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Fantasia, by way of Mary McColl

Posted by: Rohan Preston under Theater, People Updated: May 23, 2014 - 12:08 PM

In a scene that plays out often in Times Square, fans mob a stage door to get an autograph from a star. On Thursday evening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, the squealing was for celebrity actor and singer Fantasia Barrino, who shot to stardom by winning "American Idol" in 2004. 

Fantasia and Dule Hill headline “After Midnight,” the sleek, sophisticated revue that orbits the music and dances of the legendary Cotton Club. (Across the street, fans also thronged the stage door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to see Denzel Washington, star of the revival of "A Raisin in the Sun.")

One of those pausing by Fantasia's stage door after the performance — she did not linger — was Mary McColl (bottom left), an important, if unglamorous behind-the-scenes leader in the field. She is executive director of Actors’ Equity, the century-old union of professional actors.

A longtime executive at Twin Cities arts organizations such as the Ordway Center, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Cowles Center, McColl relocated to New York in 2010 to oversee the collective bargaining process between the union and dozens of regional and national companies.

Her work is pivotal to protecting the quality of professional shows that audiences see on Broadway and throughout the country. She also advocates for the wages and working conditions of actors, stage managers and other theater professionals who are dealing with big changes.

There are more and more non-union tours on the road, some of them of high quality (one, “Bring It On: The Musical,” just played at the Ordway). Performers in non-union shows generally are paid lower than unionized actors. The union struck a deal with producers last year that included allowing reduced pay scales for some unionized tours.

And Actors’ Equity is weighing something that has been a scary frontier for years: live-streaming of theater of theater.

Those issues were in the background Thursday as McColl reveled in the show. The production was “superb,” McColl pronounced afterwards, noting the breath-taking dance, witty choreography and spirited music. “What a treat.”

McColl is one of several arts leaders who the Twin Cities in recent years to run national outfits. She hired Ralph Remington, the founder of Pillsbury House Theatre and former head of theater and musical theater at the National Endowment for the Arts, to run the western regional offices of Equity.

Teresa Eyring, the former managing director of the Children’s Theatre, is executive director of the Theatre Communications Group, the nonprofit theater's chief advocacy organization.

And Kathy Halbreich, former head of Walker Art Center, is associate director at the Museum of Modern Art.

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