Well those clever Avenue Q bastards...
NYT's Dave Itzkoff today reveals that the producers will indeed be able to lower actor salaries for their unusual reverse-transfer of the show from Broadway to "Off":
Salaries for the performers could come down too. Mr. McCollum said the minimum weekly salary for an Off Broadway performer was about $1,100, compared with $1,600 for a Broadway performer. A spokeswoman for Actors’ Equity Association said that the producers had been given permission to close the show and reopen it under a new contract. Mr. McCollum said offers had gone out for the Off Broadway production, but no casting was ready to be announced.I imagine one reason announcement of casting info is delayed might be that current Broadway cast members would be pretty torn about taking the same gig at what effectively is a pay cut.
To get the actors' union to consider the new Off Broadway "Q" basically a revival (just like a revival of an old classic like, say, South Pacific), as opposed to an extension (which is what it is), is a big, big break for those producers.
There's a reason for that clause in the AEA contract. It's meant to prevent just this kind of thing from happening, to prevent a producer (or even nonprofit theatre company) to cut actor salaries during an ongoing run by moving to a smaller venue and lower contract status. The rule is basically that during the course of a run, actor salaries can only go up, not down. Even if moving to a smaller venue allows the production to operate at a lower contract level in all other areas, actors are supposed to maintain their previous salaries. The reason for this is obvious: without that protection, productions might routinely "transfer down" as a way to cut actors' pay.
As regional theatre veterans know, this often comes up in co-productions when one of the partners is smaller (budget-wise) than the other. Such co-productions usually try to run at the smaller theatre first so that salaries can start lower and then increase only for the 2nd staging--rather than paying actors at the higher rate even in the smaller theatre. (Make sense?)
But Avenue Q has cleverly just redefined the concept of the "revival" to include something that's basically an extension. The scenario the rule was meant to prevent, just happened. I guess AEA figures work is hard to get at all these days, so might as well. But let's hope this doesn't set a dangerous precedent for an already suffering profession.