The University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA) has brokered an agreement between the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) and United Scenic Artists (Local USA 829) that for the first time provides a standard method for contracting theatre design assistants.

In the past, a design assistant on the LORT level of production was employed through the set, costume, or lighting designer, and paid out of the lump sum fee provided by the theatre to the designer. The assistant was either paid off the books or made the employee of the designer. An exception was being the staff assistant employed by a theatre's shop and assigned to a designer for the duration of a project. Assistant designers often received no benefits, and the head designer was stuck with the administrative responsibilities of serving as employer.

With the new agreement, the LORT theatre and USA designer can contract a non-staff assistant designer for work on a production. With U/RTA's Contract Management Program (CMP) serving as paymaster, the weekly salary insures benefits for these assistants, including unemployment. U/RTA, serving as employer of record, provides coverage of Workers' Compensation, makes the appropriate union pension and health contributions, and deals with federal and state tax reports. Neither the theatre nor the head designer are forced to assume responsibility for the assistant as an employer.

“This is a tremendously beneficial development for the accomplished designer employing an assistant, and for the relatively new designer who often gets the job,” says Gina G. Cesari, director of Contract Services for U/RTA. “This inexpensive process serves everyone's needs and is simple to use.” Under the agreement, a non-staff assistant designer, who is not a member of USA, is eligible to be employed for three LORT productions before being required to apply for union membership when hired for a fourth production. The USA membership requirement does not apply to matriculated students.

The U/RTA agreement with LORT and USA is the result of discussions between the three organizations held over the last year. “This new service represents U/RTA's commitment to serve the professional theatre,” says Scott L. Steele, U/RTA's executive director. “It's indicative of U/RTA's mission to assist in the training of professional theatre artists, to help advance their careers, and to serve the professional theatre world that will employ them.”