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'42nd Street' : Pickets To Be On Hand For Opening

January 12, 1987|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

Don't look for veteran theatrical stagehand Wayne Brandt to be inside Freedman Forum on Tuesday for the opening of the "42nd Street" musical at the new Anaheim theater-in-the-round.

Unless things change drastically, Brandt and other members of the Orange County-based stage workers' union on that gala night will be on the outside--looking in.

Tuesday, they expect to be doing what they have been doing for the past week. They will be manning their informational picket line outside the 2,300-seat facility and publicizing their claims that Freedman officials have been engaging in discrimination against their unions.

Although union members walking the picket line Saturday said they had not stopped very many people from approaching the Forum box office, the real test is for a massive turnout of pickets Tuesday.

"We hope to get the other unions to join us that afternoon and evening. We're calling people from San Bernardino, as well as Long Beach and L.A.," said Brandt, business representative of the Anaheim-based Local 504 of the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees.

"It may be their (the Forum's) big night. But it's going to be ours, too."

While cast members belong to Actors' Equity Assn., Freedman Forum doesn't have contracts with either the stage workers' union or the Musicians' Assn.

"The way they have been plugging it, you'd think Freedman Forum was going to be in the class of the Performing Arts Center or the Pacific and Meadows amphitheaters," said Brandt, who has worked at the three larger venues. "Frankly, now I think the Freedman people are cutting back their scale. Now their place is more like a mom-and-pop operation."

Both Leo Freedman, the theater's owner-developer, and James Woodin, the managing director, have refused to comment on what negotiations, if any, are taking place with the two unions.

However, Freedman stage director Phillip Randall, during a "42nd Street" rehearsal break, said Saturday: "We've done some talking (with the musicians' union). Proposals have been made, and I've passed them on to Leo. No, I don't know what might happen next--that's all up to management. My job is to get this show ready--and to make sure we open Tuesday night."

Freedman Forum officials have acknowledged that rising costs--the bane of any theatrical operations these days, especially in mounting musicals--have been a critical factor.

Owner Freedman had to abandon his original plan for building a "Shubert Theatre-like" proscenium facility when projected construction costs soared. He settled instead for the less expensive theater-in-the-round concept--similar to Melodyland, the now-defunct circular playhouse in Anaheim that Freedman had built in 1962.

(Melodyland, a 3,270-seat theater-in-the-round for musicals and headline acts, was shut down in 1968 in wake of declining box office. In 1969 the facility, which is on Harbor Boulevard across from Disneyland, was sold to the Anaheim Christian Church, which converted it into a church auditorium.)

And last year, Freedman disclosed that his Forum project, beset with construction and other delays, would now cost $8 million to build--or $2 million more than the figure announced in 1984.

According to show director Randall, the pre-opening cost of mounting "42nd Street" for this "premiere" theater-in-the-round version is about $250,000, including sets and costumes. He said it will cost an additional $150,000 a week to operate (the production is scheduled to run at least four weeks).

About 30 of the Forum show's 100 employees, including Randall and stars Constance Towers and Peter Marshall, are Equity members. An Actors' Equity spokesman has already announced that Equity members in the Forum show are not to honor the picket line.

A large number of the 50 backstage personnel have been hired "on an apprentice basis," including those who are high school students, Randall said. "No, we're not what you would call a union house. Everyone has been hired on an independent (contract) basis," he explained.

According to Douglas Sawtelle, president of the Santa Ana-based Local 7 of the Musicians' Assn., the Freedman Forum pay for the show's 16-member orchestra is below the union's pay standards. In the Forum's case, Sawtelle said, the union's standard would be $78 an hour and musicians would also be paid for rehearsals.

Both Sawtelle and Brandt pointed out that their union members have worked at all the biggest theatrical and concert venues in Orange County.

"We have 30 people right now (at the Performing Arts Center) for the New York City Opera. We've been at Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center for years," said Brandt, who was part of the backstage crew for the Los Angeles Philharmonic concert that opened Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa Sept. 29.

Brandt and other Local 504 members noted that the old Melodyland show place--Leo Freedman's 1960s theatrical venture--had been an "all-union house."

"We had excellent relations then. Things were just fine and stayed that way the entire operation," recalled Dick Condon, who was Local 504's business agent at the time. "Now, oddly enough, all that's changed."

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