Update, 4/14/23 5:35PM ET: Actors' Equity Association has revealed the new contract has been ratified, with more than 95% of members who worked on LORT contracts during the previous contract cycle voting in favor of the measure.
Details have emerged from the new contract tenatively approved by Actors' Equity Association (AEA) for use with member theatres of the League of Regional Theatres (LORT). The agreement was initially announced March 27, with the details of the new contract shared with union members April 5. AEA members have through April 14 to vote on ratifying the new contract. Equity represents actors and stage managers on professional stages nationwide, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, and union regional theatres.
This updated contract would be in place for actors working at theatres that are members of LORT, a group that includes most of the top regional theatres nationwide (see the full list here). The agreement would also affect actors working on Broadway in shows produced by Manhattan Theatre Club, Roundabout Theatre Company, and Second Stage Theater, all of which operate as non-profit regional theatres performing in Broadway houses. The unusual setup allows these productions to avoid using the pricier (and also recently re-negotiated) Production contract, which establishes wage minimums and other provisions for most other Broadway productions. MTC, Roundabout, and 2ST productions that extend into open-ended commercial runs are generally forced to shift to that Production contract once the initial non-profit portion of the run ends.
The contract is the latest new agreement secured by Equity as the industry as a whole is working to negotiate new contracts across multiple unions. Most Broadway contracts expired before or during the pandemic, but were extended when live theatre returned in 2021. AEA is currently negotiating with The Broadway League over contracts for national touring productions, and has publicly threatened a strike that could shutter national tours in the coming days. IATSE and other theatrical unions are also in the process of negotiating expired contracts.
The new LORT contract, which would be retroactively valid from February 13 and remain in place through June 27, 2027, includes increased wages, reduced access to non-union performers, and more.
The agreement sets minimum weekly salaries for actors working at LORT theatres between $776 and $1,867, depending on which of the six LORT categories (based on the company's average weekly box-office take) the theatre falls into. Those figures would increase by 4% in July 2024, another 4% in June 2025, and 6% in June 2026. Minimums at A+ level theatres would also see an additional 4.8% increase to these minimums beginning in December 2025. The previous agreement had left actors making minimums ranging between $739 and $1,778, making the new contract a 5% raise.
These figures are contractually obligated minimums and do not prevent an actor from negotiating higher. They also do not reflect fees that many actors pay out of their own salaries, including percentages to agents and managers, and union fees.
The contract also provides for lower salaries at "Protected Theatres," a designation that requires theatres to submit audited financial documents showing operational deficits. Protected theatres have to re-qualify for this designation annually, and return to the standard contract once they no longer qualify as Protected. Actor salaries for these theatres range between $757 and $1,123 in the new agreement, with raises of 2.5% in July 2024, 3% in June 2025, and 4% in June 2026.
Actors would see substantial increases to the minimum additional salary owed for playing chorus roles and being an understudy in the new agreement, with between 3.5% and 4.75% of the weekly minimum salary added as an increment for Chorus Playing a Part (tantamount to a featured role within the ensemble) and 4% to 4.5% for understudying principal roles. The percentages of these increments have more or less doubled in the new contract. The agreement also newly establishes increments for actors playing their own musical instruments, ranging from 3% to 4.75% of the weekly minimum salary. Theatres are also now responsible for supplying or reimbursing actors for accessories like guitar picks, strings, and reeds—anything the performer needs to play their instrument.
Stage manager weekly minimums also get an increase in the contract, with non-repertory minimums ranging between $957 and $2,625 for stage managers, and between $786 and $2,418 for assistant stage managers. Stage managers working in repertory now have a minimum weekly salary ranging between $1,080 and $1,840, with assistant stage manager minimums coming in between $896 and $1,540. All of those figures will receive the same yearly increases planned for the actors' minimums, and reflect the same 5% bump from the previous contract as well.
The new contract also makes it harder for LORT theatres to use non-union performers. The agreement outlines how many union contracts have to be used on a production before a non-union performer is eligible to be hired, with all of those numbers going up by one across the various categories of LORT. For example, in a B+ level LORT theatre, productions employing 16 equity members will be able to hire one non-union member. If there are 17 standard contracts in play, the theatre can hire two non-union members. That number increases again for productions using 19 Equity contracts, and goes to unlimited once 21 contracts have been employed. This part of the new agreement would not go into effect until June 30, 2025.
Among the other changes are adjustments to when assistant stage managers are required, increased rest periods for stage managers, increased safety and cleaning expectations, and changes to provisions by which theatres can stream archival films of productions. Where equipment used in stage fights and stunts formerly were required to be checked by qualified personnel "prior to each performance," the new contract would update this to "prior to use," reducing the amount of required checks. All gendered language has also been made gender-neutral and inclusive wherever possible.
Also of note, the totals of averaged weekly box-office grosses that determine the various LORT designations would increase at the B and C levels as of July 1, 2024, which would change the designation of a number of LORT member theatres, including American Conservatory Theatre's mainstage (going from A to B+), La Jolla Playhouse's mainstage (B to B+), Westport Country Playhouse (B to C), Second Stage's Off-Broadway Kiser Theatre (B to C), and Yale Rep's Second Stage (C to D), among others.
"We are pleased to have come to a tentative agreement with LORT that guarantees fair wages while also making significant gains reflecting the hard work of stage managers, understudies, and actors who play musical instruments on stage," said AEA Assistant Executive Director Andrea Hoeschen in a March 27 statement—Hoeschen served as Equity’s lead negotiator on the agreement. "The mutual respect between Equity and LORT was palpable throughout the bargaining process, which resulted in an agreement that benefits both sides. The new contract features important advances in safety rules and equity, diversity, and inclusion provisions. In return we agreed to terms that give employers opportunities to maximize their ability to rebuild and expand their audiences. In the receding wake of a pandemic that devastated the livelihoods of actors and stage managers and posed an existential threat to the well-being of LORT theatres across the country, we are grateful to the Equity members and the members of LORT who worked tirelessly through sleepless nights to find a path forward that met, and in some ways exceeded, both parties’ needs."
"On behalf of the League of Resident Theatres, we share the sentiment that these negotiations and our tentative agreement demonstrate the best way to navigate these challenging times is through creative problem-solving with compassion and understanding for both sides," added LORT President Adam Siegel. "Together we will rebuild the ecosystem that is our industry as we continue to recover from the devastating pandemic. We need each other to thrive. And we are deeply grateful for the support of everyone that participated in this process to make that possible."