Actors’ Equity Association recently announced far-reaching health protocols that producers complained would prohibitively increase the cost of presenting theater and delay the industry’s restart after a year of being sidelined by Covid-19. This week, some 2,000 actors and stage managers signed a petition calling the procedures impractical and criticized their union’s leadership for inadequately communicating with members.
“Equity’s protocols from just over a week ago seem to be based on science from six months ago,” the actors wrote to Equity President Kate Shindle and Executive Director Mary McColl. “We are hopeful that the issue of realistic and detailed protocols to return to work can be prioritized so that funds can return to our union.”
The petition was signed by, among others, Timothy Hughes and Eva Noblezada of Hadestown, Tony Award-winner Karen Olivo (Moulin Rouge ) and Rob McClure (Mrs. Doubtfire ). It illustrates stage actors’ impatience with their union months after television and film resumed production. Actors’ Equity’s protocols, dated March 3, would require producers to provide a car and driver to any union member who needs transportation to and from the theater. (Uber, Lyft and mass transit “must be avoided.”) If actors live with someone who ventures outside, the actors must be put up in hotels. Theaters must meet air flow and ventilation standards that may necessitate costly upgrades.
“These protocols will slow down the restart of the theater business and the rehiring of all sorts of theatermakers,” producer Ken Davenport said in a blog post last week. “Why? Because they involve increased costs at a time when revenues will be lower.” (Davenport stressed that he’s not qualified to comment on the scientific efficacy of the protocols.)
Actors’ Equity has consulted with David Michaels, the former head of the Labor Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration, who has testified that the pandemic is an unprecedented worker safety crisis. Equity said that if everyone in a cast is vaccinated against Covid-19, “the procedures and protocols listed here can be modified per further discussion,” without elaborating. About 22 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.
The actors noted in their petition that the “vaccine rollout and the science are moving quickly and changing on a daily business, and we as a union need to be staying on top of that, not months behind it.”
The petition signers requested that Equity schedule a Town Hall meeting to discuss details of how the theater actors and stage managers it represents can get back to work. McColl responded that Equity would set a date for such a meeting by Tuesday, according to a posting on an Equity group Facebook page.
Brandon Lorenz, an Equity spokesman, didn’t return emails.