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U.s., British Actors Seeking Union Accord

January 09, 1985| From the Associated Press

NEW YORK — With the Royal Shakespeare Company in town for a Broadway run, British and American actors have resumed talks over union rules that keep them off each other's stages.

Envious outbursts marked the first, informal meeting at Actors Equity headquarters, but it ended with expressions of brotherhood.

F. Murray Abraham, an American who stars in the film version of the British play "Amadeus," suggested that British Equity and Actors Equity merge into a single international union.

Niall Paddon, an Irishman performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company, requested a second, more formal meeting be arranged to discuss specific, short-term improvements to bridge the strained relations that have made it difficult for London and Broadway actors to work overseas.

Since negotiations began three years ago, there have been almost 20 exchanges of British and American performers under a system that trades working hours rather than people.

For example, if one American is allowed to appear for 10 weeks in a West End production, five British actors could play Broadway for two weeks.

Actors Equity President Alan Eisenberg said the arrangement, while helping to break ground, needs to be improved.

He noted that when an American dancer was allowed into Britain to star in the musical comedy "42nd Street," an Englishman, Michael Praed, was granted a six-month visa to open on Broadway in a musical version of "The Three Musketeers." But "42nd Street" was a smash hit, and Praed's show closed in a week.

This left Praed with a half-year to seek work in the United States, and he reportedly has used the time to win a continuing role on the American TV serial "Dynasty."

"It is that kind of thing that strains the relationship," Eisenberg said. British Equity's restrictions cover all acting work done in Britain, while Actors Equity's jurisdiction is limited to the stage.

Frances Sternhagen, an American who starred in the play "Homefront" in London last summer before bringing it to Broadway, said she was paid the same low salary as British members of the cast. But unlike her counterparts, she was not allowed to supplement her pay by doing commercials or television parts. The British noted, however, that Sternhagen was paid with the strong dollar while she lived in London, while they were paid with the weak British pound in New York.

British actors, while always admired, have gained a stronger following in America during the last decade from the popularity of dozens of British dramatic series imported by U.S. public television.

But Paddon said he thought British actors were merely the "flavor of the month" in Hollywood and the craze would pass before they presented a lasting threat to American film actors.

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