Breach of Contract

Fort Worth's Casa Mañana in conflict with 3 unions over Matilda musical

Fort Worth's Casa Mañana in conflict with unions over Matilda musical

Casa Mañana presents Matilda: The Musical
B.J. Cleveland, who plays Miss Trunchbull, is one of several Equity actors in Matilda: The Musical. Photo by Chip Tompkins

A longtime Fort Worth theater is embroiled in a union dustup, with not one but three unions.

Casa Mañana Theatre was already in the hot seat for violating its contract with the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, for using pre-recorded music for Matilda: the Musical. Tickets to the show cost as much as $135 a ticket, but the theater left out of its marketing that no live musicians would be accompanying the mainstage musical.

Pre-recorded music is allowed in children's productions, but not for mainstage Equity shows.

And that's the crux of the problem: Matilda: the Musical was originally programmed as part of Casa's Children's Theater season in 2020, and was scheduled to open right before the COVID-19 pandemic began that March.

Now running February 4-13, 2022, it is being billed as part of the Broadway series, and that change has caused Casa also to be in violation with Actors' Equity Association and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

"[Casa president and executive producer] Wally Jones has just lied to three unions," says Matilda director and choreographer Jeremy Dumont. "He's literally cheated people out of money, and musicians out of jobs in the first place."

Once news broke that Matilda was in violation with the AFM, inquiries were made concerning the unions that cover the actors and Dumont.

A youth show, Dumont explains, is not allowed to run more than two hours, and that includes the 30 minutes before curtain when the actors arrive.

The full-length version of Matilda: The Musical, which Casa is currently producing, runs about 2.5 hours, plus the 30-minute call time beforehand.

This means that the AEA contracts Casa was using did not match up to the work being done, and Equity actors were not being paid appropriately.

A letter sent from Actors' Equity to the company of Matilda reads:

 "We are writing to inform you that we have been made aware that the version of MATILDA has not been adapted for young audiences and the performance schedule and length of the show are in violation of the TYA agreement.

After discussing this with the Producer, they have agreed to place this show onto their COST Agreement. You will be issued retroactive contracts to your start dates and be compensated for the difference owed. The difference between these agreements is $259.50 per week. Any overtime for the performances will be deducted from this amount. Additionally, there will be an increase of 3.5% towards your pension contributions." 

 Dumont himself was also being underpaid. He says that Jones offered him only $3,200 to direct and choreograph the show this time, claiming that he had already been paid in full the $4,500 for his work in 2020 (even though that show was never performed).

The all-important "mainstage" designation this time means that, with the correct contract, Dumont was actually owed a difference of about $6,000.

Casa Mañana's marketing director Monica Bermea and general manager Lindsey Rushen have not responded to emails requesting comment.

"It's an unfortunate situation and I hope that a resolution is quickly found," says Vonda K. Bowling, Matilda's music director. "Above all else, however, I support and stand with all of our local artists and the unions representing us, and I am incredibly proud of the cast and crew who spent and waited two years to get this show in front of an audience."

Once word got out about the lack of live music, some patrons took to social media to express their frustration and anger. Casa Mañana then limited comments on its Matilda posts, though people are voicing their disappointment on other posts made by the theater company.

"He's playing an instrument. You sure you're okay with that?" wrote one Facebook user about the cabaret show Dylan on Dylan, which is running in the Reid Cabaret Theatre right after Matilda closes.

"I'm really hoping this will be a catalyst for change," Dumont says. "Wally was illegally contracting these artists. They know they're wrong, they're not contesting it. They just got caught."