Why is MET on Equity's do not work list?
On the first day of rehearsal Aug 2018, MET was contacted by Actors' Equity Association (AEA) to say that they expected MET to step fully into the Small Professional Theatre (SPT) agreement, taking us to 14 required contracts from 6. This change meant an immediate budgetary increase of more than $35,000. We were given no option. We were to agree to this increase in our budget or we would be placed on the union’s do not work list.
A compromise to 12 contracts with the ability to move 1-2 actor contracts during the season was agreed upon with the Business Rep. Based on this agreement, for the first two productions of MET’s 2018-19 season, 4 Equity actors and 2 Equity Stage Managers were contracted. Contracts were secured via funding primarily from the local Neighborhood Tourism Development Fund (NTDF) fund. Three days later, the Business Rep informed us that her superior had cancelled the verbal agreement. This was unprecedented in our 14 year history working with AEA.
Again, we explained that we did not think 14 contracts could be sustained. He stated that if MET didn't agree, MET would go on the do not work list and stop the season. With actors rehearsing onstage and tickets already sold, we had no choice but to accept under duress.
Our budget was challenged in November of 2019 when a major sponsor had to suspend their funding. For MET, this loss was $25-$35,000 in operational support making the contract increase impossible to maintain. Over the next two months, MET contacted Equity on 3 occasions offering approaches that maintained AEA contracts in each production, asking for help and advice on how to weather the budget crisis. On each occasion, the union’s response was “fulfill the contract”.
In mid Jan., MET staff visited Chicago to attend an Equity Central Regional Board Meeting to share our financial situation, discuss options and ask for help. By now, 3 months had passed. We had funded 10 contracts. Cash was depleted. Again, our requests were dismissed.
Left with no other option, the MET Board of Directors voted to pause the relationship with AEA for the balance of the year. This resulted in the company being placed on the union’s do not work list, barring union actors and stage managers from working with MET. That agreement has now expired and currently, MET has no signed contract with the union.
MET was placed on the do not work list on August 29, 2019. The recent development expanding the warning to all non-AEA members with occurred on Oct 29, 2019, 61 days later.
Does MET have an agreement with AEA now?
No. The current rider expired on June 2, 2019. A rider applicable for the 2019-2020 Season was not signed.
Why are Non-Equity actors and SM’s being added to the AEA Do Not Work list?
We do not know. This is a contractual dispute between MET and AEA. MET believes non-union professionals should be free to work and to earn a living and make art however and with whomever they choose. It is most inappropriate to involve others in this issue. We learned about this development through Social Media. No communication had been received from AEA prior to that time or since.
Why didn’t MET respond to inquiries from the press this past year?
MET was advised by our attorney not to respond to inquiries from the press and we did not receive any. An online publication recently stated they had tried to contact us several times for comment, however no phone or email messages ever came to our office. On the day that the Non-Equity Ban was announced, we received a phone call from a different publication at 3:30 p.m. requesting comment for an article that was published online at 4 p.m.
How many Non Union artists does MET hire on average each year?
This affects a great many people. The numbers of people MET casts varies year to year depending on the productions of the season, but we generally employ between 55-110 non-union actors and stage managers annually.
Does this situation disproportionately affect artists of color?
Yes. MET has consistently practiced inclusive casting. This season was programmed as New Voices in the Warwick, specifically casting several traditionally white plays in new ways and bringing urban relevance to older classic plays, particularly Oliver. With that in mind, we are seeking to expand and diversify our talent pool even more. Our internal goal stated for this year was to cast 20 actors of color in this season and re-calibrating our casting from this point forward to more consistently reflect our community.
What is the net loss to the Non AEA community financially?
The potential loss of income to the Non-Equity community approaches or exceeds $110,000-$125,000 annually.
What portion of MET’s budget is used to pay artists?
We estimate that 25-33% of our budget goes to performing artist salaries.
MET pays every adult artist who works with us. (note: children are also provided small stipends for their contribution to our work). As independent contractors, project stipends range from $450-$1500 on average depending on the size of the role, the actor’s level of experience and training and the length of the run. Most projects are 6-7 weeks long with a few exceptions.
How much do Equity contracts cost?
AEA contracts vary in expense and include tax, insurance and pension costs.
An SPT 4 Actor Contract per week: Salary $381, Health $162, Pension and Dues $30.48 = $573.48/week
(plus $75 per week for payroll services=$648.48) X 6 weeks run = $3,890.00
An SPT SM Contract per week: Salary $460, Health $162.00, Pension and Dues $36.80= $658.80/week
(plus $75 per week for payroll services= $733.80) X 7 weeks + tech week pay bump of $276 = $5,411.00
The cost for 2 contracts per production to $9,301.00.
(Over a 6 show season this cost would begin to approach $60K when additional rehearsal weeks were added for musicals.)
What steps did MET take to address this issue and try to avoid it?
MET offered several compromises last season and again this fall, but the conversations between AEA and MET from Nov to Feb of last season were not successful. We honored our contractual requirement for 4 productions until we simply ran out of funds. With our bank account drained, the MET Board concluded that continuing as an AEA SPT was not an option. To continue to work with Equity, MET would need to cut our Non Equity payroll by 50-75%, increase ticket prices, shorten rehearsal weeks, do fewer productions with shorter runs and smaller casts, giving up many pieces in classic repertoire or only paying AEA artists to the exclusion of other artists.
Does MET owe any money to AEA now?
Not to MET’s knowledge, despite weekly requests for confirmation. Last spring, an agreement was reached with the Equity League Pension and Benefits office regarding insurance and pension payments that would have been paid had MET been able to finance the contracts. A payment plan was worked out and has been paid in full.
How is the Warwick renovation affecting MET’s finances?
Renovating the historic building is challenging to say the least. However there is progress on the 100 year old building upgrade. The estimated project budget is $1.4 million dollars. Renovations are approximately 50% completed at this time. Fundraising independent of the annual budget is also contributing to offset the cost of the renovations.
What is going to happen next with MET? With AEA? With the Do Not Work List?
We are open to continuing discussions with AEA and actively working to find a mutually sustainable resolution to this issue. Productions are continuing on schedule. No one should ever be penalized in the future for choosing to earn a living in the present.
We believe that every artist has a right to choose their own path and creative endeavors. Choosing to join a union is a career choice and can be a great one for some. That door should be open to everyone, if they choose, regardless of where they may have worked in the past.
We will continue to update FAQ’s and keep you updated as the situation progresses. Should you have additional questions or wish to communicate with MET leadership, please email email@example.com,