Open Letter to Mary McColl and the AEA Councillors

Letter to AEA's Mary McColl from actor Joel Swetow

What I just sent to Mary McColl* and the Councillors

By Joel Swetow. (Reprinted with Permission).
* Mary McColl is the Executive Director of Actors’ Equity Association.


Hi Mary, Hiya Gang,

So listen, we really appreciate the time and thought you all put into the New Membership Rules and Agreements For L.A. Theater.

But we’re gonna pass. Thanks anyway.

They just don’t speak to our needs. We asked for all sorts of things that you chose to disregard – like continued Equity protections for all actors working in 99 Seat, like a way for actors who self produce to continue to be able to generate funding for their projects through grants and donations, like tiers that we would happily work with you to find ways to fund the policing and enforcement of, like true bridge plans to get us from where we are now to HAT – you know, stuff like that. And of course the crux of your original horrific proposal, that we voted down in a landslide, is still in place – that one-size-fits all thing, the one that doesn’t take into account any individual circumstances regarding a theater’s budget or size, or longevity of existence, or anything else, the one that would force theaters to increase actor compensation by 1,000%, that would force theaters to go non-Equity, do smaller shows, do less edgy material, or just close altogether, all so that an incredibly small percentage of actors make minimum wage, while the number of acting opportunities for the rest of us dwindle dramatically. I mean we certainly appreciate the changes you made to the Membership Company rule, but still no new companies ever? And the 50-Seat Showcase Code, well, there’s the germ of a decent idea there. However productions not exceeding $20,000, only 16 performances, and only 3 productions per season per entity? Yeah, those just won’t work. Oh and by the way, any thoughts you may have had about about Membership Companies no longer being part of the fight, so Producers were gonna be isolated and on their own? That ain’t gonna be happening any time soon. Cause see, we’re a Community. And we need to be whole, as a Community

But obviously the biggest problem with the new rules and agreements is that once again, you didn’t include us. You remember that whole Self-Determination thing we talked about? Wanting to be the agents of our own change? Wanting to be at the table with you all, as partners, studying, exploring, discussing and deciding the future of OUR theater community together? Didn’t happen for some reason. Not sure why, because it’s clearly a righteous, reasonable, common sense approach to trying to find a way forward for L.A. Theater. But for some reason you chose to ignore us on that. Incredibly disrespectful. And I’m sure you can understand why that just won’t work for us. Because, among other things, we’re proud Union members and Equity Actors. We won’t be dictated to without a fight. We won’t be taken advantage of without standing up for ourselves, and our love of theater, and our right to pursue our art. We won’t be exploited by our misguided, tone-deaf union leadership any more than we will be by employers. So we’ll just do what we have to do to fight on, to change the thing, to dismantle it, to ignore it, to flout it, to subvert it, probably along with a few other strategies that are still being explored. You get the picture — whatever it takes.

But I’m sure you must have known that was going to be the case, right? I mean, after building this vibrant theater scene over the last 30 years or so, after desperately trying to both tell you what we needed, and get you to listen to us and work with us to fix things, and then after winning the Advisory Referendum with a whopping 66% of the votes cast, you couldn’t possibly have thought we were just going to say, “Oh well, we tried our best, and WE WON, but since Equity is still going to try and run roughshod over us, I guess we have no choice but to give up.” Naaahhhh! That’s not us. As I know you know now, we’re too passionate about theatre. We love acting too much. Plus we know we’re right. And that’s even after getting that ridiculous, insulting email from you the other day on “Why L.A. Theater Must Change.” I mean of course it does. And we want to be part of creating those changes. But the mischaracterizations of that email, the staggering hypocrisy, the chilling arrogance, the dumbfounding arbitrariness!! Wild!!!

But that’s ok. Cause we’re gonna come up with our own plan. And we’re gonna do what you guys didn’t do. We’re truly gonna listen. We’re gonna use the results of that study coming out this month. We’re gonna try and deal with numbers and facts. We’re gonna have a real Town Hall, we’re gonna conduct an unbiased survey, and we’re gonna talk about it all, we’re gonna bandy ideas around. And then we’re gonna form several working groups to come up with a plan that moves theatre in this town forward without hobbling large swaths of our Community. And finally we’ll find a way to implement what we come up with. And by the way, unlike the way you all didn’t let us in, you’re invited to be part of our discussions, of our process. Your perspective and the perspectives of every Equity member in this town will be welcome. Of course first you’ll have to renounce the Rules and Agreements you came up with on the 21st, so we’ll know you’re in good faith, and we can all start together from scratch in a truly collaborative effort. But I’m sure at some point, when you realize you can’t just ram them down our throats, that you can’t govern us unless we agree to be governed, you’ll be happy to do that.

Anyhow, I’m glad we could have this chat. Hope you all are well.

But you might wanna think about buckling up. Cause this whole thing is just getting started.

Joel Swetow


joel_swetow Joel Swetow has been a professional actor for 36 years. He has been a proud Actors’ Equity Member for 34 of those years. He currently lives in Los Angeles and is honored to be part of LA’s classical theatre ensemble, The Antaeus Company. His very feeble attempt at self promotion can be found HERE.






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