Posted by Bruce Miller
Over the last six years, there’s been a lot of fervent discussion about whether Barksdale should become a LORT theatre. Quite a few folks have been involved in these discussions, and all opinions are welcome.
LORT stands for the League of Resident Theatres, which is a membership organization comprised of the nation’s leading professional theatre companies. LORT exists for many reasons, but one of the most important is to represent the 76 member theatres in collective bargaining with the three artist unions: AEA for actors and stage managers, SSDC for directors and choreographers, and USA for designers.
It takes money to operate as a LORT theatre. To super-generalize, LORT regulations require higher ratios of union (AEA) actors than Barksdale uses currently. This would make it more difficult, at least philosophically, to hire non-union locals.
Those ratios are one big issue. Barksdale has a long standing commitment to Richmond-based theatre artists. Money is another.
TheatreVirginia was a LORT theatre. TheatreVirginia went out of business in 2002. There are lots of reasons why, but a fundamental reason was that as ticket sales and funding failed to grow, TVA could no longer meet the expenses of its LORT obligations.
The STYLE report card implied that Richmond’s current lack of a LORT theatre was one of the reasons for actors moving on to larger markets. As I've mentioned earlier, I'm not convinced that artists are leaving at a greater rate than before, and I'm even less certain that the lack of a LORT theatre is the reason for the departure of the ones who are choosing to move on. But we're very open to everyone's input as we continue to analyze the pros and cons of such a major decision.
The global view is this. I think there are at least ten metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that are larger than Richmond and don’t have a LORT theatre: Sacramento, CA (#26), Orlando, FL (#27), San Antonio, TX (#29), Las Vegas, NV (#31), Columbus, OH (#32), Charlotte, NC (#36), Austin, TX (#37), Nashville, TN (#39), Jacksonville, FL (#40) and Memphis, TN (#41).
And there are plenty of great theatres that we all know and love that aren’t LORT. In Chicago, of the 55 AEA theatres, only three are LORT. And the 52 that are not include Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare and Lookingglass. Closer to home, neither Signature Theatre in NoVA nor Wooly Mammoth and Studio in D. C. work under LORT contracts.
Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn’s current SPT contract allows for a higher ratio of non-union locals (the union uses the term non-professionals). Currently our seasonal contract requires that we issue AEA contracts to 60% of all cast members and 100% of all stage managers, with a cap of six AEA actors required for shows with casts of ten or more.
So what does LORT really mean? Well, for one thing, it gives you a seat at the adult table in terms of national standing. As Dave Timberline mentioned, David Leong at VCU would love to see us join LORT, because it would add more prestige to the resumes of his students who work with us.
You would not be off the mark to say that, in terms of “professionalism” and "national standing," SPT is one notch below LORT, and one or more notches above several of the other options that are out there. Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn is Richmond’s only SPT. Prior to 2001, Barksdale used AEA actors only in rare instances and employed them under Guest Artist agreements. Barksdale at Hanover Tavern still uses Guest Artist agreeements.
There are currently 76 major professional theatres that are members of LORT. Of these, 61 are located in MSAs larger than Richmond/Petersburg. One, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, is located in the 42nd largest MSA, only slightly larger than Richmond/Petersburg, the 43rd largest MSA (if you separate Washington D. C. and Baltimore into two MSAs). Fourteen are located in MSAs smaller than Richmond/Petersburg.
These 14 professional theatres, listed in order of the size of their MSAs, are:
Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, CT, the 44th largest MSA;
Hartford Stage Company in Hartford, CT, also in the 44th largest MSA;
Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, NY, the 46th largest MSA;
Geva Theatre Company in Rochester, NY, the 49th largest MSA;
PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC, the 51st largest MSA;
Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, NY, the 57th largest MSA;
Clarence Brown Theatre Company in Knoxville, TN, the 77th largest MSA;
Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock, AR, the 79th largest MSA;
Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, NY, the 80th largest MSA;
Portland Stage Company in Portland, ME, the 97th largest MSA;
McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, the 134th largest MSA;
Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, AL, the 135th largest MSA;
Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA, the 152nd largest MSA; and
Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA, the 301st largest MSA.
In an effort to compare apples to apples, we’ve been looking at these 15 professional theatres to see how they are able to afford LORT membership in communities similar to or smaller than Richmond/Petersburg. I encourage you to investigate these theatres yourself and join in our strategic planning.
More to come.