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Equity, League Ending Talks on Production Pact

Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theaters and Producers were expected to wind up their five months of production-contract negotiations Tuesday. But at press time, both sides appeared to be meeting into early morning.

The extensive talks have included a plethora of issues, with both sides seeming far from agreement on major points such as alien performers, raked stages, and transfers of shows from regional theatres to Broadway.

Regarding aliens, the producers have proposed to gain, according to Equity's website, "the unfettered right to employ foreign actors and companies on our stages." Under the current pact, producers must submit an application to Equity, and the union must approve the hiring of any non-resident alien. Equity has adamantly opposed loosening alien requirements, arguing that foreign actors basically take roles which U.S. actors could fill.

The two sides last discussed the alien issue in a Sept. 22 session. The production pact currently allows repertory theatres like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre to perform in the U.S. Producers argued that the rule "should be broadened for companies with resident artistic directors," according to the union website. "Equity responded that it has already been flexible, and has allowed other companies like Cheek by Jowl to appear at festivals. The union's greatest concern remains the potential for losing work to British actors if an 'open borders' policy is instituted."

As for raked stages, neither side appears to have budged, with Equity calling for complete elimination of raked stages from production-contract shows. The union has presented studies, conducted by a neurologist's team, of performers' experiences with raked stages both on Broadway and London's West End. A number of performers also have reported to negotiators their problems with raked stages.

However, producers have brought in a physical therapist who has said raked stages are workable if performers will warm up before the curtain goes up; artistic directors and other creatives have also vouched for the historic and aesthetic value of using the inclined platforms.

On the transfer of regional shows to Broadway, the two sides have met at length without agreement. On Sept. 25, the union argued for extra monies for performers who help to creatively develop regional productions so they're ready for Broadway. Producers opposed the idea.

Most of the regional productions at issue occur under the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) contract. On Oct. 2, Equity proposed a second LORT transfer-rule revision which producers also rejected. That led union negotiators to complain how the union has proved flexible on promotion, touring, and layoffs, evidently insinuating it was producers' turn to show flexibility.

The union also has extended, but hopes to conclude, talks on the Disney World contract by Oct. 20.

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