Actors' Equity Association, the union for professional actors and stage managers, announced in May that none of its 51,000 members will be allowed to work unless it is safe. Since then, they have granted contracts to two theaters in Massachusetts and are allowing the Broadway musical "Diana" to be filmed and aired on Netflix before returning to Broadway in the spring of 2021.
On Aug. 20, Equity granted a fourth contract to a theater in which actors will be working on a set, in costume, with no masks or social distancing. This is for East Lynne Theater Company to rehearse and film "Nothing Matters," about famous journalist Ambrose Bierce.
East Lynne's artistic director Gayle Stahlhuth and the Board of Trustees could not be happier. The film will be available 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays on East Lynne's YouTube Channel from Sept. 30 to Nov. 7, for $15.
Stahlhuth has been working on a plan with Equity since April that would allow the company to film a show if they couldn't present it live. The only reason she sought a contract is because she's in a unique situation.
When the National Tour of "The Band's Visit" closed in mid-March, James Rana, who has been with this show since the first day rehearsals began for the Broadway run, came to stay with Stahlhuth and her husband, Lee O'Connor, who is East Lynne's technical director. She contacted Dave Geible, who wrote "Nothing Matters," to see if he could make some revisions in his script, so that Rana and Stahlhuth could perform it. East Lynne produced its world premiere in 2000 starring Marty McDonough and Patti Chambers.
One of the things Stahlhuth had to prove to Equity was that she, along with Rana and O'Connor, could do everything. Stahlhuth has a small role, and is the director, costumer and set designer. O'Connor is the stage manager, light board operator, and will put up the simple set. When it comes to filming, Rob LeMaire and his friends are setting up the cameras and will be editing.
This back-and-forth negotiating with AEA was frustrating for Stahlhuth. She had to submit East Lynne's safety plan first, and then Equity came up with its plan, and kept adding more safety items and details after she'd resubmit the most recent plan. Easily, she spent over 50 hours on paperwork, plus phone calls and Zoom meetings with Equity's Safety Team.
Stahlhuth is a stage director, not a film director, so she's stepping into a bit of unknown territory, but is willing to face the challenge and hopes other theaters will be allowed Equity contracts in the near future.
Like Equity, East Lynne wants everyone to be safe, but is longing to get back to performing live, indoors, in front of an audience. Theaters everywhere are doing everything they can to bring productions, readings and workshops to audiences at home while waiting until they can return to performing in front of a live audience.
To learn more about "Nothing Matters," see EastLynneTheater.org.