The Buffalo/Rochester Liaison Area is mammoth. You could just as easily call it the "Western New York" Liaison Area, with its boundaries stretching as far west as Chautauqua, as far east as Syracuse, and as far south as Ithaca. Yet for all of its geographic size and breadth—not to mention its rich theatrical history—it has a relatively small population of Equity members, and an even smaller population of fully-organized Equity theaters.
These things go hand in hand.
The majority of theaters employing our stage managers and actors in the Buffalo/Rochester Area are using the Buffalo/Rochester Special Appearance Agreement—a prepaid contract designed for use by theaters that are "dipping their toes in the water" of employing our members. In many ways, this means that the design of the contract is working—it's being used, our members are working, and places like Kavinoky, ICTC, and Jewish Rep are keeping audiences engaged and the quality of work in the area high.
But the members in the area have also noticed the consequences of having a prepaid contract dominate the landscape. Health payments are not required, which means our members can work 52 weeks in a year and not qualify for Equity-League health coverage. There are no requirements for auditions—or even audition postings—so members are often in the dark about what roles and jobs might be available in upcoming seasons. The employers are not bound to use Equity SMs and actors on every production, which can make our relationships with our employers—both individually and collectively—feel more tenuous, leading us to be willing to ask and settle for less. And, perhaps most worryingly, one cannot join Equity by working on this contract—forcing many of our future members to leave the area in order to join the union in the first place.
The solution to these issues: It's going to be organizing.
It will be imperative—especially as we emerge together from our current crisis towards a member-driven recovery—that resources be devoted to organizing employers in the Buffalo/Rochester area onto full, seasonal, Equity agreements. These contracts can and will be mutually beneficial to both the members and the employers of the Buffalo/Rochester area, because they will allow us to address and implement long-term mutual goals.
Additionally, to aide in this process, I'm proud to be working on a better model for independent theaters with fellow Councilors and Equity staff members to ensure that we have the tools to craft contracts that meet the specific needs of our members and employers wherever they are.
Our small yet mighty membership in Western New York deserves full Equity contracts and the benefits that go with them. I look forward to achieving that goal in my next term as Equity's Eastern Regional Vice President.