Broadway casting directors took to the streets on Thursday morning to rally outside Radio City Music Hall, asking to negotiate a union contract with the Broadway League for health care and pension plans.
"We're probably one of the youngest professions — casting directors really didn't start as a profession until the late '70s, when all of the other Broadway unions were already established. We should not be punished because we're a late-blooming profession," said Bernard Telsey, casting director for Hamilton and whose office Telsey + Co cast eight shows on Broadway in the 2016-17 season. "We're not asking to change the workplace. We're not asking to change the rules. We're asking for casting directors to be covered."
Actors and representatives from other theater unions joined the casting directors and Teamsters Local 817 with signs that read, "I Support Casting Directors," chanting "fairness for casting" as they walked around the Midtown venue, where rehearsals for the Tony Awards were taking place.
Alex Brightman, a 2016 Tony nominee for School of Rock — The Musical, was stationed on the sidewalk cheering on marchers and handing out granola bars. "I didn't even know casting directors weren't protected — I thought everyone was!" Brightman told The Hollywood Reporter. "I wouldn't be anywhere without them. So it's the very least, bottom-of-the-barrel thing I can do to be here in support. I wouldn't be who I am if they weren't who they were."
In 2005, film and television casting directors joined the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the union inked its first deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in 2008. The group is asking for the same protections for Broadway casting directors, of which there are roughly 40.
"I support the work of these casting directors because this isn't a political argument. I have friends who are alive today in Los Angeles because of the health plan that we got 12 years ago," says Richard Hicks, the former president of the Casting Society of America, and a film and TV casting director for projects such as Scream Queens and Zero Dark Thirty. "I find it unconscionable when Warner Brothers and Paramount produce movies and television shows and they negotiate with the casting directors for benefits for that work, and then they come to Broadway and they don't do that. It's not right."
Last year, the Teamsters Local 817 went to the Broadway League asking to open negotiations for a contract, but the producers said no because they don't think casting directors are "an eligible bargaining unit," according to Tom O'Donnell, president of the Teamsters Local 817. "They have elements of being independent contractors, but those are the rules that the employer has set up. That's the only way they'll engage them," O'Donnell said. "So I was able to prevail upon the Hollywood studios that this was the right thing to do … and that's what we're hoping to prevail upon the Broadway producers. … We understand it's a negotiation, but we just want what's right and fair."
Many casting directors who have been working in the business for years say that this is about supporting the next generation in the profession. "You see a lot of young faces in the crowd today, and we're hoping that the future of our profession will be a future that young people can look at and say 'This is a viable career,'" said Tara Rubin, who cast this season's Falsettos, Sunset Boulevard and Bandstand. "This week we've shown a great outpouring of support from the other Broadway unions — IATSE, Actors' Equity. We hope that this well of support will bring more attention to the cause and that the producers will do the right thing."
The Broadway League shared 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.
June 8, 1:45 p.m. Updated with Broadway League statement.