Broadway Casting Directors Union Rallied Outside Tony Awards Rehearsals

by Michael Eddy with Photos by Howard Sherman
Broadway Casting Directors with Teamsters Local 817 Rally outside Tony Awards Rehearsal
Broadway Casting Directors with Teamsters Local 817 Rally outside Tony Awards Rehearsal

Broadway casting directors rallied with union and theater supporters outside the Tony Awards rehearsals at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, calling for a union contract. Casting directors are organizing a union with Teamsters Local 817 and are calling on Broadway producers to negotiate a union contract. Though the Broadway casting directors joined Teamsters Local 817 in 2016, the Broadway League refused to negotiate a union contract with them.

While casting directors have gotten the cold shoulder from the producers, they have the full support of other Broadway unions, including IATSE Local One, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Actors Equity Association, and Musicians AFM Local 802.

“The Casting Directors who work on Broadway perform crucial services to the industry,” said Matthew Loeb, President of IATSE. “They have expressed their desire to be represented by Teamsters Local 817. They, like all workers, deserve the dignity that comes with the provision of health and retirement benefits along with the protection of a union contract. The IATSE stands strong behind the union and the Casting Directors in their endeavor for fairness and respect.”

“Musicians support casting directors in their fight to organize for fair wages and benefits–everyone deserves to have a union,” said American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada International (AFM) President Ray Hair.

“We are the only employees on Broadway who do not have healthcare or a pension. It’s Tony season and our productions are being celebrated, but we are being overlooked,” said Tara Rubin, casting director for Jersey Boys, Dear Evan Hansen, and other shows.

Teamster Local 817 Rallies for Broadway Casting DirectorsThe Tony rehearsal day rally is part of the union’s strategy of bringing attention to the casting directors ongoing call for union negotiations with the Broadway League and producers, during the week leading up to the Tony Awards, when all eyes are on Broadway. Casting directors chanted and held signs reading “Fairness For Casting” while handing leaflets to actors and crew members entering the concert hall for Tony rehearsals. The union plans for more activity on Sunday night, the night of the Tonys Awards itself.

“When Broadway fans are paying record ticket prices, there is no excuse for not providing basic benefits for Broadway casting directors,” said Tom O’Donnell, President of Teamsters Local 817. “The Tony Awards are Broadway’s big night, but the casting directors behind the celebrated casts are being snubbed by the producers. We will make sure their voices are heard on Sunday.”

The rally came as leading actors, including Liam Neeson and Tony-nominee Katrina Lenk of Indecent, voice their support for the casting directors on social media, with the hashtag #FairnessForCasting. Cast members of Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Beautiful, Bandstand, A Bronx Tale, Phantom of the Opera, Waitress, Kinky Boots, and Come from Away have also posted photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in support of the #FairnessForCasting campaign.

“We are encouraged and excited by the incredible and growing support we are receiving from the Broadway and Hollywood community,” said Bernie Telsey, casting director for shows including Hamilton and Hello Dolly!.”

Unlike Broadway, the film and television industries have negotiated union contracts with casting directors for more than a decade. Many of the entertainment companies – like Disney, Warner Brothers, and Universal – produce both films and Broadway shows, leaving many to wonder why union casting directors are acceptable to the companies in the first instance, but objectionable in the latter.

Teamster with Local 817 join rally outside Tony Awards rehearsals The Broadway League has put out the following statement on the matter:

The Broadway League has great respect and deep appreciation for the work of casting directors and their valuable contributions to our Broadway productions.  Casting directors that are owners or employees of casting companies, however, are not employees of our shows.  Like other outside agencies, including general managers, advertising agencies, accountants and lawyers, who are also intimately involved with a show and whose collaborations we also value, casting companies are engaged as independent contractors. They are separate businesses with their own employees and typically work on more than one show at a time within and outside our industry.

We have had a respectful dialogue in the past year with Teamsters Local 817 but do not believe it would be appropriate for the Broadway League or its producing members to recognize a union as the bargaining representative of professionals who are not employees of our productions.  To the extent that Local 817 or the casting companies themselves disagree, we have encouraged them to seek a determination from the National Labor Relations Board, which is the appropriate forum to resolve disputes of this nature.  We have even made clear to the union that we are prepared to expedite an NLRB process.