A variety of indoor and outdoor productions have been mounted around the country with nonunion actors, but Equity, which represents 51,000 performers and stage managers, has taken a hard line, initially barring its members from in-person auditions, rehearsals and performances, citing safety concerns.
It has recently been granting permission for participation on a case-by-case basis, saying its top priority is the health of its members. The union hired Dr. David Michaels, who headed OSHA during the Obama presidency, as a consultant, and has said it would allow its members to work only in areas where the pandemic is under control — and only under conditions that including frequent testing of actors and stage managers, and staff who interact with them.
McColl said that the union’s membership has been divided over how soon to participate in reopening. “There are members who think we should withhold everybody’s services until there’s a vaccine, and there are members who say, ‘I have autonomy; I want to do this work; Get out of my way!’” she said. “It’s our job to walk that midline and do the best we can to keep people safe.”
The union has also agreed to allow a seaside theater in New Jersey, the East Lynne Theater Company, to stage and film a two-person play, “Nothing Matters,” but that production will have no live audience. Instead, it will be streamed for six weeks on YouTube, with tickets at $15, said Gayle Stahlhuth, the artistic director. (On a larger scale, the union has also agreed to let the Broadway company of the “Diana” musical perform for a Netflix taping.)
And the union has agreed to allow the Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black theater company, to stage a weekend of cabaret performances in a Cambridge, Mass., parking lot under the auspices of Central Square Theater.
Equity had previously agreed to allow the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass., to stage an indoor production of a one-person play, “Harry Clarke,” but Massachusetts would not permit indoor theater, so the show was moved outside. Equity has also allowed another Pittsfield company, the Berkshire Theater Group, to stage an outdoor production of “Godspell”; that show is now in the third week of a sold-out run that is scheduled to continue until early September.