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Garth Drabinsky leaves the Ontario Superior Courthouse in Toronto on March 25, 2009.CHRIS YOUNG/The Canadian Press

Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky has been added to the Actors’ Equity Association’s “Do Not Work” list, a designation that inhibits his ability to work in theatre in the United States but will also affect his employment of actors and other theatre professionals in Canada.

AEA, an American union that represents more than 50,000 professional actors and stage managers, declared the Toronto-based producer’s projects off-limits to its members immediately after the final performance on Sunday of Paradise Square, a US$15-million production that was the former Livent CEO’s first show on Broadway since serving a prison sentence for fraud in Canada.

When Livent filed for bankruptcy protection in 1998, Mr. Drabinsky and his former business partner Myron Gottlieb were charged with misstating the theatre company’s financial statements. Livent eventually collapsed under a mountain of debt and both men served time in jail.

Mr. Drabinsky was released from jail on full parole in 2014; three years later, the Ontario Securities Commission permanently banned him from becoming a director or officer of any public company in Ontario.

The American union’s decision follows a letter sent from artists involved in Paradise Square to AEA last week calling for Mr. Drabinsky to be added to the Do Not Work list and alleging “outstanding payments and benefits” and “a continued pattern of abuse and neglect that created an unsafe and toxic work environment.” The copy shared with The Globe and Mail by AEA is signed “company members of Paradise Square.”

In an 800-word statement e-mailed to The Globe on Monday in response to questions, Mr. Drabinsky among other things denied the allegation of a pattern of abuse and neglect, and wrote that any delay in payments “has simply been a function of available cash flow.” He alleged that AEA has retained nearly US$450,000 of bond security that “will be sufficient to cover virtually all amounts owed to the actors.”

(David Levy, director of communications for AEA, told The Globe that the union is holding bond monies for both the Chicago and New York productions of Paradise Square, but they are not large enough to cover all of the outstanding claims and grievances.)

Mr. Drabinsky blamed Paradise Square’s financial difficulties on the challenges of mounting a show during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting some extra expenses incurred were specifically to create a safe work environment, such as US$500,000 for “testing and retesting in order to protect the actors, all those employed at the theatre, and the audience.”

The producer said that when Paradise Square was shut down for 13 performances following its April 3 opening night owing to COVID-19 cases in the company, the limited partnership financing the Broadway production had to cover all costs – including approximately US$1.25-million in non-recoverable expenses and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of returned tickets.

Mr. Drabinsky noted many other productions on Broadway have closed or are closing earlier than expected owing to these factors – and that his show could neither obtain insurance coverage for COVID-19, nor was it eligible for one of the American government’s US$10-million Shuttered Venue Operators Grants. He added: “With the benefit of hindsight, the production should have closed on April 17th.”

AEA’s actions to put Mr. Drabinsky on the Do Not Work list will have an immediate spill-over effect on his ability to hire actors or other artists who are members of the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, according to Randy Duniz, director of communications for CAEA, which represents theatre professionals in Canada.

In an e-mail to The Globe, Mr. Duniz wrote that the terms of a reciprocal agreement between the two organizations “would necessitate we respect AEA’s list, preventing our members from working for Mr. Drabinsky until he meets his outstanding obligations.”

CAEA will not, however, be adding Mr. Drabinsky to its own Defaulting Engager List, the Canadian association’s equivalent of a Do Not Work list. Paradise Square did employ a number of its members when the show was on Broadway, and in its preceding Chicago run last fall, but Mr. Duniz explained that while in the U.S., the Canadian artists were working under AEA contracts.

Paradise Square ran on Broadway for 123 performances, including its preview period. In the lead-up to the final shows, two U.S. unions took legal action against the business entities behind the production.

AEA is currently involved in an arbitration process, seeking nearly US$190,000 in alleged unpaid union dues, benefits and interest it claims Paradise Square Production Services Inc., the show’s production company, failed to pay as part of a settlement agreed upon in May.

United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, is separately seeking US$190,000 in alleged unpaid wages and benefits, which it says it has not yet received from Paradise Square Broadway Limited Partnership, a separate entity affiliated with the production.

In his statement provided to The Globe, Mr. Drabinsky alleged that “the two lawsuits that have been filed by unions are simply to evidence the collection of amounts for which the partnership has previously consented.”

Bernard Abrams, who is listed as chief executive officer of Paradise Square Broadway Limited Partnership, has not responded to a request for comment; he is not named in the letter from the show’s company to AEA, nor has he been added to the Do Not Work list.

In their letter, the Paradise Square company members allege that Mr. Drabinsky, from the show’s out-of-town tryout in Chicago to its Broadway run, was in “full control” of the production and was “making all executive decisions surrounding the production.”

Mr. Drabinsky previously told the press that he was not involved in the financial side of the show. “I walked away from every element of fiscal control of this show,” he told The New York Times. “I don’t sign cheques. I don’t get involved.”

In his statement to The Globe, Mr. Drabinsky wrote that he had never been a signing officer of the production and did not have “any authority with respect to the signing of any bank instruments.”

AEA’s Do Not Work list specifies that the prohibition on working with Mr. Drabinsky includes “any production where he is acting in any producing capacity.”

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