Protesting in front of Radio City Music Hall. Photo: Madeleine Thompson
Just days before the Tony Awards, nearly 100 people marched in front of Radio City Music Hall last Thursday morning to support Broadway's casting directors in their fight for union representation. The group carried signs and chanted “fairness for casting,” but their plea wasn't limited to the corner of 51st Street and Sixth Avenue. Twitter users, including several Broadway stars, also sided with the casting directors in 140 characters. “Without casting directors, this wonderful job couldn't exist,” wrote J. Quinton Johnson of “Hamilton.” “Let's get them properly contracted.”
Casting directors are the only group of Broadway workers who are not in a union. They work on individual contracts with studios, and receive no pensions or health insurance. To remedy that, casting directors have banded together with the Teamsters Local 817 to attempt to negotiate with Broadway producers, who are represented by the Broadway League.
Tom O'Donnell, president of Local 817, pointed out the irony of celebrating some of Broadway's biggest successes at the Tony Awards without recognizing some of the people who made them happen. “The biggest snub of this Tony season, and every past Tony season, has been the casting directors,” he said. O'Donnell estimated that the non-film entertainment industry is about 98 percent unionized and, especially since Broadway shows have made record-setting profits over the past few years, “it just seems unconscionable that a group of 40 people have to make a decision about 'can I afford to go to the emergency room?'”
Despite what Martine Sainvil, communications director for the Broadway League, called “great respect and deep admiration” for casting directors, the producers' organization has not been willing to negotiate with the Teamsters so far. “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,” Sainvil wrote in a statement. She added that the League has encouraged the group to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board.
But if the rally was anything to go by, support is growing for the casting directors. Tara Rubin, casting director for smash hit “Dear Evan Hansen,” which won six Tony Awards on Sunday night, said on Thursday that her profession is fairly young in terms of being fully recognized, but that it deserves the same benefits and guarantees as the others in the industry. “I've been doing this for 30 years,” Rubin said. “I'm not going to enjoy many of the benefits when we get them, but I really hope that my colleagues in the field can enter into their careers knowing that they have basic American protections.”
Cindy Tolan, casting director for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” emphasized that Broadway studios should be able to cover such a small group. “We're not talking about thousands of people,” she said. “The price of one Broadway premium ticket for one night is more money than [the cost of] one week for one casting director's benefits.”
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org