Industry Pro Newsletter: AEA Members Authorize Strike, Boston Theaters Fight for Survival

Plus Cara Joy David gives us updates on two different Broadway related lawsuits.

By: Feb. 12, 2024
Industry Pro Newsletter: AEA Members Authorize Strike, Boston Theaters Fight for Survival
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AEA members voted to authorize a strike against the Broadway League of the development agreement - while this doesn’t mean the union will call a strike immediately, it does give them another bargaining chip in their ongoing negotiations with the League over the development contract. Regionally, we have a lot of stories of announced retirements and new leaders stepping into roles at institutions of all shapes and sizes. We’re also sharing a Boston Globe story this week that details the struggles of Boston area theaters to emerge from the pandemic.

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Industry Trends

51 Regional Awards Programs to Take Part in 15th Annual Jimmy Awards

The 15th Annual Jimmy Awards, celebrating excellence in high school musical theatre, will see participation from 51 regional awards programs across the United States. These regional programs play a vital role in identifying and nurturing young talent in the theatre industry, providing opportunities for students to showcase their skills on a national platform. The Jimmy Awards, also known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, offer aspiring young performers the chance to perform on Broadway and receive recognition for their achievements.

Broadway/New York

Industry Insider Weekly: New Details of Chad Kimball Lawsuit Revealed; Shubert Bartender Lawsuit Expands by Cara Joy David

Every once and a while I like to do litigation updates because one of my pet peeves is how the media sometimes reports when a case is filed and then drops it.

Chad Kimball’s Case Lives On

As you may remember, Chad Kimball sued Come From Away’s producers in October 2021 alleging that he was “unlawfully terminated” from the show “wholly or partly because Mr. Kimball’s religious beliefs simply made them uncomfortable.”  

Little has been heard about the case since, leading to an assumption there was a settlement. But no. In the fall, Kimball’s team filed a motion to compel more complete responses to requests for information they had made. (One of these requests is a classic. It is: “All Documents and/or Communications between You [meaning producers/their representatives] and any person concerning the religion of Christianity.”) Disputes about information requests are common, but the thing about this one is the information already provided sheds more light on the case.

Remember this all started with Kimball tweeting on November 15, 2020 he was against the state’s ban of “congregation singing." He wrote, in part: “Folks, absolute POWER corrupts ABSOLUTELY. This is not about safety. It’s about POWER. I will respectfully disobey these unlawful orders.” 

The lawsuit jumped right from that to an alleged January 4 conversation between Kimball and producer Sue Frost, but Defendants claim there were earlier communications. Apparently, Kimball reached out to Frost on November 21 via email to say he was aware he hit a “major nerve” and inform her the “the blowback ha[d] been severe,” including being dropped by his manager. According to the responses, he also wrote: “I’m dealing with the cruelty of allegations and rumors about my past and ad hominem attacks on my character. It has been a really rough week…. The bigger story to me is the genuine rage and cruelty in the backlash. And the general intolerance of differing viewpoints within our community. And some of that rage included shaming me for not ‘practicing what I preach’ in Come From Away. While I believe that an unfair accusation, I am also disappointed that Come From Away has been mentioned. And I am sorry you are having to deal with a problem you did not want and did not ask for.”

The responses also claim Kimball had a call with Frost around then. The responses additionally mention a conversation Kimball allegedly had with director Christopher Ashley in early 2021 in which Ashley supposedly “informed Plaintiff that he had created an ‘internet storm’ based on his public refusal to abide by mask mandates – along with Plaintiff’s prior performance on stage and Plaintiff’s mistreatment of his fellow cast members.” No details are given on what that stuff after the hyphen means. (The Complaint had alleged Kimball asked Ashley "if his termination was based upon alleged disagreement with the cast and crew or because of his religious faith" and Ashley confirmed that.)

We’ve gotten a greater indication of Defendants’ defense through these filings as well—they are going to argue that Kimball’s contract had expired, they had no obligation to hire him again, and therefore he was not terminated.

New Complaint Filed in Shubert Bartender Suit

Last summer, several bartenders and water vendors sued The Shubert Organization, Theater Refreshment Co. of New York (which delivers the concessions at Shubert’s theaters), and Theater Refreshment’s head alleging that they were making less than minimum wage. Now Plaintiffs have amended that complaint, with a new claim of retaliation.

According to the amended complaint, following the first complaint, Defendants moved several of the Plaintiffs to theaters in which they would receive less tips. For example, one of the Plaintiffs was allegedly transferred from the Shubert Theater, where there was a two-act show, to the Broadway, where there was a one-act show. (The complaint somewhat confusingly later also complains another Plaintiff was put at the Shubert, which it alleges was overstaffed at that time, leading to less tips there.) Two of the Plaintiffs were allegedly moved from the Booth to the Golden, which the complaint alleges was “commonly referred to as a ‘punishment house.’”

Defendants will now have to respond to this new complaint.

Actors' Equity Association Authorizes Development Strike Against The Broadway League

Actors' Equity Association, the union representing stage actors and stage managers, has authorized a development strike against The Broadway League. This decision comes after negotiations regarding the terms and conditions for developmental work in the theatre industry reached an impasse. The strike authorization reflects ongoing tensions between labor unions and production entities in Broadway and off-Broadway theatre.

Date Set for The 78th Annual Theatre World Awards Ceremony

The date for The 78th Annual Theatre World Awards Ceremony, which celebrates outstanding debut performances in theatre, has been announced. The ceremony is scheduled to take place later this year and will honor talented actors and actresses who have made notable contributions to the theatre community. The Theatre World Awards are highly anticipated within the industry and serve as a platform to recognize emerging talent on Broadway and off-Broadway stages.

Investigation Underway After $40,000 is Stolen From Playhouse 46 at St. Luke's

An investigation has been launched following the theft of $40,000 from Playhouse 46 at St. Luke's Theatre in New York City. The incident has raised concerns within the theatre community about security protocols and financial safeguards in place at performance venues. Efforts are underway to identify the perpetrators and recover the stolen funds, while measures are being implemented to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.


The Boston Globe: Boston Theaters Fight for Survival

Boston theaters are grappling with financial challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with some facing the threat of closure. The closure of several theaters has highlighted the struggles faced by the city's arts community. Amid declining ticket sales and reduced funding, theaters are seeking support from both public and private sources to ensure their survival. The ongoing efforts to sustain Boston's vibrant theater scene underscore the importance of the arts in the city's cultural landscape.

American Theatre: Congo Square Exec Director Charlique C. Rolle to Step Down

Charlique C. Rolle, Executive Director of Congo Square Theatre Company, has announced her decision to step down from her position. Rolle, who has been with the company for four years, played a significant role in advancing its mission of promoting African American culture through theatre.

Williamstown Theatre Festival Announces New Members To Leadership Team, New Artistic Leadership Model

The Williamstown Theatre Festival has revealed additions to its leadership team and introduced a new artistic leadership model. The new leadership model aims to foster collaboration and innovation in the creation of theatrical productions. These changes represent a significant evolution for the Williamstown Theatre Festival as it looks towards the future.

La Jolla Playhouse's Eric Keen-Louie Named Artistic Producing Director

Eric Keen-Louie has been appointed as the Artistic Producing Director of La Jolla Playhouse, working with Artistic Director Christopher Ashley. Keen-Louie brings a wealth of experience in producing innovative and diverse theatre productions to his new role. His leadership is expected to continue the Playhouse's tradition of staging groundbreaking works and nurturing emerging talent.

American Theatre: Cynthia Levin to Retire from Unicorn Theatre

Cynthia Levin, Producing Artistic Director of Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City, has announced her retirement after 45 years of service. Levin's tenure has been marked by a commitment to producing bold and thought-provoking theatre that challenges conventions. Her legacy includes fostering a supportive environment for emerging playwrights and artists. The Unicorn Theatre community celebrates Levin's contributions while preparing for a new chapter in the organization's history.

DC Theatre Arts: Theater Alliance Names Shanara Gabrielle Next Producing Artistic Director

Shanara Gabrielle has been appointed as the next Producing Artistic Director of Theater Alliance in Washington, D.C. Gabrielle brings extensive experience in community engagement and producing socially relevant theatre to her new role. Her vision for the organization includes expanding its outreach efforts and amplifying diverse voices in the theatre community. Gabrielle's leadership is poised to strengthen Theater Alliance's impact in the D.C. area and beyond.


The Stage: Kwame Kwei-Armah to Leave The Young Vic in Autumn 2024

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of The Young Vic in London, has announced his decision to step down from his role in Autumn 2024. Kwei-Armah has been instrumental in shaping the theatre's artistic direction and fostering inclusivity in its programming. His departure marks the end of a transformative tenure marked by critically acclaimed productions and community engagement initiatives. The Young Vic will begin the search for a new Artistic Director to build upon Kwei-Armah's legacy and continue its commitment to artistic excellence.

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February 5, 2024 - Roundabout Unveils the Todd Haimes, The Struggle of Toronto's Theatre Sector

Regionally, a few new leaders in high profile positions across the country - including Nicole A. Watson at Playwrights Center, Megwyn Sanders-Andrews at at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, and Geneé Coreno at WAM. In the UK, a new union agreement for Equity and the ITC, and in Toronto, a tale of haves and have nots in the recovery of one of the most important theatre cities in North America.

January 29, 2024 - GALA Made Whole, Tony Eligibility, Royal Court Might Make Job Cuts

This week, the NEA announced $32 million in grants to institutions across the country, and while these grants are going to be vitally important to the groups that received them, it is just a drop in the bucket to the economic impact that arts organizations have on their local communities. In a new report out of Cincinnati, the impact of arts and culture institutions on that cities economy is $1.6 Billion - and that’s in one mid-sized city. In New York, we regularly see reports about the impact of Broadway, and how it is the economic engine that drives the tourism industry in NYC. Meanwhile, arts funding continues to get cut, both in the United States and abroad, leading to many institutions, like the Royal Court, facing tough choices about their future.

January 23, 2024 - Baltimore Center Stage Announces Layoffs, League President's Abrupt Departure Raises Questions

January is often a rough month in the theater industry - there are fewer shows running, audiences are reluctant to venture out into the winter weather, there is typically a slate of Broadway closings, and companies are taking stock of their financial situation following the closure of (typically) popular holiday productions. This week brings us a lot of stories along those lines, both from the United States and across the globe, where one company in Australia is questioning how impact is measured after losing their funding.

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