Home / Music & Arts / Casting director booted from ‘Norma Rae’ musical after union push

Casting director booted from ‘Norma Rae’ musical after union push

Norma Rae wouldn’t take this sitting down.

A Broadway casting director lost out on a reading for a new musical based on the iconic 1979 film “Norma Rae” because she wanted producers to make contributions to a Teamster health and pension fund, the Daily News has learned.

Cindy Tolan, one of 40 theater casting directors fighting to get the Broadway League of producers to recognize them as Teamsters from Local 817, had hoped to pick the talent for a special reading of the possible show.

Instead — much like the main character in the award-winning film about textile workers trying to join a union —she got the heave-ho.

Broadway casting directors push to unionize at Times Square rally

“It’s outrageous and hypocritical to me that the producers here are trying to shine a light on story about people fighting for their rights in the workplace, yet they won’t acknowledge the same rights of people who make critical contributions to the success of what they do,” said Tom O’Donnell, president of  Local 817.

According to the union, Tolan had a keen interest in being part of the creative development of the possible musical.

She was asked last month to cast a special 29-hour reading — the last step to decide if it will make it to the Great White Way.

Local 817 already represents Tolan when she casts for film and TV productions. The union has represented casting directors outside of Broadway for more than 10 years.

Broadway League threatens casting directors’ push to unionize

So when Tolan talked to the Broadway producers about the theatrical show, she asked to have her pension and retirement benefits honored, Local 817 said.

“They are choosing not to use her because of her insistence that she wants basic health care and some kind of pension for her retirement and other basic job protections,” O’Donnell said.

The News contacted Bespoke Theatricals and Fox Stage Productions, the producers and management behind the show.

Neither organization returned calls and emails for comment.

Broadway talent demands casting directors’ union representation

There’s already a talented roster of creatives signed up for the in-development show, including composer Rosanne Cash, daughter of beloved country music star Johnny Cash.

Crystal Lee Sutton's life was the basis for "Norma Rae."

Crystal Lee Sutton’s life was the basis for “Norma Rae.”

(Frank Russo/New York Daily News)

“Norma Rae,” the movie, was a fictionalized version of a real-life union organizing drive that played out in 1973 in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her role, portrayed Norma Rae — based on the real character Crystal Lee Sutton.

Sutton, a third-generation textile worker in the J.P. Stevens mill, had tried to organize her colleagues with The Textile Workers Union of America, TWUA.

Stars support Broadway casting directors union

In one of the film’s most indelible scenes, Field gets fired for her efforts — then grabs a piece of cardboard and writes “UNION” on it as she climbs atop a loom and holds it up.

One by one, the other workers shut their looms down and walk out as police came to haul Sutton away.

While parts of the film were given the Hollywood treatment, most of it followed the actual events of 1973, said Bruce Raynor, who was a TWUA union organizer in Roanoke Rapids at that time. The film’s union organizer character, Reuben Warshowsky, was loosely based on him.

Field, who won Oscar for "Norma Rae," tweeted her support for casting directors’ bid to join Teamsters.

Field, who won Oscar for “Norma Rae,” tweeted her support for casting directors’ bid to join Teamsters.

(Teamsters Local 817)

“I was there for it, I was part of the organizing drive and that moment from the film did actually happen. Sutton did climb on her loom and hold that sign up,” he said.

The production staff on the original “Norma Rae” set were so pro-union they even used actual TWUA textile workers as extras for scenes, Raynor told The News.

“So the very idea of taking ‘Norma Rae’ and putting it on Broadway with non-union casting directors is just the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard in connection with the most important pro-union movie in modern history,” said Raynor.

Tolan and the 39 other Broadway casting directors pushing for representation have garnered widespread support across New York’s labor and theater communities.

But the Broadway League — which represents producers who put on the Great White Way shows — has maintained that casting directors are independent contractors.

Last week, The League filed a lawsuit accusing the directors of operating as a “cartel” to inflate prices.

"So the very idea of taking 'Norma Rae' and putting it on Broadway with non-union casting directors is just the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard," said longtime labor organizer Bruce Raynor.

“So the very idea of taking ‘Norma Rae’ and putting it on Broadway with non-union casting directors is just the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard,” said longtime labor organizer Bruce Raynor.

(Courtesy of Bruce Raynor)

‘In recent weeks, [casting companies] have stepped up their demands. In their latest salvo, they now seek to inflate prices for their services by 29%, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the costs of developing a show,” The League said in a statement about their lawsuit.

Charlotte St. Martin, president of The League, said a “respectful dialogue” has always been maintained with casting directors.

But since their actions are “jeopardizing the survival of Broadway shows,” she said, The League had no choice but to seek legal remedy.

Reached by The News, Tolan declined to talk about the inner-workings of why she didn’t get to cast the reading for “Norma Rae.”

“The irony of this situation is obvious and palpable … The casting directors simply want what all our other fellow artists and colleagues on Broadway receive,” said Tolan.

“This beautiful, moving and iconic story is being created as a musical and I simply want to continue to be a part of that process, yet I am hard-pressed to do so when the Broadway producers who made $ 1.5 billion last year won’t treat casting directors fairly. It saddens me,” she said.

Send a Letter to the Editor

Join the Conversation:

Music_Arts Rss

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *