In 2018, I did a production of Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced up at Northern Stage, a LORT theater about two hours northwest of Boston. While I was there, Michael Dell'Orto—Chair of the Boston Area Liaison Committee—came to visit me. I'd gotten to know Michael by serving with him (via Zoom) on the Eastern Developing Theater Committee, and my time in New England seemed like a great opportunity to meet in person for the first time. He made the drive from his place in New Hampshire, we had some lunch, and I gave him a tour of Northern Stage's new facilities.
We talked about a lot that day, but there's something he said that's stuck with me for a long time. He said "I'm really glad you have a job, Sid. But I have to tell you, there's no reason that your show shouldn't be entirely cast with actors from Boston."
And you know what? He was right.
Boston is one of Equity's most robust Liaison Areas—with more than 1,000 members, a healthy list of large and mid-sized not-for-profit theaters stretching from Lowell to Providence, as well as a multi-employer contract with the local Producers Association (the NEAT agreement). The quality of work being done by stage managers and actors at venues large and small is, without a doubt, second to none.
And yet there remains a persistent culture in our industry that you can't do better than a New York actor. For the highest level of talent, for the most experience, for a name that will sell tickets, our employers across the country often go out of their way to spend extra money to bring in actors from New York City, rather than looking to the robust talent pool that's in their own backyard.
This means that Equity needs to continue working to ensure that there are more jobs in and around Boston for people who live in and around Boston. It is in the best interest of our union to have a robust and diverse workforce across the entire country, and there are a handful of ways we can work together to achieve that.
Thankfully, when it comes to casting, we've seen more progress in Boston in recent years than in other cities across Equity's Eastern Region. Those with casting authority from the larger houses are seeing more of the work happening around town, which is resulting in more and more opportunities for locals. But there remains work to be done, and it begins with access.
As the Chair of the Equity Principal Audition Committee, I've put a stop to rampant audition concessions being granted to employers in places like Boston. If an employer—whether they're LORT, NEAT, SPT, or anywhere in between—has agreed in their contract to see local actors, we're going to hold them to it. And moving forward, I'd like to achieve stronger audition requirements in all of the agreements being used across the Boston area. The more opportunities the local workforce has to be seen, the more incentive and opportunity there will be for local employers to hire them. That makes for a healthier Boston theater scene.
Additionally, if you live in Boston you probably know about the massive success we had together in our member-driven NEAT negotiations. The organization, persistence, and bravery of the local membership ensured that we had extraordinary success during our time at the table, making huge strides for everyone who works that contract. That said, it's nearly impossible for a union to accomplish everything it wants in a negotiation, and if there's one place where we still have room for improvement it's in getting more stage management jobs.
Simply put, we need to achieve more required jobs for stage managers—both in the NEAT Agreement and in our larger, national contracts. As I've always said, when a production doesn't have its assistant stage manager on an Equity contract, one of two things is happening: either the lack of a qualified Equity ASM has made our members less safe, or the lack of a contract has meant that a highly-capable and qualified professional hasn't been afforded fair wages and working conditions. Neither is acceptable to me.
The NEAT Agreement offers us a perfect opportunity to establish that employers of all shapes and sizes can have stage management teams fully staffed with Equity workers. As your Eastern Regional Vice President, I look forward to finally achieving it for our members in Boston in 2022.