Cabarets and Contracts

Jul 23, 2021

Written by Melvin Tunstall III

Q: If you do a musical revue in a cabaret space for a 3-month run, can Equity actors work for you without having to sign (a union contract) - is it not under their official jurisdiction? It's under 130 seats in midtown (in a restaurant, not stage).

Insert clever “Cabaret” reference here, old chum!

With live performances returning to New York City, Equity performers will surely be looking for any performance opportunity as many find themselves possibly a year away from available contracts with Broadway shows fulfilling contracts stalled by the pandemic. Fortunately, the cabaret circuit is a brilliant way to fulfill the need to be onstage and let those performing chops shine. 

A 3-month run would be an amazing contract to score after more than a year of sitting alone in your room, so kudos to this week’s inquirer for dreaming up an incredible opportunity. 

As far as needing a union contract, the venue dictates the need for union involvement. Actors' Equity has an agreement with Cabaret-style theaters, not restaurants. 

Actors' Equity Association entered a national agreement in 2016 for productions presented in cabaret-style theatres where the majority of the audience is seated at tables. Though the agreement is set to expire in October 2021, expect a renewed agreement that will continue to protect its members. 

When a restaurant transforms its space into a performance-capable venue, there are certain standards onstage and off that are expected should you seek to employ union performers. These include specifications on dressing areas, safety precautions, and security just to name a few. If you are a producer looking to hire, please consider using the Cabaret Agreement as a guide to taking care of your performers even if they are not under an Equity contract.

Non-Equity members can read the full agreement here, which includes a few standard Equity practices like no more than 8 performances a week but also includes a 90-minute time constraint for performances. Producers with questions about the Cabaret Agreement should contact their closest Equity regional office


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