AEA pg. 5 [TYA Contract]



   A Piece of Equity History

I am passionately devoted to maintaining historical memory, especially when it relates to the theatre in general & Equity in particular. With that in mind, I offer the following information.

In 1959, a year before my graduation from Boston University Theatre, I was engaged (allegedly) for a 10 week season of non-Equity stock with a weekly salary of $50.00. However, after working for 3 weeks without any salary, the morning after our 2nd show closed, the company arrived for dress rehearsal of the 3rd production to find the theatre padlocked, & the producer vanished along with the box office proceeds. He had aban-doned us, penniless, in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. In spite of the summer heat (& mounds of luggage), we had no option but to thumb our way back to N.Y.C. It was a nightmare & I knew then, I would not continue to pursue a career as an actor if I couldn’t  do it as a member of Actors’ Equity Association with the dignity & protections of the union contract. 

Consequently, when I was offered my 1st Equity contract, in January, 1961, I had the ad-vantage of knowing exactly why I was joining the union & what I expected from the union. I was ecstatic & fiercely proud of my union card which culminated 9 years of train-ing & validated me as a professional actor. In September 1961, when I was offered a job in a children's theatre company at the famed Brooklyn Academy of Music, I was very excited & immediately went up to the union to inquire what contract I would be signing. I  was therefore shocked & deeply offended when a condescending business rep laughed at me & said, "There is no contract. It’s only kiddie theatre & Equity has no interest.  Just do it & forget about an Equity contract."

Actors’ Equity Association, founded in 1913, was then 48 years old. In fact, over the years, numerous attempts had been made to create a Children's Theatre contract but all had failed. The union had finally concluded that the problems were too complicated &, the salary potential so insignificant, that any further effort was simply not worth Equity’s time. 

I thought this decision a total abrogation of Equity’s responsibility. So I began my 8 year fight to persuade Council & staff of the crucial necessity to try again! Even as I continued working, without contract, for a variety of companies, both resident in N.Y. & on the road. 

All the actors I worked with were fellow Equity members but our wages & working condi-tions (SEE BELOW) were outrageous, regardless of the company we worked for. It was truly like the wild west &, without an Equity contract, there was no "sheriff in town"  to protect our rights, our safety, or our dignity as professional actors. 

By then, I’d become very active in the work of several committees & when I was elected to council in 1964, I vowed that somehow I was going to create a contract that would establish Equity's rightful national jurisdiction. I volunteered to Chair & reactivate a totally moribund Children’s Theatre committee. Most Councillors thought my concerns were naive (even silly) & that, due to my youth & inexperience, I just didn’t understand that staff had already tried, several times, to make such a contract without accomplish-ing anything. Everyone tried to convince me that nobody else cared about my issue & that I was pursuing a lost cause. However, there was no harm in humoring me so President Fred O’Neal appointed me to Chair the committee & I began recruiting members to serve.

Then, at a membership meeting in 1965, an actor named John Kuhner recounted his hor-rendous experience, working for a Children’s Theatre company without the benefit of  contract. His remarks were greeted with sustained applause when he demanded to know why Council allowed such conditions to exist. I instantly realized that his was the com-plaint that could change Council’s thinking. I also knew nothing would happen unless membership voted on it. So (without waiting to be recognized) I called out from my seat, "Make a motion!" God bless John Kuhner! He made the motion & it passed unanimously. 

Council was still not ready to make a commitment but instructed me to have the com-mittee develop suggestions for a maybe negotiation at some time in a vague future. The actors I’d appointed to committee had worked for several different companies & we began putting together statistics & collecting stories of abuse & exploitation. I knew it was imperative to keep the momentum going so I documented everything in periodic progress reports to Council &, by 1967, I had won their approval. 

Although Council was convinced, the Executives & staff were not! Angus Duncan, who was then Executive Secretary, had vigorously opposed & mocked, as absurd, my crusade for a contract from the outset. In Council, he scornfully argued that "Barbara worries about pin-pricks while I worry about sword thrusts." He never altered his position & remained ab-solutely intransigent in his conviction that any attempt for a Children’s Theatre contract would be a ridiculous waste of his staff’s time. Over his objections, & thanks to vital  support from four Equity giants [Theo Bikel, then 1st V.P.; Bill Ross, former V.P. & Founder of the Stage Manager’s Committee; Jeanna Belkin, 2nd V.P. & Chair of A.C.C.A.; & Nancy R. Pollock, Chair of the Committee to Extend Professional Theatre] Council voted to advise management of our desire to negotiate & instructed the committee to prepare demands for negotiation.

Equity has always been extremely sensitive & careful to protect the anonymity of actors; especially anyone filing a claim or serving in a negotiation. No actor (including a Deputy) should ever be placed in a confrontational position with management. Therefore, our negotiating procedures specified that only a member of staff could serve as the Spokes-person at the table. However, due to Angus’ negative & totally antagonistic attitude, the impending negotiation was a unique situation. With this background, I was recognized as the Chief Negotiator of the contract & remained so for the next 20 years, extending over six negotiations, until I left office in 1988.

Negotiations for that first contract were abnormally lengthy, & stretched out over two years, for several reasons. We had insisted that the contract include all the boilerplate (legal) provisions that were standard in all Equity Agreements. Nonetheless, the rules in question were totally strange to producers who had no experience with Equity contracts. Consequently, they quibbled over every single word but it was essential that we maintain the integrity of the language or risk, inadvertently, doing something that could have an  adverse impact on other Equity Agreement(s). Furthermore, two of our primary demands became major deal-breaking sticking points


Management fervently claimed it was crucial that they have a non-Equity allowance in each company. I responded, making it crystal clear, their position was a total non-starter fantasy & we would not waste time debating it. I reminded them that their companies  had always been cast with Equity members. Did they, now, seriously intend to offer their audiences inferior productions without the quality performances of fully trained &   experienced Equity actors. I reiterated, emphatically, that with the creation of the con-tract, actors would rightfully expect, & get, protection from their union & Equity would not betray any member by selling-off any job(s). I remained adamant that our demand for Equity Shop was absolute & non-negotiable! 


Management spluttered & fumed over our requirement that every production have a Stage Manager. Indeed, some of their arguements might be considered creative & amusing, if not ignorant & insulting:  Your demand is unreasonable!  A stage manager is unnecessary! There’s no room in the car!  [even] There is nothing for a stage manager to do!!! One pro-ducer insisted his wife always turned off the house lights & pushed a button for the stage lights. Another argued the school janitor supervised students to unload the show. The one with the wife claimed a teacher was always available to pull the curtain open. In fact, a major portion of negotiations turned into a virtual class, teaching them the job functions & value of a Stage Manager. At the end, they "graduated" from class with flying colors when they accepted my edict: a Stage Manager for each production was absolute &     non-negotiable

The results of negotiation were, at last, ratified by Council & the contract was signed on June 15, 1969. We had created the 1st National Children’s Theatre Contract in Equity history! And it included all the provisions of the Standard Equity Contract in addition to to all the rules unique to children’s theatre production. (SEE BELOW) However, we were under no illusions! It was only a beginning & much work was needed in the years ahead to continue expanding & strengthening the contract. But, we had made incredible progress! 

Following our 3rd negotiation, I approached Charlie Hull, (producer of Theatreworks USA & Chief Negotiator for management), with the proposal that we change the name of the contract in order to eliminate the stigma attached to, still used, disparaging references to kiddie theatre. I suggested we rename it the Theatre for Young Audiences contract. Charlie agreed & the 1975 rule book was published with the new T.Y.A. title.

Next year, in 2019, the contract will celebrate a milestone anniversary. It will mark 50 years, that Equity members have been performing in Children’s Theatre with the dignity & protection of a union contract. And, in the 2014-2015 season, I noted with great joy that our members earned salary in excess of $4,000,000.00. (Statistics from Equity News.)


On the other side of the table, our negotiating partners, were:       


Max Traktman*, (Maximillion Productions);               Barry Weissler                     (National Theatre Co.);          Charlie Hull (Theatreworks USA);                   Kay Rockefeller*        (Traveling Playhouse);                     Judy Ann Abrams               (Pixie Judy Productions);                Jim Eiler*                              (Prince Street Players);                         & John Peel*            (Gingerbread Players & Jack). 

Cover of Equity Magazine,   

celebrating the 1st Children's Theatre 

Contract in Equity history 

Evan Thompson (top R.) 

as Porthos in 

The Three Musketeers

Angus Duncan, (center L.     Actors' Equity Assn.         Executive Secretary)               & Max Traktman (President,       Producers Association of Children's Theatre) 

Joan Shepard (center R.)               as Alice in                                       Alice Through the Looking Glass

Schorling Schneider            (bottom L.) as Hans Brinker in 

Hans Brinker & the Silver Skates

Barbara Colton (bottom R.)           as Tom Cat in Pinocchio


Our Assistant Executive Secretary, Vinnie Donahue had been very ill for several weeks. He returned to work on the final day of the 1972 negotiation. 

In my continuing effort to raise public 

awareness to professional theatre as 

synonymous with, & exclusive to, 

union theatre, I conceived of the fol-

lowing rule which I negotiated into the

the 1st Theatre for Young Audiences 

contract:  "Wherever union actors perform they shall be identified, as members of 

Actors’ Equity Association, by the display of the union logo in the playbill." 

This rule was subsequently negotiated into all Equity Agreements. 

BACKSTAGE June 16, 1972


Long time Equity Councillor, Jay Barney, wrote a regular column for Backstage.

Promotional material I created was circulated to theatres snd schools around the U.S.
Backstage - December, 1975


I feel a deep responsibility for preserving historical memory, especially when it involves Equity. I have been reluctant to discuss what follows because the other individuals have died. Now, after 30 years, I realize that was an excuse for me to avoid reliving a very painful time in my life.  However, the story must be told.

In the mid 1980s Joseph Papp developed an exciting project to introduce high school students to the plays of Shakespeare cast with multi-cultural actors performing in productions at the Belasco Theatre for reduced ticket prices

From the beginning of my campaign to create a Children’s Theatre contract, the TYA committee, & then Council, had always been extremely careful to guard against any attempt to promote a sub-standard version of the Production Contract by using the TYA contract while distorting or ignoring the carefully worded contractual definition of what constitutes children’s theatre. Indeed, one of the reasons for the years of failure to es-tablish a contract for children’s theatre productions was Council’s fear that such a con-tract could potentially open the door for sub-standard (conditions & salary) on Broadway. 

Mindful of this history, in the 1970s, we were successful in negotiating a number of re-quirements that specified automatic salary increases for a variety of additional perfor-mance-related activities including: doing workshops, teaching classes, lecturing, etc. as well as prep time for same, & additional penalties for a variety of circumstances. Charlie Hull had argued that we were just wasting time in negotiation because our demands ad- dressed abuses that simply did not exist. I answered that we needed to anticipate a         future time when someone might try to expand the contract to include additionaluncompensated performance-related responsibilities. Sarcastically, (if not, pro-phetically) we referred to the provisions in question as the Joseph Papp Rules

In 1986 when Papp stated his intention to use the TYA contract for his Belasco Project,   he requested numerous concessions from Council: No additional compensation for running or teaching workshops; No additional compensation for workshop prep time; No o.t. for extended length of performance; No o.t. for extended length of day; in fact, unsurprisingly, he wanted Council to void all the Joseph Papp Rules. The TYA committee considered his request & voted, unanimously, to recommend that Council deny it. 

The night before Council was to hear the committee report, I was working in the office, late, when Papp, (with whom I’d never even had a conversation), called me on my pri-vate, unlisted Equity phone. He quoted the committee report precisely, in detail & demanded that I forget about the committee & persuade Council to grant his request

I was confused, horrified & shocked speechless! Had he truely just said what I thought he had said!!! In my 23 years of Council service, nobody had ever tried to muscle me! I was stunned & felt like I was in a nightmare! How  did he know the content of the confidential report?  Who had given him my unlisted number?  My God, this was Joe Papp! What about my career??? I took a deep breath & said it was impossible for me to do as he wanted because my sworn responsibility was to give Council the committee report, as adopted. Papp’s response is burned into my memory, verbatim: "If you EVER want to work in the American Theatre again, young lady, you will do  e x a c t l y  as you are told!"

Colleen Dewhurst was, then, Equity’s President. The next morning, before Council be- gan, I told her about the phone call & how deeply upset I was. She laughed & assured me that Papp was a great friend of hers & I was "over-reacting & foolish" to worry about my career. I went on to deliver the committee report, as written &, after discussion Council voted to adopt the committee recommendation. Then, Dewhurst took the floor & said the whole discussion had been irrelevant because, as President, she had already granted Papp the concessions he’d asked for. 

Papp made good on his threat to me & for years after, every audition I had seemed to begin with the same question: Did I know why Papp & Dewhurst were bad-mouthing me? The only job I was, then, ever able to get was thanks to my friend, mentor, & past Equity President Theo Bikel, who requested me when he did Fiddler.

Created by Barbara Colton