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Rockettes’ Inauguration Performance Is ‘Voluntary,’ Union Confirms

Variety logo Variety 12/23/2016 Maane Khatchatourian
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UPDATED: Just when you thought the hullabaloo surrounding who will perform at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration was dying down, it’s now turned into a whole song and dance.

Following an announcement on Thursday that the Radio City Rockettes would be performing at the Jan. 20 event, one dancer took to Instagram to express her “embarrassment” and “disappointment” at what she described as a forced commitment.

“I usually don’t use social media to make a political stand but I feel overwhelmed with emotion,” Rockette Phoebe Pearl wrote in a now-deleted post on her personal account. “Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed. The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we’re against is appalling. I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts. We will not be forced! #notmypresident.”

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According to BroadwayWorld, the American Guild of Variety Artists, which represents the Rockettes, sent an email to its members that stressed “any talk of boycotting this event is invalid.” The email reportedly concluded with the bolded, underlined statement: “If you are not full time, you do not have to sign up to do this work. If you are full time, you are obligated. Doing the best performance to reflect an American Institution which has been here for over 90 years is your job. I hope this pulls into focus the bottom line on this work.” The email, authenticated by BroadwayWorld, was reportedly sent by a high-ranking member of the union’s administration.

The union has since clarified its position, and confirmed that all members who participate in Trump’s inauguration performance will do so voluntarily. In a statement, the AGVA writes that when concern arose from their members and the general public they “immediately contacted Radio City for a meeting” to address the situation.

“Fortunately, the Company has agreed that all participation in this particular event will be voluntary,” the statement says, going on to dispute “misinformation” regarding the union’s position. “There is a small group of year round Rockettes who are contractually obligated to perform at scheduled events throughout the year. We are pleased that Radio City has agreed that for those Rockettes with year-round employment, participation in this event will be voluntary as well,” the union’s statement reads.

Madison Square Garden Company, which oversees the Radio City Rockettes, also insists that participation is up to the performers, the company said in a statement on Friday.

“For a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up and are never told they have to perform at a particular event, including the inaugural,” the statement, obtained by multiple outlets, reads. “It is always their choice. In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available. We eagerly await the inaugural celebrations.”

The drama unfolded hours after Trump tweeted that “so-called A-list celebrities” want tickets to his inauguration. “The so-called ‘A’ list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING,” he wrote.

Mark Hamill, Paul Feig, Patton Oswalt, and Michael Ian Black were among the celebrities who voiced their criticism of the notion that the Rockettes are being forced to perform against their will.

The Rockettes, who have been based at Radio City Music Hall since 1932, have performed at presidential inaugurations in the past — the last two being George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2005 inaugurations.

The 58th Presidential Inaugural will also include performances from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and “America’s Got Talent” alum Jackie Evancho, who will sing the national anthemTrump’s inauguration committee has been struggling to book talent for the event in the last few months, because so many artists publicly supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

MSG and AGVA did not respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.

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