Nashville has the distinction of being one of Equity's smallest Liaison Areas, but also one of its fastest-growing. With fewer than 200 members living in the market, it still saw a remarkable 34% increase in workweeks in our most recently reported year. And there's still lots of room to grow.
Nashville is unlike many of our Liaison Areas in that the city doesn't have a tentpole employer at the center of its theatrical ecosystem. While the southeast boats a number of major LORT theaters in places like Atlanta, Louisville, Montgomery, and even Knoxville, the mid-20th century explosion of the regional theater movement never quite caught on in the same way in the Music City. And while there might have been hope that Tennessee Rep might pick up that mantle in the 80's and 90's, it's settled into being a more modest, mid-sized endeavor as Nashville Rep. The current result is an eclectic hodgepodge of both new and more-established theaters. There are a number of TYA contracts to be had, a few LOAs referenced to LORT, and a good number of Special Appearance and Guest Artist users.
It's also important to note that our members in Nashville face a particularly troublesome roadblock—one they have in common with almost half of the Liaison Areas in the Eastern Region: Tennessee is a "Right To Work For Less" state.
There's often a lot of confusion among our members about exactly what "Right To Work For Less" laws actually mean, and I won't go into a detailed explanation here. Without question, though, a pernicious effect of these laws is that there's typically a rampant anti-union culture among both employers and the general public in these states. This has historically impeded our ability to organize workplaces for our stage managers and actors, and to rally our audience members around the need for union protections for the workers whose work they're enjoying.
That said, we have seen huge organizing successes in other "RTWFL" states like Florida, Georgia, and beyond. And part of how we can continue that good work is by implementing a better model for independent theaters. For much of the past year, I—along with fellow Councilors and Equity staffers—have been laying the groundwork for such a model that would empower our Business Reps to negotiate more specifically to the needs of Nashville's members and employers. This is critical work to the future of the union, and it has become more important than ever in the wake of the COVID crisis.
The best way for both the union and employers to guarantee the long-term viability and solvency of theaters is to enter into full Equity agreements. We have often been unsuccessful in getting producers to move from pre-paid agreements like Special Appearance or Guest Artist to a more stable agreement because of a perceived lack of flexibility in our current contracts. When our employers can be more confident in our willingness to work towards a locally-tailored model, I have every confidence that they will be more willing to partner with us moving forward. This will be a key to a member-driven recovery.
Nashville is an extraordinary place—one of my favorite stops on my most recent tour. I look forward to continuing my work as your Eastern Regional Vice President to keep the city vibrant, healthy, and filled more more work for our members.