Several hundred Broadway advocates and theater workers gathered in New York City on Thursday to demand the industry banish Scott Rudin in the wake of a growing controversy around the producer’s abusive treatment of employees. At the event, which was dubbed a “March on Broadway,” they also called on unions and trade associations in the theater business to begin the difficult process of uncoupling themselves from the Broadway powerbroker.
Organized by Nattalyee Randall and Courtney Daniels, the demonstration featured appearances from Eden Espinosa and Tony-winner Karen Olivo, co-founders of the organization Artists for Economic Transparency, Brandon Michael Nase, founder of Broadway for Racial Justice, and disability advocate and actor Ryan Haddad. The event culminated in a march to Scott Rudin’s midtown offices, as well as the offices of the Actors’ Equity Association.
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“I never thought I had a strong enough voice to be heard, not one that could be heard in an environment that is entrenched in supremacy, an environment that could suppress your whole being,” organizer Daniels said at the march. “Today that changes.”
Thursday’s march follows a tumultuous few weeks on Broadway, spurred by a bombshell story in the Hollywood Reporter on Rudin’s decades of harassment, as well as his penchant for berating underlings and even throwing things at employees. Protestors chanted intermittently and carried signs with messages such as “Art > Institution,” “Put Scott Rudin on the Do Not Work List,” “People Over Paychecks,” and “We Got Trouble,” the latter a reference to an upcoming revival of “The Music Man” that Rudin was to produce. The group was animated despite the unseasonably cold April weather.
“This business is built on oppression. We’re taught to keep your mouth shut, to not say anything or you’ll get blacklisted,” Daniels told Variety. “We’re already trained to have this mindset of ‘Oh, it’s okay. I want to be able to work in this town again.’ Honestly, I feel that we’re breaking down those barriers.”
At the rally, Randall and Daniels repeated a series of six demands, focusing on Rudin’s removal from the Broadway League, while also agitating for greater transparency from the Actors’ Equity Association around the use of union dues.
“We have a union that hasn’t worked for us for some time,” said Randall. “We have a union that hasn’t been transparent.”
Over the past year, advocates on Broadway have voiced concern that Equity has failed to provide opportunity for diverse theater workers and failed to protect them from producers like Rudin, who at Equity’s allowance has long compelled employees of his productions to sign non-disclosure agreements.
“As I look into this crowd, I think about all of the dreams that have been deferred so white dreams could soar,” Nase said at the protest. “White dreams have soared in theatrical plantations. So, say no. Don’t take your contract. Don’t go back to the plantation.”
In the wake of advocacy efforts this past week, Rudin announced that he would “step down” from his producing duties on Broadway. He later followed that up with a decision to similarly remove himself from his film, television and streaming projects, while stating, “I am profoundly sorry for the pain my behavior has caused and I take this step with a commitment to grow and change.”
Additionally, Actors’ Equity called for Rudin to release former employees from their non-disclosure agreements and lobbed the question of Rudin’s removal back to the Broadway League, citing the union’s obligations to honor its contracts with Rudin as long as he remains a compliant producing member of the League.
“I feel that people — producers, the union — are a little shaken in their boots right now,” Daniels said. “They forgot that we have the last say. In this business, actors come last. But we’re the ones out there selling your product.”
After all, Broadway is a commercial enterprise, and whether the commercial theater could reorganize into a fair and equitable industry was an open, though hopeful question Thursday.
“This is the first day that I’ve not felt heartbroken,” said Espinosa before the crowd. “Protest is how Equity was started. We have the power.”
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