There are six theaters using the LORT contract in the Greater Albany Liaison Area, and I'm willing to bet that most Equity members couldn't name them if they were asked. In fact, I'd guess that most of Equity's Councilors couldn't come up with more than 2 or 3.
It wouldn't be because they're obscure—they're all fairy well-known. It's just that you probably wouldn't associate many of them with Albany. (For those of you playing at home, the answers are Capital Rep in Albany, the Berkshire Theatre Festival and Shakespeare & Co. in Western Mass., Hartford Stage in Connecticut, and Northern Stage and Weston Playhouse in Vermont.)
And therein lies a challenge: the Greater Albany Liaison Area is wide, vast, and hard to define. It features the small but mighty theater community in the Capital Region, the elite summer theaters of the Berkshires, a major arts and culture hub in Hartford, a handful of spunky producers in the Adirondacks, as well as covering a large chunk of northern New England, plus everything in the Hudson River Valley down almost as far as New York City's northern suburbs.
Honestly, many of our members themselves would likely be surprised to find out they were considered part of Greater Albany. That said, the Liaison Area has all of the necessary ingredients to be not only a continued hotbed of artistry, but to have a robust, united, and employable local membership. And I have a few ideas about how we can do it.
First of all, it's going to be about connection. We have plenty of Liaison Areas across the country that cover more than one city, and even more than one metro area (Greater DC/Baltimore, Buffalo/Rochester, Phoenix/Tucson, just to name a few.) And while we're an industry of artists that crave and thrive on personal connection, we've certainly learned during our current crisis that physical proximity need not be the be-all and end-all of connectivity. A 1000+ member strong Liaison Area that's largely built of pockets of membership needs to keep those pockets connected, informed, and unified towards common purpose.
There's also a lot of work we can do on access. As the Chair of the Equity Principal Audition Committee, I see so many of the employers in this area defaulting to hiring their SMs and actors out of New York. And when they do seek "regional" talent, they're more likely to assume that Boston is where they should be looking. We have to continue working to not only strengthen the access provisions in our contracts that ensure local members get appropriate hiring consideration, but to also be creative in ways that are specific to Greater Albany. Our members across the area have more in common than not, and I'm committed to exploring lots of outside-of-the-box ideas that can work in their favor.
And as is so often the case, the area would be greatly helped by a better model for independent theaters. In a region that varies so widely, a contractual model that allows for Equity to negotiate with the specific needs of our members in the area in mind is critically important. Especially as we seek to partner with our employers to seek the long-term viability of the industry, the more we're able to do so in a regionally-specific way will ensure that we can have the member-driven recovery from the COVID crisis that our stage managers and actors truly need.
I have a lot of hope for Greater Albany. As your Eastern Regional Vice President, I look forward to helping it live up to its full potential.