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‘Monkey’ Doing Business Without a Union Contract

When producer Barry Hankerson brings “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood Tuesday, the most expensive ticket will cost $22. That’s less expensive than the least expensive ticket at the other big theaters in town.

The audience in other cities for “One Monkey,” a comedy starring Marla Gibbs and Kim Fields, has been 85% African-American. This audience isn’t as affluent as the audience that usually goes to the big theaters, Hankerson says, so he wants to keep ticket prices low.

To do so, he thinks the actors’ union, Actors’ Equity, “should give me some leeway that reflects that my market can’t do the same as other markets.”

“By the time we hit Broadway"--which Hankerson hopes to do at a Nederlander theater in February--"we will be a fully union show from tip to stern,” he added. “My goal is to use this show to reformulate some of the rules and regulations in the union so that black shows are not undercover productions, so they have a real relationship with the union.”

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Many minority actors soured on Equity during the “Miss Saigon” controversy last year, he added. Equity’s backing down from its original position on behalf of minority casting “thawed out the thinking process . . . and opened the door to other changes based on the reality of the marketplace. . . . The issue is getting Equity to look at how to deal with a minority-marketed show.”

In the meantime he’ll sign a union contract “at my leisure.” He claimed he was paying his actors “above union scale anyway” and was negotiating concessions with Equity in Chicago. However, Tad Curry, Equity’s Midwest Regional Director, said Hankerson broke off those talks “three or four months ago. He told us we would hear from his attorneys. We were prepared to fly to Baltimore where the show was playing at the time, but we never heard from anyone and could never get him on the phone.

“Members of our ethnic minority committee had at least one long good meeting with him and talks with several members of his cast. (We) were led to believe that there would be more fruitful discussions, but after that--nothing. Hankerson’s been elusive. I’m willing and ready to negotiate.”

Hankerson, who was traveling, could not be reached for comment.

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Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Equity Western Regional Director George Ives said his office would inform “any union member (in the cast) that they should not appear without a contract. We will warn them that if they do so we will bring them up on charges.

“I find it particularly disturbing,” he added, “to see this happen at a major house like the Pantages. As landlords, the Nederlanders can rent to anyone they choose, but we very well may put up an informational picket line.”

The stagehands’ union, IATSE, claims not to share Equity’s problems. “We hold a contract with the Pantages Theatre. We are paid by the theater, not the show,” said James Matousek of local 33. “We (have) to honor the show, even if there is a secondary boycott.”

MAROWITZ IN MALIBU: Befitting the neighborhood, Charles Marowitz has lined up a star-studded list of actors for a series of readings sponsored by his fledgling Malibu Stage Company.

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The series begins Thursday with Marowitz’s one-woman “Tea With Lady Bracknell,” starring Elin Jenkins. Friday, Ed Asner, Rene Auberjonois and Bonnie Bedelia will appear in Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell,” under Harris Yulin’s direction. Saturday, Harry Hamlin, Kathleen Quinlan and Bruce Abbott will read David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow,” directed by Marowitz.

Location is the tent sanctuary of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue. Information: (213) 456-6096.

Sylvie Drake contributed to this column.


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