On the day of performance, Red Bull Theater canceled its planned March 30 live stream reading of John Ford's 'Tis Pity She’s a Whore. The free online event, which was set to reunite the cast of the company's 2015 production, was called off a few hours before its scheduled start time due to a dispute with Actors' Equity Association.
Red Bull's leadership, which announced the free virtual event on March 23, says it did not not actively consult AEA ahead of the reading, as the live stream did not involve any theatrical production or venue "known to be covered by their jurisdiction." AEA, which announced new streaming media terms, contacted the theatre company on March 26 about a lack of formal contract for the event and put forward new terms for the reading on the afternoon of March 30.
"We were unable to agree to the extraordinary terms proposed by AEA late this afternoon in order to proceed as planned," shared Red Bull's Founder and Artistic Director Jesse Berger and Managing Director Jim Bredeson in a joint statement.
The terms put forward to Red Bull were related to salaries and health benefits, though both the theatre and the union declined to specify further (members can access contract information via the member portal).
"We understand the Union’s position regarding the Off-Broadway Agreement, however, we respectfully disagree that that agreement is applicable," Bredeson later told Playbill. "Despite this disagreement, we will continue working to make this and other community enriching events possible during this moment of national crisis. "
In response, AEA maintains that the new streaming terms are to the benefit of the theatre community during this public health crisis. "Dozens of theatres large and small have signed a streaming media agreement during the COVID-19 outbreak that helps protect the economic security of Equity members with salaries and health care contributions," says Brandon Lorenz, the National Director of Communications for Actors’ Equity.
"Any employer that is signatory to an Equity collective bargaining agreement should know better than to ask Union actors and stage managers to work without the appropriate agreement in place," continues Lorenz. "At a time when almost everyone in the arts is going without a regular paycheck and worries about their health care, it's deeply sad to see that some employers will still ask Equity actors to work without the protections of a contract."
“AEA has been our valued partner in providing employment to hundreds of actors over the last 17 years in both full productions and live in-person readings. We value our relationship with the Union and all its members," says Bredeson. "We hope to engage in active dialogue with AEA and peer organizations across the theatrical community to find a way to make that happen as quickly as possible with reasonable terms for all concerned. We are confident that a solution will be found, because it must. We look forward to working with all of our colleagues to create clear guidance that will allow our community of artists and theatre lovers to gather in the virtual space during this unprecedented time of COVID-19."
In the midst of the pandemic, Red Bull's Monday evening Revelation Reading Series at the Lucille Lortel Theatre is temporarily on hold. Its streaming intentions are part of an industry-wide move to online programming as theatre companies look for ways to stay connected with their audiences during forced theatre closures and stay-at-home mandates.
Red Bull's upcoming production of The Alchemist, scheduled to begin May 12, has been postponed and will be moved to the 2020–2021 season.