My Take on Non Union Tours: Part II – Where are these tours headed?
Yesterday, I gave you a brief history of Non Union Tours as I know it, and as I lived it.
But what do I think about these tours? What do I think about the current campaign aimed at theatergoers, trying to convince them that only union tours are “Broadway” tours? What will the touring market look like in ten years?
Let me try to answer all those questions in this brief blog.
First of all, and perhaps this is Pollyana of me, but I believe wholeheartedly that every Producer would like to produce an “Equity” tour . . . because doing so gives you access to an even bigger talent pool. And notice, all you non-union folks out there, I didn’t say better. I just said bigger. Casting can be a numbers game. The more people you have to choose from, the better. And yes, Equity performers tend to be more experienced, may have Broadway credits, and so on. What Producer in their right mind wouldn’t want that option? I know so many of the touring producers out there . . . producers that have done 1st Nationals/SET tours/Non Unions, etc. . . . and all of them are dedicated to presenting the best production they can, with the best talent possible.
Everyone wants it. But the economics don’t always allow it. So non-union becomes another option to reduce risk.
And Non Union Tours do have a place in the market. Without question. Anyone who thinks they should be obliterated doesn’t understand the concept that there should be a product to serve all markets. Just like there is a place for high school productions, there should be a place for Non Union Tours. Just like there is a place for an Armani tuxedo, there is a place for a Men’s Wearhouse tuxedo.
Non Union tours help promote theater in areas of the country that are under served with other options. However, they need to be produced responsibly. They should not be produced simply to “make more money.” They should be produced only when a union tour is too risky for the Producers/Investors (these folks have to make money – and the risk has to be mitigated. If they don’t make money, they won’t continue to produce/invest in the theater, and that’s no good for anyone).
Ideally, shows should step down from Broadway as follows . . . Broadway Show, Equity Tour, Non Union Tour.
Unfortunately, with the touring market as challenged as it is these days, that can’t always happen. That’s where the SET tour stepped in.
So what’s the issue now?
The non union tours are still popping up on big stages and being packaged as part of a Broadway series here and there, with the Presenters charging similar ticket prices to consumers as they would for more expensive union shows.
Actors’ Equity believes that if the audiences were more educated about the difference between union and non, they might demand more union.
I give the union a ton of credit for their social media and traditional media push (I do wonder what those ads are costing members – but I guess if it got them even one more tour, that tour would pay for those ads in dues and benefit contributions in a heartbeat). There’s one problem, however.
Entertainment tends to be priced at one rate for the type of entertainment it is, no matter how much it costs to make. A $100 million dollar Avengers movie costs the same to see in a theater as a $1mm independent. A New York Philharmonic album costs the same as a brand new country solo artist, even though one costs less to make (and one of those might even be union and one not, right?).
But the consumer doesn’t care how much it costs. The only thing a consumer cares about is the quality. And this is where the union has an uphill battle. As I hinted at yesterday, as the quality of the non union tours only increases (thanks to the amazing talent that is coming out of high schools as well as what can be accomplished scenically with less money), the consumer won’t care whether the person has a card or not. They just care about their experience. The consumers will qualify it as Broadway or not. Not us. (Do you know how many times I’ve heard from people around the country that their local community theater was producing “Broadway” quality shows?)
If I was the union, you know what I’d do? I’d modify my joining guidelines and go on a massive membership drive to sign up more and more young performers all over the country . . . so when the non-union producers were looking for people, it might not be so easy.
But non union tours would still exist. As they should. They have a place in the theatrical economy. And if a consumer is willing to pay the price, then there’s not much we can do about it, no matter how many ads we place.
I believe that the future of providing more work to union workers (which I’m a big believer in, BTW, being a member of two unions: ATPAM and the in question, AEA) is continuing to come up with contracts like the SETs – which give Producers more talent to choose from, but doesn’t challenge their economics.
What do you believe?
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