It will be a smooth transition for the Chicago office of Actors Equity Association, with long-time high-level staffer Christine Provost named to succeed Kathryn V. Lamkey as Central Regional Director/Assistant Executive Director, effective January 1. Lamkey is retiring after 25 years with the union of actors and stage managers.
Provost, who has a law degree from Northwestern University, joined the Chicago office of Equity in 1996 after earlier work in litigation with a large law firm. She began as a business representative, was promoted to senior business rep and assumed responsibilities for supervising all contractual matters in the Central Region, which is headquartered in Chicago. She assisted Lamkey in the management of the office, trained new hires on Equity policies and procedures and served as second chair in national, regional and local negotiations.
As Central Regional Director, Provost will oversee the administration of all categories of Equity contracts for the region—which covers 15 states from the Dakotas to Ohio and Louisiana—and serve as Chief Negotiator for several of them. She will supervise a staff of 20 and be responsible for the overall operation of the Central Regional office. At the national level, as an Assistant Executive Director, Provost will be an integral part of the union’s executive team to develop strategies and standards consistent with Equity’s vision, mission and goals.
In addition to her post at Equity, Provost serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Chicago Entertainment Industry Labor Council (I’ll bet ya’ didn’t know there was one) and guest lectures at Columbia College.
The good news here is that Equity has promoted from within rather than bringing in a non-Chicagoan to take over this very important office, a mistake the union made in the past. Those with long memories—me—recall the Central Region chief brought in from New York in the 1970’s who was too inflexible to create Equity contracts, or adapt existing ones, that would nurture the then-nascent Off-Loop Theater movement. His successor (and Lamkey’s direct predecessor), Tad Currie, did precisely that, creating the first Chicago Area Theatre (CAT) contract about 30 years ago; an agreement that allowed extensive unionization of Off-Loop Theater and became a model for numerous similar contracts across the country.
The CAT contract remains the heart of local theater vigor, being the collective bargaining agreement used by the Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Victory Gardens and Lookingglass theater companies as well as dozens of smaller troupes. Year in and year out, it provides more Equity work weeks than any other contract category and serves as the main barometer of local theater industry health.
Largely because of the CAT contract (although not exclusively because of it), the Central Region always generates work week totals out of all proportion to its percentage of Equity members. Equity, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2013, has 49,000 members nationwide of whom only 8%-9% live in the Central Region. Nonetheless, the region generates between 14% and 16% of Equity’s annual work weeks.
The Central Region also has some of America’s most important regional theaters, among them the Guthrie (Minneapolis), Milwaukee Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Players Theatre (Spring Green, WI), Cleveland Playhouse, the Kansas City Repertory and the Goodman.