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CRT contract with Actor's Equity Association will benefit students

The Connecticut Repertory Theatre has signed a new year-round contract with Actors' Equity Association, the professional stage actors' union, that will provide students the opportunity to work regularly with professional actors.

CRT will now use Equity actors in every Main Stage production in Jorgensen Theatre.

"Students' educational processes are enriched by working alongside professionals," says Gary English, CRT artistic director and head of the dramatic arts department.

English says only about half-a-dozen university-based companies are under similar contract with Equity.

CRT has been an Equity theater for its summer productions for the past four years. During the regular season, Equity actors have been used for several years on an ad hoc basis, under guest artist contracts.

One of the benefits of the Equity contract, says English, is that students who perform in CRT productions will have greater access to the professional theater when they graduate. It can take an average of three to five years for those who graduate to get their union membership. If they're affiliated with an Equity theater, however, they accrue points for rehearsals and performances that count toward Equity membership.

"That's a tremendous advantage to students. It makes them immediately competitive in the professional marketplace when they graduate," he says.

Working with professional actors also allows the department to focus on the students' work in a way that is more appropriate to their level of development, English says. "For example, when we do a production such as King Lear, we're no longer in a position where we're in effect doing the 'student' version of the show. We not only have someone at the right age range, but at the skill level to play the role."

English says working in productions with professionals is also an opportunity for networking. When students go to New York to look for work, the professional actors they have met often provide them access to agents and casting directors. And the professional actors' agents and casting directors come to campus to see their work and our students' work, he says.

"The Equity contract also allows us to produce high quality work for the community, at a higher standard, without using our most talented students too much," he adds.

"We are actually restricting students to being in one CRT show a semester, giving them a longer rehearsal period and a higher quality cast," English says. "It is all part of an overall plan to give the students access to the profession, give them experiences with high quality talent, and to create the right priorities for them in terms of how they spend their time. So they can do one high quality production each semester and spend the rest of their time in studio work in the correct proportion to their production experiences."

Sherry Fisher