11/18/2016 15:15 EST | Updated 11/19/2017 00:12 EST

Off-Broadway avoids strike with a 5-year contract agreement

NEW YORK — Off-Broadway actors and producers agreed Friday on a new labour contract that boosts performers' wages in a deal that ensures dozens of New York shows stay open as the holidays approach, from "Shear Madness" to "The Fantasticks."

The agreement between Actors' Equity Association, which represents actors and stage managers, and the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers came after six months of negotiations, which resulted in a salary bump that was described as "historic and groundbreaking," but no details were revealed. The current four-year contract expired Nov. 6, but it was extended as both sides agreed to keep talking.

The new five-year deal applies only to off-Broadway theatres, which are defined as venues with a seating capacity between 100 and 499 and includes such high-profile nonprofits as The Public Theater, Second Stage Theater and the Atlantic Theater Company, as well as more than 100 commercial producers.

"The wage increases will allow actors and stage managers to continue to do the work that we love off-Broadway, while being able to support ourselves financially. We are thrilled at the result and overjoyed to be able to continue creating some of the most dynamic, exciting and creative theatre in the world, in partnership with our friends and producers Off-Broadway," Actors' Equity President Kate Shindle said in a statement.

Actors and stage managers working in off-Broadway theatres had been pushing for wages to rise to match the high costs of living in New York. Producers claimed a big increase would be prohibitively expensive and cripple the creation of new work.

Actors and stage managers have pointed out that many shows in recent years that began off-Broadway have become Broadway hits, including "Hamilton," ''Fun Home," ''Eclipsed," ''The 25th Annual Putnam Valley Spelling Bee" and "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet Of 1812."

Actors including Lupita Nyong'o, Martha Plimpton, Olympia Dukakis, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Estelle Parsons, Kathleen Chalfant, F. Murray Abbraham, Jonathan Groff and Patrick Page backed a pay increase, with Nyong'o complaining on Instagram that current wages "are anemic and quite frankly unstainable as a living wage in New York City."

Pay minimums for performers who toil in the shadow of Broadway are linked to the theatre's size. The current contract calls for actors to be paid a minimum of $593 a week if they perform in avenues that have between 100-199 seats, and $1,057 a week for theatres that seat between 351 and 499 patrons. Most work off-Broadway — 63 per cent — happens in theatres with up to 199 seats.

Actors complain the minimums — which don't take into account taxes, union dues and commissions, such as for agents and managers — don't represent a fair wage. The average salary that 190 theatre professionals said in a survey they needed for baseline expenses was $815.

Equity members haven't gone on strike since 1960.

"Off-Broadway has always been a fair and progressive leader in the theatre community," said Adam Hess, president of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers. "We champion new voices, we have been at the forefront of diversity on our stages, and we are proud to also support our actors and stage managers with a fair wage."


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