When Actors Play Instruments

Volume CVI, No. 1January, 2006

Mikael Elsila

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Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone star in “Sweeney Todd” and are new members of 802. Photo by Nigel Parry.

What happens when a Broadway musical requires actors to play instruments – and how does that affect 802’s theatre minimums? That question came up in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s and Hugh Wheeler’s “Sweeney Todd” at the Eugene O’Neill theatre. The situation was resolved in a formal settlement between 802 and the League.

802 agreed to allow actors who play instruments to count towards the theatre minimums, under certain conditions. The actors will have to join Local 802 and the producers must pay full benefits to the actors under both the 802 and Equity contracts.

The actor-musicians will make either the weekly Equity wage or the weekly 802 wage, whichever is higher.

In addition, for this show, but not necessarily for any future shows, actor-musicians earn a weekly bonus of $750 per week during rehearsals and $500 per week for all performances.

Finally, the agreement states that if 802 believes that a producer is hiring actor-musicians merely in order to get around the minimums, all disputes will be handled by the Special Situations panel, with no appeals to arbitration or otherwise.

“Sweeney Todd” opened on Nov. 3. The nine actor-musicians include Michael Cerveris who plays guitar in the role of the demon-barber, and Patti LuPone who plays tuba in the role of Cerveris’s partner.