Audiences may see even more polished productions at Mosaic Theatre as a result of the Plantation’troupe becoming the’only theater company in Broward County to currently operate under a full Equity contract.
The new status also gives Equity actors an added reason to stay in South Florida and provides novices another opportunity to get their union cards.
Mosaic enters its 10th season this fall with the imprimatur of Actors’ Equity Association ‘ the union that requires a theater to pay minimum wages, obey maximum rehearsal hours, ensures good working conditions and guarantees benefits before Equity will allow its members to work there.
‘This is a big step forward for Mosaic,’ said Richard Jay Simon (above), executive/artistic director. ‘I believe this furthers our mission and helps us to leverage a national identity.’
The theater is listed in the Equity newsletter and other publications as having the union’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval for members to work at. Previous Equity companies in Broward County included the Hollywood Performing Arts, the ‘Hollywood Boulevard Theatre, and, briefly, Broward Stage Door.
By providing one more Equity venue, Simon says this helps address the continuing problem of Equity actors based in South Florida eventually leaving the region to look for other work.
‘It has always been sad when young actors leave South Florida because there simply isn’t enough union work,” said Simon. “There still isn’t, but at least there is one more union house than there was and hopefully more will follow.’
The union also allows small local companies in Broward to hire Equity actors and stage managers under special limited arrangements with scaled-back requirements. But a full contract endorses the theaters’ professionalism, helps them get grants and gives them greater latitude in some areas.
‘It’s a big deal for all of us,” said actor Wayne LeGette, a member of the South Florida Equity Liaison Committee. ‘If an actor moves to the area and sees that Promethean, Mad Cat, Mosaic in the past, and Naked Stage and FAU are all on Guest Artist and Special Appearance agreements, then that actor can technically say, ‘Well most of the theaters here [are not full Equity contracts], so why would I would want to move here?'”
Among the benefits of the formal Equity contract is that maximum rehearsal time increases from 30 hours a week to 34 hours a week. ‘Over three weeks, those are 12 very important hours,’ Simon said. ‘There’s never enough rehearsal.’
The Equity status requires paying a slightly higher minimum salary and requires Mosaic to negotiate what percentage of its actors used over an entire season are union members ‘ often between 50 and 60 percent.
The bump in status won’t affect Mosaic’s bottom line too much because it had been fulfilling most of the requirements even though it didn’t have to, such as paying health and pension benefits, Simon said.
Mosaic also can now issue the Equity membership card to new actors, which opens up their opportunities to work at other Equity houses. ‘Let’s say I saw a new kid in that show Groundswell and he wanted to become an Equity actor, I would have that opportunity and room in the budget to give him his Equity card,’ said Simon. ‘Then, we can hopefully keep the amazing talent turned out by New World School of the Arts and many other vibrant programs, working in South Florida.’
In less than a decade, Mosaic had become one of the leading companies, not just in Broward County, but in the region. The operation is housed in a black box theater in the basement of American Heritage School ‘ Simon’s alma mater. The school gives Mosaic the office and stage space in exchange for Simon mentoring students and allowing them to learn by assisting in the productions. Simon has experimented with many configurations, sometimes spreading his 130 or so seats on either side of the stage or surrounding the stage on three or even four sides.
Simon, 35, also was one of the first theater impresarios locally to embrace the Internet. He created a sophisticated website and sends out a slick-looking monthly newsletter by email. Both techniques are now standard procedure for most theaters.
Simon’s seasons lean toward modern thought-provoking dramas or dark comedies, often competing with GableStage for the first regional rights to the prestige hit play of recent New York seasons. Among Mosaic’s successes have been Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio, Christopher Durang’s Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them, Neil LaBute’s Wrecks as well as more venerable works like Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. There have been a few missteps, usually in trying to make surreal plays comprehensible to its mainstream audience. But its audience is loyal even when they’ve never heard of the play they’ve sat down to see.
Still, Mosaic has occasionally run into static with either its landlord or its own board of directors when it has pushed past a certain point. Simon had to cut out the nudity he had staged in a crucial rape in Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter. He also axed plans in 2007 to produce My Name is Rachel Corrie because its criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians angered some Jewish’community members.
The Equity news was welcomed across the region.’ ‘This benefits everyone here,” said actress Margery Lowe. “Theaters, producers, and actors alike, since it continues to establish us as a regional center for professional theater.”