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The Gateway Playhouse Sues Actor's Equity Association, Equity Says Allegations are- 'Completely Devoid of Merit'

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Gateway’s Executive Artistic Director, Paul Allan says, 'We did this after exhausting all avenues to resolve our differences.'

The Gateway Playhouse Sues Actor's Equity Association, Equity Says Allegations are- 'Completely Devoid of Merit'

The Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, Long Island's oldest professional theater, announced this week that they have filed suit against Actor's Equity Association and the union's pension and health fund on behalf of the theater and some of its' employees, after the fund demanded that Gateway pay $212,014 to the fund while also denying pension and health benefits to some of Gateway's employees. Gateway's Executive Artistic Director, Paul Allan says that despite attempts to reach a settlement prior to filing the lawsuit, the union left the theater no alternative, "We did this after exhausting all avenues to resolve our differences. We need to protect the Theater which has been operating for 71 seasons, as well as our employees who are like family members to us. The Union's unwillingness to compromise comes at a time when we are reeling from the fall from of the COVID-19 pandemic and this allegation could put the future viability of our entire theater operation in jeopardy."

Allan says that due to COVID-19 restrictions, Gateway had to cancel its 2020 summer season and is estimating losses totaling over $800,000 this year "If you add the union demand and operating losses together we are facing a million dollar plus loss which is extremely difficult - if not impossible - to come back from."

At issue is the union's allegation that Gateway signed some employees to Actor's Equity contracts even though the employees, according to Equity, are not vested actors. Gateway strongly denies those allegations and says that Equity happily accepted payments on behalf of these actors for years, if not decades, without raising any concerns over the eligibility of the employees, "One of the employees has been working at Gateway on a union contract for over 25 years. In other cases, some of the employees who are plaintiffs in the suit have performed at Gateway and many other theaters throughout their entire careers."

Gateway maintains that whatever employment practices they followed during the operation of the theater are standard practices throughout the industry and that the union does a yearly review of all employment contracts, "Is it really feasible that they could accept payments and review contacts for two and a half decades and now decide that one or more of their members are not eligible? If they prevail with their demands on Gateway God help other theaters throughout the United States because whatever they are having issues with as far as Gateway, could become a problem at other theaters nationwide. It seems to me that if they want to change the rules in the middle of the game, they should put us and everyone else on notice that moving forward they will not be allowing certain types of contracts. To now make a demand for money, especially given what is going on with the entertainment industry across the country, will put many theaters in financial jeopardy, not just us."

Allan says that up until now Gateway has always had a good relationship with Actor's Equity Association and hopes that they can continue to work together in the future, "Virtually every Broadway show for the past two decades has had a Gateway Alumnus either performing or working backstage. No one is going to thank Actor's Equity, even if they prevail, for contributing to the demise of this or other theaters."

Brandon Lorenz, spokesman for Actors' Equity Association responded to the allegations with the following:

"Equity has reviewed the allegations in the complaint against it, believe they are completely devoid of merit, and is confident it will prevail in this lawsuit. As it has informed the Court, in October it will be moving to dismiss all of the claims against Equity."


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