While 802 has made enormous progress in bringing Off-Broadway productions under contract over the past decade, the union recently confronted efforts by the producers of Love, Janis and Reefer Madness to mount non-union productions. 802’s public information campaigns outside both productions generated strong support from audiences and community residents. The producers of Love, Janis reached an agreement with the union. Reefer Madeness closed after a brief six-week run, panned by audiences and critics.
On Nov. 8, a group of representatives of Off-Broadway producers approached Local 802 about the possibility of negotiating an industry-wide agreement. After speaking with 802 staff and administration they recommended negotiations to the other League members. That group, consisting of approximately 50 members, voted to sit down with the union.
The Small Theatres Committee – whose primary goal, since it was formed in May 2000, has been to achieve an industry-wide agreement with the Off-Broadway League – will be assisting Local 802 administration in the negotiations. The committee consists of members who have experience working Off-Broadway as music directors, copyists, side musicians, orchestrators and arrangers.