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Posts Tagged ‘Short Engagement Touring Agreement’

contract - cartoonYesterday, Actors’ Equity Association held a forum where its membership had the opportunity to voice concerns regarding what some performers view as the unfair utilization of lower tiered touring contracts by certain productions that will be going out on tour in the 14-15 season. Here is a follow up article on the forum in The New York Times.

Having been an actor myself, and someone who now also has a number of years of experience on the business side of theatre under my belt, I have a decent understanding of both sides. I chose not to attend the forum, but based on the NYT article it sounds as though the AEA leadership provided a sense of the historical and financial context that led to the establishment of these various mutually agreed upon lower tiered union touring contracts.

But is AEA’s membership now satisfied and willing to accept the way things stand, or when it’s time for AEA to re-visit these contracts will the membership push their leaders to seek changes? Any thoughts, or predictions? Feel free to share!

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walking-on-the-side-of-the-road

An article in yesterday’s New York Times exposed the growing frustrations of some of AEA’s membership about upcoming 14/15 tours using lower-tiered contracts. You can check out that NYT article here.

For more information about the Short Engagement Touring Agreement (SETA), please check out my post from a few years ago here.  Also, in a more recent post, actor Patrick Oliver Jones, currently on tour with EVITA, talks about how the SET Agreement works here.

Stay tuned for more on this issue as details develop following AEA’s Town Hall Meeting on January 27.

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Actor, Patrick Oliver Jones. Currently on the road with the First National tour of EVITA

Actor, Patrick Oliver Jones. Currently on the road with the First National tour of EVITA

So, I am really excited about this post! I mostly talk about facts and figures and numbers and behind the scenes business stuff here, but the truth of the matter is, while these are all important aspects of the theatre touring industry, we can’t forget, hello — there are people on stage, too!

Which brings me to the latest in The Road 101’s “Voices From The Road” series. I am so lucky that actor, Patrick Oliver Jones, currently on tour with EVITA, stumbled on to The Road 101! Despite how busy he is, Patrick kindly agreed to talk about touring from an actor’s perspective in general, as well as his own personal experience.

This post is Part One of what will potentially be three posts. For these future posts, The Road 101 will check in with Patrick down the road to see how things are going, and what other interesting observations he has about the world of theatre touring …

THE ROAD 101: Patrick, thanks so much for taking the time to give The ROAD 101 readers insight into your experience being an actor on tour! Could you tell us little about your background? Where you’re from? How you got into the performing arts as a career? Anything else you’d like us to know about how you got into the business?

Patrick Oliver Jones:  I grew up in Birmingham, AL and had my first taste of performing in my church’s third grade choir. That grew into singing roles in Christmas, Easter, and other productions. But my first actual musical was FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in the ninth grade. I played Mendel, the Rabbi’s son. I had braces and thick plastic glasses and didn’t really look the part, but I was so excited to just have lines and little solos here and there. Throughout high school I performed in a musical every year, but I still wasn’t sure about theater as a career, until I got a singing scholarship at Samford University. It was the summer after my freshmen year that I got my first professional acting job as part of the ensemble in a summer stock theater company. During that summer I was cast as Pharaoh in JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT and I absolutely loved it! Getting to sing and move like Elvis in such a fun role was totally exhilarating to me, and I knew that I wanted to continue doing more of that kind of work. Since then, except for a brief two-month stint as a car salesman (you gotta do what you gotta do), I have been blessed to make my livelihood from performing.

TR101: For this tour of EVITA, how did you find out about the auditions? What did you need to prepare? What was the process like? How long before you heard that you got the part, and from whom? And once you heard you got the job, how long before you had to get yourself packed up and out on The Road?

POJ: In late March of this year, my agent lined up an audition for me with Telsey Casting, the biggest theatrical casting agency in New York. I was going in for the Peron understudy and to be a part of the ensemble. At this initial audition I was to prepare a song of my choice for the music director and one of the casting directors. A week later I got a callback and was given a packet of music to learn, about 20 pages total, that included ensemble parts as well as Peron solos. I had never sung the EVITA score before, and it has some tricky parts in it. Even though I had just a couple of days to learn it all, the music director was so friendly and understood how difficult the music was to learn in such a short period of time. She helped put me at ease as I sang through the sides for her and the associate director, and it certainly made for a much better audition experience. (I am constantly reminded in moments like that how much those behind the table want those of us who audition to succeed. Getting nervous is part of the game for actors, but we have to be mindful that they want us to do well because that makes their job more enjoyable and easier in casting the show.)

About two weeks later I was notified from my agent about a second callback…this time for the choreographer. It was to be a 90-minute session of going through different sections of the show. Usually dance callbacks have around 10 people or so (as they are looking for several ensemble parts at once), but as it turned out it was just me and one other guy at this dance call. It was comforting to know that I had a 50-50 chance of getting it, but it was also nerve-racking to be one-on-one with the choreographer, especially since I am not a dancer and it takes me a while to pick up choreography. But I must have done well enough, because three days later on April 8th my agent called and said I booked the tour!

However, rehearsals wouldn’t begin till August, so I had several months of continuing auditions and booking other work until then. To be honest, by the middle of July I still hadn’t signed a contract for EVITA. It wasn’t till I read my name in a press release announcing the cast on Playbill’s website that I knew for sure I was in. A couple of days after that, I went in to my agent’s office and finally signed my contract.

TR101: How much of the business aspect of The Road, including the complex behind the scenes ticket pricing, budgeting, contracting and settlement operations, are you and other performers aware of while you are out there rehearsing and performing?

POJ: Being a part of the Actors Equity Association, the union governing both actors and stage managers, we are aware of some of the finances going into a national tour like this. You see, Equity has created about 11 different tiers and categories of contracts for touring productions. The Production Contract, which includes Broadway, has five tiers and the Short Engagement Touring Agreement (SETA) has six categories. Based on our average weekly guarantees/flat fees and box office receipts as well as things like number of actors hired and trucks used, this touring production operates under the SETA contract. Though SETA salaries are far below that of the Production Contract, it is possible for us to make above our contractual weekly salary. If revenue ever exceeds expectations during a particular week on tour, this is called “overage” and the EVITA cast gets to share in those increased profits along with the producers and presenters.

Ticket prices vary widely from venue to venue. Tempe, Arizona has house seats going for $73 while in Los Angeles they top out at $125. The cast and crew are not usually given comp tickets or discounts to the shows. However, presenters will sometimes offer such deals on specific days if ticket sales are lagging or they want to fill the seats for a particular reason like opening night or press night. This gives us a chance to have family and friends come see us at reduced rates, which we are always grateful for.

TR101:  It must get a bit exhausting out there every once in a while, or performers get sick. How does the understudy situation work on your tour of EVITA?

POJ: Our show has a lot of group numbers and once the curtain opens most of us in the ensemble are quickly changing costumes going from scene to scene. As a result we don’t get many breaks in the show, which can be hardest on those in the dancer tracks. Because of this and the difficulty of the choreography, we have already had three people out on injury so far and we’re only in our fourth city. Thankfully, we have four swings (two male, two female) that cover all 18 of the ensemble tracks (nine male, nine female). To simplify what the swings have to learn through the rehearsal process, each swing focuses on 4-5 ensemble members to cover at first. However, eventually each swing must learn all nine ensemble tracks of their respective gender.

So far the process has been fairly seamless as they simply fill in for whoever is out of show. That can be due to illness, injury, or if someone is swung out of show, which is what happens when one of us in the cast is allowed to watch the show from the audience. This is particularly helpful to an understudy like myself to watch a performance to see what the principal I cover does on stage. In the unfortunate event that we had more than two male or female ensemble members out (knock on wood!), then our dance captain who is also one of the swings would devise a split-track, where portions of those ensemble tracks would be covered at different times throughout the show, depending on their importance to a scene.

TR101: What is your favorite aspect of being a performer on The Road and what is the most challenging aspect for you?

POJ: The best part of being on the road is the traveling. Being paid to go to cities like Chicago, Orlando, or Seattle is truly a delight, especially when I have friends or family there. While there is the downside of living out of a suitcase and dealing with long lines at the airports, there is the benefit of seeing wonderful cities across the country, especially those I’ve never been to before, and embracing my inner tourist that I keep hidden in New York City.

The most challenging aspect is the schedule. Most of our stops last one week, then it’s on to the next city. Performing six days in a row with two shows on Saturdays and Sundays and then traveling on the seventh day makes for a very long week. The weeks often run together and it can be difficult to realize what day it is. In cities where we stay two weeks or longer, then we are able to savor a full day without traveling or performing and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the city.

TR101: How are you enjoying being in Los Angeles right now? 

POJ: Interestingly back in 2005, I was deciding the next step in my career and debating whether to live in New York or LA. It was Broadway and the ever-abundant theater opportunities that eventually led me to choose New York, but I have always been attracted to the TV and film production here and enjoy visiting sunny Southern California with its beautiful weather, temperatures in the 70s, and less frenetic pace of life than NYC. Fortunately, we are here for three long weeks and our show and rehearsal schedules allow us to avoid most of LA’s famous rush hour traffic. As a result I’ve been able to go to TV show tapings of Let’s Make a Deal and Chelsea Lately, drive out to the beach and pier in Santa Monica, stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and go hiking in Teluca Hills.

TR101: Are audiences different from city to city? If so, in what ways?

POJ: In our first three cities (Providence, Chicago, St. Louis) audiences were pretty much the same…quiet. I mean it is basically a musical biography that begins and ends with a funeral. Furthermore, it is completely sung through so listening is imperative to not miss any dialogue or the storytelling. However, once we got here to LA the audience was a vocal part of the show for the first time. Scenes were getting chuckles and applause that we hadn’t had before. I’m not sure how to explain the change, but those here in Los Angeles seem to grasp the ironic and sarcastic moments that others have either not understood or at least were not vocal in their understanding.

TR101: Would you be interested in giving us updates on how things are going for you as you travel with EVITA to other cities?

POJ: Absolutely. Just let me know how often you’d like updates and what types of info would be most beneficial for your blog. I’m happy to keep you posted! 🙂

 * * * * *

Patrick Oliver Jones is currently on the road with Evita (Peron u/s), having recently finished the Equity national tour of The Addams Family (Lurch, Mal u/s). Off-Broadway he starred in the world premieres of The Extraordinary Ordinary, Magdalene, and Swiss Family Robinson (NYMF). Regionally, Patrick has led a revolution in Les Misérables, made ladies swoon in Beauty and the Beast, antagonized Quixote in Man of La Mancha, and spent his days mooning in Grease. His dramatic works include The Tempest (Ferdinand), Look Homeward, Angel (Eugene), and To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (David). On camera he has co-starred in BLUE BLOODS and LAW & ORDER: CI as well as numerous national commercials in the U.S. and Canada. www.PatrickOliverJones.com

 

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concert-promoter-settlement-sheet

I tend to keep things pretty simple here at THE ROAD 101. This blog is designed to give basic insights into the business of commercial theatre touring without being overally technical. That said, I found a useful link at Actors’ Equity Association called TOURING 102 that presents a few hypotheticals showing how a producer’s and presenter’s bottom lines are affected depending on different guarantee and gross revenue scenarios. It’s a little more advanced than what I typically get into here, but, hey, it’s good to exercise those brain cells once in a while! The Touring 102 post also gives some good, general insight into the risks and profit requirements a producer needs to consider when building and booking a tour, as well as what a presenter might generally take into consideration when creating a season.

If the lexicon is unfamiliar, you should be able to find all the tools you need right here at THE ROAD 101 to help you! Be sure to check out THE ROAD 101 Glossary for a solid list of definitions. Also, be sure to input terms into THE ROAD 101 search field, and you will likely find related posts containing the answer you are seeking.

The graphic above is a blank settlement that is actually for concerts rather than theatre, and includes some line items that are not applicable to this discussion, but does share some basic similarities with a theatre settlement and may be a helpful visual to get a sense of what a settlement looks like.

I recommend you have a calculator handy! It will help you understand better how the Touring 102 author arrived at his or her various numbers.

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PLAYS ON THE ROAD

Historically, The Road has tended to embrace musicals more than plays, (as one conference attendee quipped, “no one walks out of a play humming the scenery”) but the ratio of plays being booked compared to musicals has been going down even more in recent years. Yet, why is that? It would seem that there would be financial advantages to presenting a good play, and just looking at Broadway alone this season, there are certainly good plays a-plenty out there.

At the Tuesday 5/15 afternoon session, “PLAYS ON THE ROAD,” a panel of presenters, producers and bookers explained why touring plays has become less desirable and more risky economically compared to the past.

Commitment Issues

Much more so than a musical, a play tends to require a “star” to attract audiences when it goes out on tour, and a tour really needs a star to commit a good year and a half to two years out when presenters are beginning to put together their seasons. Presenters don’t want to put a “TBA” in their brochures, and they certainly don’t want to still have any roles “TBA” six months out, yet that is when many stars feel comfortable making a commitment to a touring project since they are more likely to know then if any film or TV commitments would conflict.

Regional Competition

Many touring venues are in markets that have regional theaters and resident theater companies, and these nfps have a tendency to do mostly plays. As a result, Road presenters don’t want to risk doing a title that one of these local organizations would produce on their seasons.

Less Weeks To Amortize

Plays have a tendency to not book as many weeks on The Road as musicals. As a result, plays have less weeks to amortize costs. This reality makes plays much riskier to present compared to musicals, which are more likely to have multi-week engagements and longer touring schedules.

Plays On The Road And Multiple-Week Runs?

By the time word of mouth gets going, a play is often already on its way out of town since plays tend to be booked for just one week (certainly in secondary markets) so on the one hand, plays need to be presented for more than one week in order to mitigate the risk. At the same time, however, some markets, especially those with modest sub load-ins, may not be able to fill their houses enough to make a profit, or hit break-even, for more than a one-week run of a play.

Play vs. Musical Appeal

Another thing that presenters take into consideration is that musicals tend to have the same appeal across markets, whereas a play that is received well in Louisville may not be The Ahmanson’s cup of tea. Therefore, presenters and bookers often feel that finding one play property to fit the bill in enough markets is a far greater challenge compared to musicals.

Changes In The Industry

Another factor that comes into play is price, which used to be a play’s big advantage over a musical. Now, however, the price to present a play is no longer as attractive as it once was in comparison to a musical. A few years ago, a new contract called the SETA contract (Short Engagement Touring Agreement) became available. This contract has a Guarantee cap. As a result, when musicals tour under SETA, the Guarantee is not necessarily much different, and, may even be less is some cases, than the weekly Guarantee for a play.

A New Model?

While the realities expressed were certainly disheartening, one bit of light was that the panelists, as well as other conference attendees, voiced their support of plays, and their desire to still present them, and believed plays could still be booked if The Road could come up with a model that would make touring plays less risky. Here were a few ideas that were brought up in this session:

  1. Perhaps for a 30-week tour ask 3 different celebrities to commit to just 10 weeks.
  2. Tour in rep several plays under the brand “Tony-Award Winning Plays” or “Tony-Nominated Plays” (though Producer/General Manager, Stuart Thompson pointed out that this could be a challenge to get these licenses since the plays could probably earn more on a single license at one theater)
  3. Include a sit-down in New York City as part of the 30-week tour. This might also make the tour more attractive to a star.
  4. Can presenters think creatively to reduce their costs, or negotiate with local unions?

The fact of the matter is, producers, bookers and presenters all really like plays, and have seen the positive impact that plays have had on audience members, but the commercial theater touring industry is a business. It’s a business where both labor costs and risks are high, so presenters have become cautious when considering plays for their seasons, despite how they feel about plays emotionally.

Hopefully, some of the new model ideas that people offered at this session, or other ideas, will build momentum, and plays on The Road will gain the larger presence they deserve.

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