City’s new outdoor performance program faces criticism from actors union

New York City is now accepting applications for its new outdoor performance program, "Open Culture," but—at the same time-- Actors Equity, the union that represents theatre actors is slamming the new endeavor, claiming it fails to provide basic Covid-19 and financial-related assurances.

"It is surprising this program was brought to the public without a little bit more forethought," said Actors Equity spokesman Brandon Lorenz.

In an email Thursday, the union encouraged its members not to take work with "Open Culture" for several reasons. Among them, they say, the city is not requiring producers who apply for a city permit to pay a living wage, nor will they require producers have workers compensation insurance. They also cite a failure to mandate covid testing, and a failure to require performers to be socially distanced.

"Performers have been out of work for 12 months now, and this is not the time to ask New York performers—the people who make the city a cultural destination worldwide— to go without pay and safety protections," Lorenz added.

It's not the first time the program faced criticism. After Mayor de Blasio's "Open Culture" announcement last month-- which featured the Elisa Monte Dance Company of Harlem performing in the snowy streets-- guitarist Joe Bonamassa tweeted that it was "insulting" to artists put out of work and says it shows the city views the arts as "some sort of hobby."

In a statement provided to FOX 5 NY, the Mayor’s deputy press secretary Mitch Schwartz said, "This program is designed to fill city streets with cultural performances of every description. You could see classically trained orchestras on one street, and an amateur dance troupe on another. That’s what makes it fun and dynamic – but it also means one-size-fits-all regulations don’t really make sense for this program."

But actors equity points out the state's program, NY Pops Up has made safety and pay assurances.

Discussions with the city, according to the union, are going, but they say after weeks of conversation, so far nothing has changed.

The city also points out that any actor that’s part of the union would still be covered under union requirements if they take an "Open Culture" job. But the union says their larger point is if the city is bringing in performers to breathe life into the city with their talent-- whether they’re professional or amateur performers-- then the city should offer them these basic protections "whether they are part of a union or not."