May 23, 2024

Alan Eisenberg, leader of American labor union Actors’ Equity Assocation for 25 years, died Saturday in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was 88.  

Eisenberg was the longest-serving executive director for Equity, with a tenure from 1981 to 2006. During his time at Equity, the association saw a substantial increase in membership numbers from 28,678 to 46,000, a significant annual expansion of workweeks and a more than twenty-million increase in Equity investments.  

He was known for his advocacy for social issues, one of the most notable being his public criticism of “yellowface” — white actors playing Asian roles — with 1990’s “Miss Saigon” Broadway production. 

“Equity believes the casting of Mr. [Jonathan] Pryce as a Eurasian to be especially insensitive and an affront to the Asian community,” said Eisenberg in a statement published in a 1990 New York Times article.  

Beyond his commitment to calling out racism, Eisenberg also championed healthcare rights for Equity’s members and helped lead the organization through the 2003 Broadway musicians’ union strike.  

The late Patrick Quinn, former director of the Actors’ Equity Association and Eisenberg’s successor, previously expressed the value of Eisenberg’s “significant achievements” while in the position. 

“[Alan’s] dedication to Equity and his clear vision for our union have benefited our members immeasurably,” said Quinn.   

Eisenberg studied English at the University of Michigan and later New York University Law School, after which he served as a labor lawyer representing both employers and unions. Later, he served as a staff attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.  

In 2007, Equity established the Actors’ Equity/Alan Eisenberg Award in honor of Eisenberg’s work at Equity. The annual award goes to a graduating senior in the University of Michigan’s musical theater department and is intended to “recognize outstanding talent and career potential,” according to Equity’s website.  

Buffet is survived by his wife, Claire Copley, and their two daughters, Mollie Copley Eisenberg and Emma Copley Eisenberg.  

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