(NEW YORK, N.Y.) – Broadway casting directors rallied with union and theater supporters outside the Tony Awards rehearsals at Radio City Music Hall, calling for a union contract. Casting directors are the only Broadway workers without a union, and they do not get healthcare or retirement contributions from the shows they work for. Casting directors are organizing a union with Teamsters Local 817 and are calling on Broadway producers to negotiate a union contract.
“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.
The rally is part of the union’s strategy of bringing attention to the mistreatment of casting directors 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 the night of the Tonys 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 in support of the #FairnessForCasting campaign. All of the photos can be seen by searching #FairnessForCasting on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
“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!. “We learned that so many people were actually shocked that we didn’t already have the protections and benefits that we are asking for. We are gaining momentum. Our spirits are renewed by this reinforcement and positive energy from our colleagues across the industry.”
Broadway casting directors joined Teamsters Local 817 in 2016, but the Broadway League refused to negotiate a union contract with them. Without a union contract, casting directors are left to find expensive health insurance on their own, or go without it. Their employers – the producers – also make no contributions toward their retirement.
“Make no mistake, this is about Trump’s America,” said Cindy Tolan, a Broadway casting director for shows including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. “Last season, Broadway producers grossed $1.5 billion. Health insurance and retirement contributions for one week for a single casting director cost significantly less than the price of one premium Broadway ticket. We’re talking about the health and welfare of less than 40 theatre artists. Do the math. This is about the little person up against the 1%.”
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 later.
“This isn’t some theoretical or political struggle,” said Richard Hicks, casting director of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, ‘Hell or High Water’, and former President of the Casting Society of America. “I have friends who are alive today because of the health insurance we were able to get for our families when we unionized casting work in film and television 12 years ago. Broadway casting directors help make these projects into big moneymaking hits. Casting directors deserve basic benefits.”
Casting directors are the creative vision behind the dynamic casts that make Broadway shows a success. They are involved in a production from the beginning, assembling actors for readings or workshops, to the end, recasting roles and scouting new talent. Casting directors can work for months or years on a show before they get a formal contract from the producer.
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.”