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Rubber City Makes History in Akron As First Theater to Unionize Stage Performers

photo of Rubber City Theatre
Kabir Bhatia
Actors may not be on stage at the moment at the Rubber City Theatre in Akron, but a new labor union contract for actors is helping the theater and its staff prepare to welcome audiences in person when the time comes.

A theatre in Akron has become the first in the city to commit to a contract with a labor union that represents stage performers. The contract was a long-term goal, and it moved forward despite the financial uncertainties created by the pandemic.

Rubber City Theatre committed to a contract with the Actors' Equity Association as part of its goal to pay artists a living wage. The contract will set up fair wages, health and safety guidelines, and additional health care coverage, which will roll out in the next three years. Artistic Director Dane Leasure says this is something the theater has been looking to do since the theater was founded in 2013, and he’s not worried about finances, even with the pandemic shutting down live theater for the foreseeable future.

“We’re very careful to make sure we were budgeting appropriately, especially when the pandemic came into view, but because we were already planning on transitioning to this contract, we had a lot of this budgeted,” Leasure said.

He says the theater was able to qualify for grants and loans from the state and hopes to qualify for Summit County CARES Act money. The additional support has helped prepare for a future where live theater may not be possible until 2021. But Leasure is confident this contract with the Actors' Equity Association will provide the safety regulations and support to protect actors and audience members when the time comes.

Dane Leasure, Rubber City Theatre artistic director
Making the theater a safer environment during the pandemic

“The regulations they have right now are really what’s going to guide this industry and to make sure that not only our performers are safe, but our patrons as they come back to the theater eventually will be safe,” he said.

Later this month, the theater will announce details of its December productions, which will take place virtually. Leasure hopes in-person performances can resume in 2021.

Rubber City Theatre is also working with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees on a contract for its stagehand workers.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media. A Northeast Ohio native and lifelong listener of public radio, Abigail started in public radio as a news intern at WKSU. She graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Kent State University.