Sunday, January 20, 2008

Touring Productions: What's Fair And Equity

Touring Productions: What's Fair And Equity

Thanks to Google alerts, I get theatre-related news from throughout the United States that I would never get elsewhere.

Take Alabama's The Huntsville Times review of the current touring production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, in which critic Jon Busdaker eviscerates the show:

Beware. The box office is swindling hard-earned dollars from people expecting a Broadway-style show.

Keep your money close so you don't accidentally spend it on a ticket, because someone's playing the ol' "bait and switch."

I thought Busdaker was about to blow the lid off the fact that the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that's currently masquerading as the tour of the Broadway original is not only not directed by the Rialto production's Jack O'Brien, nor choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, but the tour is strictly non-equity and directed instead by Philip Wm. McKinley and choreographed by Vince Pesce.

The bait is advertising the show as the legit progeny of the Broadway original and switching it with a bastardized version that doesn't even have the guts to admit its use anywhere of a non-equity cast.

While the show leaves Huntsville this afternoon for Fort Lauderdale, I see nothing on any of the sites suggesting that this is anything but the real deal. What's more, at the Broward Arts Center, they are still charging $65 for the show's top ticket. Perhaps not much compared with Broadway, but in line with ticket prices for other legitimate Great White Way tour offerings across the country.

As I've cautioned previously with the touring production of Hairspray, it's strictly caveat emptor. Or, if you regularly check Actors Equity's Web site, you can see that the following tours are but pale imitations of the Broadway originals:
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
The Producers
The Wedding Singer

Dirty and rotten? Absolutely, especially when they con unsuspecting audiences in each city by not telling the dirty, rotten truth upfront about these shows.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
Touring Hairspray Caught In Sticky Net (April 26, 2007)

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At 20 January, 2008, Blogger Chris Van Patten said...

Honestly, I don't know why some theatres are charging $65 for these non-equity productions. My local theatre is hosting Hairspray and The Producers (non equity) and the highest ticket price is $47.50! I do see one ticket price at $65, but it's for an upcoming Audra McDonald concert. That's as high as it goes though.

I agree they should be more upfront about their non-equity status, but at the same time I'm not quite sure it's fair to call this a full-blown swindle or rip off. Perhaps the production isn't as good (and they often aren't - I saw a non-equity production of Aida last year and it was horrible) but I don't think they are intentionally deceiving anybody.

At 20 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, Thanks for sharing your point of view.

With Broadway Across America placing non-equity shows in their line-up alongside equity shows and charging the same regardless, audiences would be forgiven for thinking they're seeing the Broadway production with the same creative team as the original.

While that's certainly true of most equity productions, it is not the case with non-equity.

At 20 January, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had no idea the Wedding Singer tour was non-equity. It's nice to know that info beforehand, even though I'm still planning on seeing it when it's here in Dallas. Haven't seen ticket prices listed yet. To be honest, I can't imagine that most people (or most people I know anyway) would even know what 'non-equity' means.

I also saw the non-equity Aida tour last year. Machine guns in ancient Egypt. :/ But other than that I thought it was a very good production as far as the performers were concerned.

At 20 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, Thanks for commenting. I hope you enjoy The Wedding Singer as much as I did. While the critics didn't agree with me, I thought it captured the essence of the 80s quite well.

And I hope my point is understood. If someone is going to have a choice between spending the same amount of money on a ticket by an acting troupe that is known for their professionalism and those who are not, where would you spend your dollars? I think you deserve to know so you can make an informed decision for yourself.

At 20 January, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Well, I saw the non-equity tour of "Rent" today, and I saw the non-Equity tour of "Hairspray!" in May, and I enjoyed both of them very much.

But I think you're right that most people in the theater had no idea they were getting non-Equity versions, and what that means. And the shows make no effort to tell you. All the marketing implies that you're seeing the Broadway version. In my "Rent" program, it lists Michael Greif as the director. I'm willing to bet that he didn't direct this particular company!

I guess I'll have a better idea of the difference over the next few years, as I start to see shows on tour that I've seen on Broadway. Right now, it's hard to know what I'm missing.

BTW, my orchestra seat for "Rent" cost me $65. In a couple of weeks, I'm seeing the Equity tour of "Spamalot" for $68. Is that really the whole difference in cost between Equity and non-Equity tours, $3 a ticket!

At 21 January, 2008, Blogger Anna said...

I'm sick of this implication that if it isn't Equity, it isn't worth your money. I saw Hairspray, the non-Equity tour, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am far from an amateur Broadway show tunes fan that doesn't know the difference between a local production and a full Broadway show. The performances were worth the price of admission alone, PERIOD. Just because it doesn't have movable sets does not mean it isn't a worth show - and not all prices were cranked up to $70. In fact, the majority of the seats resided around the $30-$40 arena. Also, these kids and adults work hard. They tour the country in buses and put on shows every night. I support non-equity Broadway shows just as much as I suppose equity, because as an actor as well as a fan of live theatre (and Hairspray), I know good performances when I see good performances, regardless of unions (which I can't stand).

For many Americans who can't afford to go to New York City all the time, or live there (yet!), it is all we have.


At 21 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anna, I appreciate your comments, but I think you've missed my point. I've seen plenty of non-equity shows with great acting, but the ticket price has been much less as it should be.

As Esther has pointed out, she's been charged virtually the same for a non-equity show as she has for Equity. The cast of the non-equity show is not being paid the same as if it were Equity, which means that it's the production itself that is reaping additional profits by masquerading as the real McCoy from Broadway and they're doing so at the expense of the hard-working non-equity cast.

At 07 February, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize this is a stupid question, but I can't find the answer by googleing it- what's the difference between equity and non-equity? Is it just a matter of the actors/writers getting paid, or does it have to do with using union actors?

At 07 February, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, Yours is not a stupid question. If you are seeing an Equity production, actors are members of Actors Equity, which is a union. Therefore, they are being paid at a higher scale than those in non-Equity productions.

Which is the point I was trying to make in my post. If you're paying the same to see a non-Equity production as an Equity one, the only people profiting from that are the producers since they don't pay their actors on a union scale.

Unfortunately, most audiences would never know that they're seeing a non-Equity production. In Equity productions, it is clearly shown in Playbills and programs.

Finally, my issue is not and never has been whether a non-Equity cast is capable of delivering great performances. It's just that since we know they're not receiving the same pay scale, the audience is getting ripped off on the ticket price.

Hope that answers your question.


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