This is a Guest Post by Richard Azurdia
How will this new proposal affect “actors of color”?
After I stood up at the TPLLA meeting and ranted about how this new AEA proposal will affect “Ethnic”, “Actors of Color” or whatever you may want to call it, I have been questioned if I’m using the “race card” just to “stir up the masses”. Now I do want change. That’s the point of all these discussions, to come up with solutions and an updated Plan. But not the drastic changes AEA proposed. Anyway, here’s my response:
From Bitter Lemons’ Colin Mitchell on AEA’s new proposal and “Actors of Color”:
“I still am not understanding how the “actors of color” component fits into all this, though a couple members – and Joe Stern in an earlier exchange with me as well – offered this up as another reason to go against the proposals. Some keep trying to make the case that the proposals will make it harder for actors of color to work? Perhaps someone can explain this part to me because I’m still not getting it and frankly bringing it into the discussion seems extraneous and bit like conflation for the sake of, I dunno, stirring up the masses? Honestly, I am pleading confusion on this one and am not being glib. If someone can make this argument more clear to me I’d appreciate it…. The larger theaters are not currently offering projects with enough diverse casting but the smaller theaters are? And the reason for this is…? Minorities don’t go see shows at the larger theaters? Or wait, Equity is not very diverse to begin with, so creating less opportunities for Equity members will create less opportunities for minorities who are already under-represented in the union? Is that it? Because I’m not sure that’s how others are framing this “people of color” element when it comes the 99 seat debate.”
Hello Colin! Richard Azurdia here. I’m the “actor of color” who stirred up the masses at the TPLLA meeting. I’ve been an AEA member, 14 years. Big fan of Bitter Lemons too. So let me try to answer your questions in regards on how this new proposal will affect “actors of color” from MY personal perspective.
You ask, “The larger theaters are not currently offering projects with enough diverse casting but the smaller theaters are?”
CORRECT! There ARE fewer “ethnic” roles in larger theaters. I’m very fortunate to have worked under contract (LORT, TYA, LOA, Workshop, Staged Reading). But those contract roles are very limited for actors my type. I’ve gotten more work through some of the best smaller theater companies in Los Angeles. By the fact that there are more smaller theaters. BUT Still, these “ethnic” roles are limited too.
“And the reason for this is…? Minorities don’t go see shows at the larger theaters?”
FALSE! Perfect example: Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine at the Kirk Douglas has been selling out like crazy! Mostly with the attendance of “minority” audience members. When we are represented on stage, we will support!
“Or wait, Equity is not very diverse to begin with, so creating less opportunities for Equity members will create less opportunities for minorities who are already under-represented in the union? Is that it?”
YES! You just answered your own question!!!
So what do I have left as an actor?
And now to be more clear, and less profane, about my statement at the TPLLA meeting.
ON TV and Film, I always play the “funny immigrant” or the “bad immigrant”. I get auditions for roles as this one; “co-workers, these Latino dishwashers don’t speak a word of English, much to Mike’s confusion and chagrin…1 line, 1 scene; 1 line, 2 scenes respectively” (Yes, this is a real casting notice.) I go to audition for a commercial. There will be 2 or 3 other “actors of color” in the room along with 20+ Caucasian actors. I have to deal with the fact that Casting needs to show SAG/AFTRA numbers in regards to auditioning actors of all backgrounds. But that doesn’t mean I will get cast. In theater, I really can’t depend on the large theaters in this city because most of the time, some will say all the time, those large theaters are casting outside of LA. So what do I have left as an actor? The small theaters that are producing the most creative new works in Los Angeles. And although I’m AEA, I have the choice to work with these small theater companies through the 99 Seat Plan.
So now, AEA is presuming that all the theater companies in LA are fully diverse, representing every “actor of color” so it shouldn’t affect us. Yes, they stated this.
From AEA in regards to 99 Seat Plan- “Fact: Actors of color should have been permitted to join these membership companies at any time and the PRESUMPTION is that these companies have been welcoming actors of color for decades. It is expected that membership companies will not deny membership to actors of color who are Equity members simply because they will have to be offered an Equity contract and paid at least minimum wage.”
Will AEA fight for me …?
So I ask – will AEA fight for me when the very limited roles there are for me go to non-union actors if this proposal did pass? Will AEA still “guarantee” me wages when there are no roles for me to audition for? The real FACT is, I will work a lot less with this new proposal and sit and pray for those few contract roles I can get. Most of the smaller companies unfortunately are NOT diverse (although AEA presumes they are), so who’s to say they will decide to produce work with “ethnic” characters and get contracts to cast these roles, IF this proposal passes?
There was this individual, I cannot state his name since I will quote his ignorant comment to me about this “actors of colors” matter. He tells me, “Well, don’t you have places like Casa 0101 and Bilingual Foundation of the Arts where you can still work?” I told him, “First, Casa 0101 uses the 99 Seat Plan. I doubt they will be able to afford contracts as it is still a small community theater. BFA lost their space so there’s that. SECOND, most importantly, WHY DO YOU THINK I WOULD WANT TO PIGEON-HOLE MYSELF TO ONLY WORK WITH “LATINO” BASED COMPANIES??!!!” Hey my African-American brothers, you should be ok because there’s Robey and Towne St. My Asian brothers, you guys are ok because you got East West Players and they have contracts. Native-Americans, you guys have Native Voices. What about the “other” category? They’ll find a way. So for AEA to make these presumptions, makes me realize how ignorant, oblivious and delusional they are about our plight as “actors of color”. Maybe they should read Chris Rock’s interview in the Hollywood Reporter or the latest LA Weekly article discussing the lack of diversity in Hollywood. And I think you should read it too Colin.
I have gotten contract work because of the 99 Seat Plan
I owe a lot to the companies (that have used the 99 Seat Plan) that have cast me in their productions, whether the roles were cast blindly or ethnic specific. I have gotten much more work from there and have also gotten contract work because of the 99 Seat Plan. My first show with Independent Shakespeare Company (ISC) was under the 99 Seat Plan. Now I have worked with them for 5 years in the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival under an AEA contract. ISC is a true and fully diverse theater company, which I’m very proud to be a part of. I’m currently working at Center Theatre Group on a contract. This came out of the work I’ve done at Company of Angels. Another true and fully diverse small theater company I’m proud to be a member of. I worked on a 99 Seat show years ago, before I joined AEA, and an AEA member invited a Casting director to the show. I ended up booking my first TV gig with this CD. If this AEA actor hadn’t been working on this play, due to the 99 Seat maybe not existing, I wouldn’t have gotten that TV job. I have worked with playwrights such as Mickey Birnbaum, Tom Jacobson, Jon Bastian and a few others, who have made a commitment to write roles that represent our city and our world. All produced under the 99 Seat Plan. I even turned down a role at a LORT regional theater to work on a small theater production because the play was sh#t and the small theater play was a work that should have been at this regional theater.
We are still living in a world where regional theaters don’t consider minorities in roles that are meant FOR minorities or poke fun of the minority stereotypes. THE NIGHTINGALE (La Jolla Playhouse), Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare Theatre Company), The Motherfucker With a Hat (TheatreWorks, Connecticut). Where a Native-American playwright is told to change her Native-American characters to Caucasian characters if she wants her work to be produced, here’s the article: Do White PlayWrights Think About This? So once again, I depend on the LA playwrights that take risks, that can express themselves freely and write for whomever they want to write for because 99 Seat gives them that venue.
Tell me why I shouldn’t worry. Or vote No.
So I propose this: If someone can seriously, like really seriously give me great reasons why I should not worry and that I will continue working within the small theater community; that AEA’s presumptions are a “Fact” since all companies have been welcoming actors of color for decades; that there will be an outburst of color blind casting and/or roles for ethnic actors if this proposal goes through; that those “ethnic” roles will be under contracts; that my union will guarantee to push for diversity along with this proposal and make sure it is being met; and lastly, that I’m being “hysterical” for no reason. THEN I say, screw it. I won’t speak on this matter anymore. I’ll vote Yes on this proposal and sit back and wait for all the amazing contracts coming my way!
#Ilove99 #pro99 #LAThtr #bbbbLAThtrUnited #LetUsVote #diversityintheater #diversity #theater #actorsofcolor #YesImEthnic
Richard Azurdia is a true Angeleno, born and raised in L.A. His body of work as an actor includes film, TV, theater, commercials and voice-over. His film and TV credits are numerous. You can currently watch him on Hulu’s series East Los High.