Entertainment Theater

Alan Eisenberg, Longtime Actors’ Union Head, Dies at 88

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Alan Eisenberg, a lawyer who throughout his 25 years as the highest govt of Actors’ Equity Association helped to construct its membership and stabilize the funds of its well being plan, and likewise handled a extremely publicized controversy involving the casting of the hit musical “Miss Saigon,” died on Oct. 7 in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was 88.

His spouse, Claire Copley, mentioned he died in a hospital of lung most cancers.

Mr. Eisenberg had labored at legislation companies for twenty years earlier than he was employed in 1981 as the chief secretary (his title was later modified to govt director) of Actors’ Fairness, which represents theatrical actors and stage managers.

Within the Eighties, the union was confronted with the AIDS disaster, which had a very harsh impression on the theatrical group. Mr. Eisenberg was a champion of Fairness Fights AIDS, the philanthropic fund fashioned inside Actors’ Fairness in 1987 to straight assist members in monetary want.

Tom Viola, the chief director of the nonprofit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (the 2 organizations merged in 1992), mentioned in a telephone interview that Mr. Eisenberg supplied “ballast and path” to the “emotional understanding of what wanted to be achieved” that was offered by the actress Colleen Dewhurst, who was president of Fairness Fights AIDS from 1985 till her dying in 1991.

“Alan gave us a way of path,” Mr. Viola mentioned. “He saved us from flying in very emotional instructions that would have spun themselves into nothing.”

Mr. Eisenstein discovered himself within the information in the summertime of 1990, when he led the union’s opposition to the casting of Jonathan Pryce as a parasitic Eurasian pimp in “Miss Saigon,” a musical set largely in American-occupied Saigon in 1975.

The union objected to the casting of Mr. Pryce, who’s white and Welsh, because the half-French, half-Vietnamese Engineer, as a result of he was not Asian. Mr. Pryce had worn eye prosthetics and make-up to seem Eurasian within the London manufacturing, for which he received an Olivier Award, however he had stopped utilizing this so-called yellowface across the time the controversy erupted in New York.

Mr. Eisenberg referred to as the choice to solid Mr. Pryce within the Broadway manufacturing “particularly insensitive and an affront to the Asian group.”

When the union refused to allow Mr. Pryce to seem within the present, the producer Cameron Waterproof coat countered by canceling the deliberate $10 million manufacturing, which had an enormous advance ticket sale.

However after about 150 Actors’ Fairness members signed petitions asking the union to rethink its place, the union relented every week later. Mr. Waterproof coat reinstated the manufacturing, which opened in April 1991 and ran for 4,092 performances.

Mr. Eisenberg mentioned that the union had acquired a “good religion dedication” from Mr. Waterproof coat to seek out gifted Asian actors to succeed Mr. Pryce when he left the present. All of his replacements have been Asian or Asian American.

“Many people would have been happier had it been an Asian,” Mr. Eisenberg mentioned in a information convention after the union’s council voted to let Mr. Pryce play the Engineer. He added: “We’re very, very sad with a variety of issues. The dearth of alternative for an ethnic Asian actor to audition for the function and for the blended alerts despatched out as as to whether the function could be out there to an Asian actor.”

Doug Carfrae, the union’s Western regional vp, mentioned in a telephone interview: “We planted our range, fairness and inclusion flags there. We mentioned, ‘If you must do that, you must herald somebody who represents the tradition and race being depicted.’”

An analogous dispute arose later in 1990 over the union’s rejection of Lea Salonga to recreate her Olivier Award-winning main function as a Vietnamese bar lady. On the time, Actors’ Fairness was limiting the appearances of non-American performers on Broadway in the event that they weren’t stars, to guard American jobs. (Ms. Salonga was not but a star on the time.) However an arbitrator dominated that Ms. Salonga may play the function.

Mr. Eisenberg expressed his disappointment with the Salonga ruling. “We actually imagine,” he mentioned, “that there’s enough and fantastic expertise throughout the Asian American performing group on this nation to do that function in extraordinary style.”

Mr. Pryce and Ms. Salonga received Tony Awards for greatest actor and actress in a musical.

Alan David Eisenberg was born on April 15, 1935, in Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn. His father, Arthur, was a touring housewares salesman. His mom Malka (Novak) Eisenberg, a Russian immigrant, was a homemaker.

Alan’s curiosity within the theater was sparked by an elementary-school instructor and by a manufacturing of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, that he noticed as a young person.

Mr. Eisenberg acquired a bachelor’s diploma in English from the College of Michigan, the place he wrote for the varsity newspaper, in 1956. He graduated from New York College College of Regulation three years later.

He labored at two legislation companies within the early Nineteen Sixties earlier than taking a job on the Nationwide Labor Relations Board, which he held from 1964 to 1968. He then returned to non-public observe as a administration labor lawyer, an expertise he discovered disillusioning.

“I imply, I used to be a tough-assed, union-busting administration lawyer for a extremely robust legislation agency,” he recalled in an oral history interview with the American Jewish Committee in 1992. “I did a variety of anti-union campaigns, which within the jargon in the present day is named union avoidance campaigns.” He added: “It didn’t make me really feel good to depart work on the finish of the day doing that form of stuff. It was not the way in which I used to be introduced up.”

He left that agency and fashioned his personal, Eisenberg & Paul, which represented commerce unions, together with the Newspaper Guild when most of its members at The Washington Put up crossed the picket line of pressmen throughout a bitter 20-week strike in 1975 and 1976.

In 1981, he realized that the chief secretary place at Actors’ Fairness was open. He submitted his identify to a search committee and was employed.

“And I used to be very completely satisfied to depart the observe of legislation,” he mentioned within the oral historical past.

Throughout his time at Actors’ Fairness, the union mentioned, membership elevated from beneath 29,000 to 46,000, and earnings for actors and stage managers rose from about $119 million to $250 million. When the union’s well being plan was $16 million in debt in 2003, he negotiated greater employer contributions, which steadied the fund.

Mr. Eisenberg was additionally a visiting professor of theater administration on the Yale College of Drama for a few years.

Along with his spouse, Mr. Eisenberg is survived by his daughters, Mollie Copley Eisenberg and Emma Copley Eisenberg.

Mr. Eisenberg had been within the theater lengthy earlier than he joined Actors’ Fairness, however his job there made him a virtually nightly habitué of Broadway and past.

“It’s thrilling, form of like a menu — what am I going to see tonight?” he told Playbill in 2005. “I’ve been seeing greater than 125 productions a yr for twenty-four years. I see every little thing on Broadway. I see many of the Off Broadway productions. After which I poke round all around the metropolis or out of city, and I see most of the smaller productions, which in a variety of methods are probably the most fascinating. And I often go backstage.”