Actors' Equity Unveils Streaming Agreements as Virus Shutters Live Venues

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Social distancing forces the union into the VOD world, at least for the time being.

The coronavirus has forced a paradigm shift on Actors’ Equity, the union for stage performers and stage managers long known for its reluctance to let technology erode the sanctity of live performance even in a video-on-demand age.

With live theaters closed across the country and nothing in sight but more dark stages, the union announced Wednesday that it has made streaming media agreements available for producers located in areas where there is a limit on public gatherings, allowing them to capture and make a performance available online for one-time viewing to ticket buyers.

“These new streaming agreements help protect the economic security of Equity members with additional weekly salaries and health care contributions,” said Equity executive director Mary McColl. “When theaters go dark, actors and stage managers face tremendous economic uncertainty. A streaming agreement can be a win for everyone, from the audience to the actors and stage managers.”

Whether that win will extend past the grim days of the global pandemic is unknown. Equity describes the agreements as temporary.

Two Bay Area theaters, San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater and the Berkeley Repertory, have already announced they would use the new agreements, according to the union, which added that producers interested in exploring whether they qualify can contact their regional Equity business representative.

Off-Broadway company Rattlestick Playwrights Theater also has announced plans to sell tickets to view-at-home recordings of Ren Dara Santiago's The Siblings Play, starting March 23. Others are expected to follow.

With more than more than 51,000 members, Equity has called for emergency aid for the arts and entertainment world following the Broadway shutdown. Stage professionals may also be eligible for assistance from the Actors Fund.