Lawsuit From Paradise Square Producer Garth Drabinsky Against Actors' Equity Dismissed | Playbill

Industry News Lawsuit From Paradise Square Producer Garth Drabinsky Against Actors' Equity Dismissed

The producer had sued the actors' and stage managers' union for defamation.

Garth Drabinsky - Paradise Square Michael Wiltbank

More bad news for embattled Paradise Square producer Garth Drabinsky. According to a ruling filed by Judge Lorna G. Schofield April 14, Drabinsky's lawsuit against theatrical union Actors' Equity Association has been dismissed with prejudice, meaning the ruling is final and the suit cannot be re-filed.

The producer sued the actor and stage manager union for defamation, following the union's barring of members from working with Drabinsky. Equity cited unpaid wages and allegations of unsafe work environments as reasons why it placed Drabinsky on its "Do Not Work" list.

Judge Schofield cites New York’s Martin v. Curran doctrine as the reason for dismissing Drabinsky's claims of defamation, intentional tort, and negligence. The doctrine bars lawsuits against unincorporated associations unless it can be proven that every individual member of the association expressly or impliedly with full knowledge authorized the acts in question, meaning Equity's entire membership would have had to have been involved with the decision to add Drabinsky to the union's "Do Not Work" list. Drabinsky's antitrust allegations against Equity were dismissed because labor unions are exempted from the Sherman Antitrust Act. Neither of these judgements could be fixed with an amended filing from Drabinsky, which is why the suit was dismissed with prejudice.

"Actors Equity [sic]...has turned Drabinsky’s remarkable record of achievements on its head by accusing Drabinsky of being a racist and creating a hostile and unsafe work environment stemming from the production of Paradise Square," alleged the suit, filed by Drabinsky's lawyers, in a copy obtained by Playbill. "Without any evidentiary hearing or his ability to disprove the malicious and false accusations against him, Actors Equity [sic] went one step further by publicly branding Drabinsky with its Scarlet Letter and placing Drabinsky on its self-proclaimed 'blacklist.'" The filing also called Equity's behavior as "reckless, callous, outrageous and deplora."

The filing went on to list multiple grievances from the Broadway and pre-Broadway engagements of Paradise Square, among them a 2021 letter sent by Equity calling for Drabinsky's removal from the production following his use of "inappropriate and unwanted racial slurs."

In response, Drabinsky claimed that during a company meeting to discuss racial issues within the show, the producer shared a story from working on the 1993 Hal Prince-directed revival of Show Boat, specifically confronting the racial slurs in its script, which was written in 1927. "Drabinsky related this difficult experience so that everyone present would understand that the racial issues of Paradise Square, while challenging and sometimes overwhelming, had to be emphatically confronted," the suit alleged. Included in the filing was sheet music to Show Boat's 'Ol' Man River.'"

Drabinsky also used the suit to cite a number of "Black American artists" that the producer "made...his priority to principal roles and major creative positions in his productions," including Vanessa Williams, Diahann Carroll, Gretha Boston, Michel Bell, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Desmond Richardson, Valarie Pettiford, Joaquina Kalukango, Sidney DuPont, Bill T. Jones, Toni-Leslie James, Masi Asare, and "countless other less prominent Black Americans who were vital contributors to the artistic and commercial success of his productions."

Equity added Drabinsky to its "Do Not Work" list July 17, 2022, shortly following the final Broadway performance of Paradise Square, at the request of the production's actors and stage managers. The move rendered Drabinsky unable to hire members of Equity, effectively ending his ability to produce on Broadway and at many major theatrical venues across the country, many of which operate under contracts requiring the use of Equity performers.

The legal drama surrounding Paradise Square is not a first for Drabinsky. The Tony-winning Ragtime and Show Boat producer was convicted of fraud and forgery in 2009 in Canada, spending 17 months in prison. Paradise Square was Drabinsky's first Broadway outing since being granted parole and released from prison in 2014. Equity also put a stop work order on the production earlier this year following contract disputes, a move that lasted only one day.

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