Actors' Equity flexed its collective muscle and punished Barry Williams with one of the largest fines the union has ever levied, as retribution for his work in an ongoing non-union tour. After a long hearing on the matter Jan. 8, Equity levied a fine of $52,274—equivalent to two weeks' salary, plus documented expenditures—which Williams can (and probably will) appeal.
The former "Brady Bunch" star was fined for headlining a tour of "The Sound of Music," in which he was the only Equity performer, playing the role of Captain Von Trapp. Because the rest of the cast is comprised entirely of "unknown" actors, Equity believes Williams' name is largely responsible for attracting the crowds. "By his improper actions, Mr. Williams has helped a non-union show go on tour and undermined Equity's efforts to organize the tour under Equity jurisdiction," Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg said.
Although the tour's producer, Troika Productions, successfully negotiated contracts with the unions for the stage crew and musicians, it broke off its early negotiations with Equity before casting the production. A Troika spokesperson told Back Stage that economics precluded paying actors Equity scale, which begins at $1,200 per week plus a weekly per diem of $700 and contributions to the performers' pensions and welfare. By comparison, the actors in "The Sound of Music" get as little as $350 per week, a $175 weekly per diem, and no pension or welfare contributions.
Troika may have weakened its own argument that the tour cannot support union wages, by placing an ad in Variety to brag that "The Sound of Music" took in $1.7 million during its two-week run in Cincinnati. Troika also boasted of grossing $697,000 in New Orleans, $737,161 in Memphis, and $956,364 in Pittsburgh—all one-week runs. Equity Communications Director David Lotz pointed out that those grosses are equal to, or higher than, most union productions currently touring America.
"Look at the grosses," Eisenberg said. "Where's the money for the actors? They deserve a fair share."
One person who agrees with Eisenberg is Williams' former agent, Robert Malcolm of ATA. "I no longer represent Barry," he told Back Stage, "perhaps because I counseled him against doing this non-union tour, both as an ex-Equity member and as an Equity-franchised agent.
"Why would I want an actor to work in a tour with other actors who are less protected than he?"
He described Williams as "a nice person," but was evidently disappointed that his former client accepted the job.
Williams has defended his role in the production in various interviews along the tour, and appeared at the Equity hearing to present his side. Now that the union has made its ruling, Williams may file an appeal to the decision with an appeals board, and then with the union's elected national governing body, the Equity Council.
He has also been given the option of cutting his fine in half, by issuing a public apology for appearing in the non-union tour when the appeals process is over.
Another Williams, Another Scab?
Barry Williams is not the only 1970s sitcom performer breaking union rules to appear in a non-Equity tour: allegedly Cindy Williams (who is, apparently, no relation) and her former "Laverne and Shirley" colleague Eddie Mekka have toured sporadically in a Troika-produced tour of "Grease."
Hearings on that matter will be held in Los Angeles later this month.
Not all Troika tours have been non-union. Two productions, "Jolson" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," were under Equity contracts (the latter starring Deborah Gibson and Patrick Cassidy). Most recently, however, Troika has been producing a non-union tour of "Chicago."
Equity leadership acknowledges that there is nothing to prevent producers from mounting non-union shows, as long as they don't use one or two famous Equity members as audience bait.