AEA members received an email last week announcing the launch of a new website.
EquityWorksLA.com has been created to inform Los Angeles Actors about “the many opportunities for work in Los Angeles”, as well as to clarify internal union membership rules, policies and contracts that are being used in LA County theaters with 99 seats or fewer.
This new website is about trust. Trusting the Union to present accurate information. Trusting the Union is make the right decisions. Trusting the Union to represent your best interests.
But what happens when a Union isn’t responsive to its members?
What happens when, instead of putting effort into having discussions, effort is put into framing discussions?
Press Release – Frances Fisher, Alfred Molina, others speak out on behalf of ‘Pro99’ movement to decry smears, misinformation
LOS ANGELES (July 27, 2016) — Members of Los Angeles’ “Pro99” movement, including actors Frances Fisher and Alfred Molina, spoke out today about recent attacks leveled by Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional stage actors and stage managers, against its own Los Angeles members who are part of the movement. After ending talks to forestall a lawsuit brought by Los Angeles actors and producers against AEA. the union recently sent emails to its national membership that accused Pro99 of “misinformation and propaganda,” “threats” and “blacklisting.”
“This is a stunning assault by Equity on its own membership,” said Fisher, star of “Titanic” and the upcoming “Barbecue” at the Geffen Playhouse. “It’s really too bad my union has chosen this scorched-earth approach. Publicly discrediting your own membership because they have a legitimate disagreement with you is just poor leadership, in my book.”
“The fact that AEA would send out an email like that is shocking and distressing,” said film, television and Broadway star Molina. “AEA has provided no concrete examples to back up the claims, and when questioned by its own membership, it has refused to clarify.”
Fisher and Molina are part of Pro99, a group seeking to protect and advance intimate theater in Los Angeles. The group formed in opposition to a new set of rules Actors’ Equity put forth to govern small theaters in L.A. Pro99 activists argue that the new rules will severely damage L.A.’s theater scene, stripping theater artists of vital opportunities and protections.
Pro99 currently has over 6,800 members, comprised of actors, stage managers, playwrights, designers, directors and producers as well as audience members, small business owners and affected community members who want to preserve L.A.’s intimate theater cultural landscape.
“Most of our concerns center on AEA’s new 99-Seat Agreement, which we strongly believe would destroy a vibrant and developmental theater scene, and force many theaters to close,” says Lisa Glass, an AEA actor and Pro99 member.
The dispute between Pro99 and Actors’ Equity began when AEA’s council proposed a series of resolutions in February of 2015 that would drastically alter the way its members have participated in Los Angeles theater productions in small venues over the past 48 years. The new AEA agreement eliminates the old 99-Seat Plan, which reimbursed actors for expenses. The new agreement calls for actors to receive a minimum wage, but L.A. members protest that higher wages are extremely unlikely to materialize and say they expect instead to lose opportunities to perform on L.A.’s intimate stages – stages that, they argue, will likely either shut down or “go non union,” meaning that they will no longer use union actors and stage managers in their productions.
In an advisory referendum that saw historically high participation, Los Angeles members voted against AEA’s proposals by a 2-to-1 margin. Despite that decisive defeat, National Council adopted versions of the proposals in April, and plans to implement them on December 14th of this year.
Pro99 points out that Los Angeles is the second largest membership city for AEA, with approximately 7,000 members, yet it is home to only a small number of full-size contract theaters. Consequently, it has one of the lowest numbers of contract jobs per capita for Equity members in the nation. Additionally, many local regional theaters tend to hire actors from New York rather than casting locally.
“There are very few jobs for AEA actors in Los Angeles,” explains AEA member/producer of Loft Ensemble and Pro99 member Kevin Meaok. “That’s why 99-seat venues are critical to us as artists. They provide an opportunity for us to work, and also to be seen and hired for contract work elsewhere.”
Molina offered this perspective: “If you’re an L.A. stage actor, and you don’t happen to be a celebrity, where are you supposed to actually get on stage and act, if not in 99-seat theaters? Equity says they’re looking out for their members, but after a year-and-a-half of fighting this destructive new plan, no one can answer that basic question.”
Pro99 members also point to workplace protections that are lost under AEA’s new internal codes, thereby damaging the union by incentivizing potential new L.A. members to remain non-union. They say this will create a large pool of experienced, non-union actors and stage managers for producers to tap if they wish to avoid the restrictions associated with using union members.
On July 14th, a group of Equity members and producers filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against Equity. Plaintiffs include notable actors such as French Stewart from “3rd Rock From the Sun”, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and former SAG President Ed Asner.
Equity has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. In addition to the lawsuit, a claim has been filed against Equity with the National Labor Relations Board.
Los Angeles AEA members have developed several alternative proposals designed to more comprehensively prevent exploitation and create more contracts, while allowing small L.A. theater to continue.
“If Equity wants to help its L.A. members, how about listening to our ideas for a way forward? We’ve developed a plan, in counsel with L.A. producers, that prevents exploitation, leads to more contract work, and preserves the theatrical ecosystem L.A. actors and stage managers value,” said AEA actor and Pro99 member Larry Poindexter. Poindexter helped spearhead the creation of one of several counter-proposals brought forward by L.A. AEA members, each of which AEA has rejected outright.
Pro99 members want AEA to halt its new 99-Seat Agreement from going into effect in December, and are proposing Equity hold another referendum to allow Los Angeles AEA members to vote on a Pro99 plan for theaters with 99-seats or less. Pro99 members, in council with L.A. producers, will unveil this plan at a town hall meeting hosted by the LA Stage Alliance in August.
“Pro99 is not an anti-union group. We are pro-union. We are just asking our leaders to listen to us and to let Los Angeles AEA members vote and decide our own future,” said AEA actor and Pro99 member Margaret McCarley.
Pro99 believes that AEA’s actions will be detrimental to the AEA membership of Los Angeles, the membership at large, and to all 99-seat or less theaters in LA.
“Rather than attempting to bring the union together to resolve this, AEA ignores its membership? I couldn’t be any more disappointed. I really hope for the good of our union, a compromise can be reached,” said Mel England, an AEA actor and Pro99 member.
” …there are many facts that Equity has deliberately avoided addressing or explaining. Addressing and explaining these facts would be a good starting point if the Union’s case has real merit and is for the benefit of all its members.”
Here is an exchange between an actor friend of mine who does wonderful work on many New York stages, and me. He is reacting to my posting of the LA Weekly article about the AEA catastrophe; an article that lays out the facts quite well, I think. But his reaction is similar to so many I keep hearing. We’ve got to change their minds. But how?
NY Actor (whom I like and admire):
I’m bewildered. People have sacrificed so much to have unions. Unions have raised our standard of living after great sacrifice. Our union wants us to stop being taken advantage of. Actors who want to work for nothing, please do it in the privacy of clubs or your own home, and don’t charge anything for tickets!
We’re not talking about union-bashing. I am a committed unionist, appalled by what is going on in states like Ohio and Wisconsin and Tennessee and Indiana, where the Republicans are breaking down the unions in every way they can. This is one particular union, which happens to be our union, which is trying to eliminate the huge and flourishing small-theater scene in Los Angeles, because the union makes no money off of it.
For the actors it’s a choice between doing truly high-level, fabulous, although small-scale, theater in a town, unlike New York, where theaters don’t reap the support or funding or tourism that the New York scene does — or doing no theater at all, except for the extremely rare paying job at one of the handful of bigger theaters in Los Angeles. The city is full of actors trying to make their livings. None of them expect to make that living in the hundreds of small theaters in Los Angeles. For 27 years there has been an agreement with Equity which allows them to produce and participate in terrific, professional, exciting theater, but in spaces and with companies that for the most part barely scrape by, albeit with endless hours of work and effort. The work is fantastic. The actors, and audiences, are happy and grateful to be there. The local communities thrive and benefit from the presence of those theaters and their audiences. The income to the theater is minimal at best.
Nobody makes a dime off the actors. No producers are reaping profits while not paying the actors. That’s all AEA’s false propaganda. And it’s so easy to say “actors should be paid.” OF COURSE they should. But if there is no money to pay them, and they are willing and able to put up shows — not in their living rooms or clubs, but with full sets and costumes in actual theaters — that are fulfilling and brilliant and daring and artistic — not merely for “showcase”, but for the art that you and I and all of us aspire to and have devoted our lives to — then why so dismissively tell them to go do plays in their homes? Let them eat cake, if they have no bread. Really? You are belittling your colleagues. Have you ever seen or been in a play in a small venue in LA? You might be impressed, and might even encourage, admire, and support that huge community of your fellow professional actors.
And STILL they say: “What’s so wrong with getting paid for your work? It makes no sense.”
In all these posts and newspaper articles and radio shows and blogs and various missives abounding, I keep getting responses from other actors, almost exclusively NOT in Los Angeles, who sort of look over all this material, and STILL say: “What’s so wrong with getting paid for your work? It makes no sense. What’s wrong with Equity’s Decision? It allows a “Showcase” code! We make it work in New York! Why don’t you want to be paid? Why are you going against your own union, who are just trying to protect us actors from being taken advantage of?”
So, here’s my YET ANOTHER endlessly long attempt to explain to some of these good friends and colleagues who can’t seem to understand what the situation is in LA, who have been bombarded by AEA’s propaganda (the Kool Aid, as I now perceive it) and have been convinced by it.
Ultimately, the reason for answering all these questions is to hopefully persuade some of the east coast (and elsewhere) Equity member-voters to GET IT, and to vote for a Pro99 candidate and platform, if that ever materializes.
The “Showcase” code allows only 16 performances, among other things. Actors in LA are, for the most part, not trying to “showcase” in order to get an agent or get TV parts, although those possibilities are always there, and sometimes yield results. They are exercising their craft, they are doing their art. 16 performances removes the possibility of making any money back to pay for the production. The other provisions of AEA’s destructive Decision all sound like they’re creating interesting opportunities for varying degrees of production; but they’re basically, if you read the fine print and the lists of caveats and caps and limits and restrictions and time deadlines, just sham. The purpose of the union Council and the paid staffers who more or less dictate to the actor-volunteers that we elect, is to ELIMINATE the small theater scene in LA. And that’s what this Decision does.
AEA makes no money from LA small theaters
The union makes no money from LA small theaters. They do not care about them. They want them gone. They lie, and they use propaganda to promote their agenda, which is based on lies. “We’re trying to solve problems in LA.” Bullshit. “We’re listening to the voices of our members.” Bullshit. “We want to help the smaller theaters in LA grow into full contract houses.” Bullshit.
None of that is true.
This latest referendum vote was handled in the most fascistic, horrific way by the union, my parent union, the union to which I have poured tens of thousands of my hard-earned dollars over the last half-century. Vote YES. They sent out massive emails urging us to vote YES. They never gave the NO people a soap box. Can you imagine your tax dollars funding the Federal Government, and when an election comes up they inundate you with messages saying: “There are two candidates: Republican and Democrat. We, your government, urge you to vote Republican. Here are all the wonderful things the Republican will do for you. Here is a picture of your new and wonderful life under the Republican. Vote Republican if you are in any way dissatisfied with any element of your life.” Really? Any word from the Democrat? No. A debate? No. A pro and con argument in any of the messages? No. Just VOTE REPUBLICAN! Then the vote takes place, and the Democrat wins in a landslide, in the biggest turnout ever for any election, 66% of the vote for the Democrat. And THEN — the Government says, “Thank you. We hear your voices. We’re working for you. We’re listening. We are laboring tirelessly to guarantee and strengthen the quality of your lives, to be responsive to your needs. Thanks for your vote. We are granting the victory to the Republican. God bless America.” Really?? Would you accept that? No. That is precisely what AEA did just now. Exactly. There is no livelihood to be forged for actors in LA’s small theaters. THE MONEY IS NOT THERE. Arguably, there is in New York.
Stage actors can make a living in NY
You actually can make a living working as an actor in the theater in New York. It’s not easy; acting is never an easy way to earn your living. Nonetheless, it is possible in New York. But not in LA. So to keep arguing that “actors should be paid” is, finally, just a silly thing to say. OF COURSE they should be paid. But if there is no money to pay them, simply repeating that sentence is childish, and shows a complete lack of understanding of what is actually going on. In Los Angeles, California. In 99-seat and smaller theaters.
Actors need and want to act. They MUST act. If they are making their livings doing TV and film and any of the hundreds of other ways actors stay alive in LA, but still need and want to act on stage, they must be allowed to do so. Even if there is no way that they can pay themselves, or find “producers” who can pay them, a living wage. They will show up and do the work anyway. After air and water and the health and happiness of their children, acting on stage shows up pretty high on the priority list. Hire me to do a national tour, like I’m doing right now? Yippee. The Weisslers and their co-producers are making good money on “Pippin.” Thus I, too, am making a decent salary. I’m making my living in this play on tour, because the producers are turning a PROFIT; enough of a profit that they can pay the writers’ royalties, reimburse the backers’ investments, pay for the theater, the travel, the cast, crew, and all other expenses, and still take home a big fat pile of cash up to Westchester County every week. I feel privileged and lucky and happy to be working, and to be paid enough to live on and feed my kids. But notice, I am on a different stage around the country every week. Venues of 2,500-3,500 seats. I am not in a 50-seat theater in Los Angeles.
4 times in 50 years – a living wage via LA stages
When I get back to LA, I hope to continue, as I have for 50 years now, to make my living as an actor. I have been lucky there, too. Four times — four times over 50 years — I have made a temporary “living” as a stage actor in LA. At the Mark Taper Forum, which pays a few hundred dollars a week, I was in Paul Sills’s “Metamorphoses” in 1971, and in Mark Medoff’s “Children of a Lesser God” in 1979. Both roughly 3-month engagements. In 1997 I was in “Ragtime” at the Shubert Theater (one of the only big Broadway-type theaters in Los Angeles, long since torn down with no new big theater to replace it) for almost a year, making Broadway-type pay; and in 2007-2008 I did an 18-month stint in “Wicked” at the Pantages. These were great moments of good fortune for me, and I will always be grateful. But during the other 47 years? Tons of small theater in LA, no income from it, and I made my living, as ALL actors do in LA, in any other way that I could. And still am — in TV and movies, and teaching at USC, and writing music for films, and recording audiobooks, and doing cartoon voices. I’ll play the piano in a bar or a hotel lobby till 3 in the morning, HAPPILY, if I need to and someone will give me the gig. But if there is ALSO a small theater that wants to put on a production of a Shakespeare play, or a big musical, or a 1930’s drama with 40 people in the cast, or a Shaw or Chekhov or Ibsen or Mamet or Miller or Gorky or Williams or Ayckbourn or Durang play, or a brand new play by a playwright who is taking risks and trying something out — and they want me to be in it, even though there is no possibility on earth that they’ll even be able to think of making any profit from it; but they do, by hook and crook and tireless work, manage to scrape up the money for the rights, for the theater space, for the set and costumes, for the insurance so that they can legally invite an audience in to see it — then I will be honored, and jump for joy to be able, along with everything else I’ll be doing to pay my bills and feed my children, to step out onto a stage and be in that play. If there is money to pay me, I’ll take it. I deserve it. All actors do. But if there isn’t, I still must act. And I will.
We are not forced to work in little theaters. We ASPIRE to work there.
The union I was so proud to join 50 years ago, upon whom I have depended to uphold my rights and my proper wages, and to help me with health and pension benefits, all, of course, based on the thousands upon thousands of dollars I have paid in over the years, the union I love — has no right to tell me and my colleagues that we cannot choose to come together and put on plays, even when there is not a venue that can afford to pay us minimum wage. We are not forced to work in those wonderful, scrappy little theaters. We ASPIRE to work there. If a paying job comes up, we more often than not have to go and do that job, whatever it is, and forgo the joy and fulfillment of that play in that little theater. We do want to eat, and live somewhere, and put sneakers on our kids’ feet. But NOT doing that play — THAT is the sacrifice we often are forced to make. Working for nothing in that 50-seat theater is not a sacrifice. It is a dream. It is an honor. It’s what we do. Our own union is now trying to take that away from us. They shouldn’t be doing it, but they are. It is misguided at best, malevolent and oppressive at worst. The methods and tactics being used are dishonest and underhanded, patronizing, and oblivious to the needs of its members.
That’s why we’re fighting it. I hope you will join us.
LISTEN to John Rubinstein debate Gail Gabler (Western Regional Director of AEA) on KCRW:
Unfortunately, quite a few “Myths” are floating around about the Proposal from the “Yes” side. As this is our second Myth-Busting post in a short period of time, it looks like “Debunking the Myths” may be an on-going series ..
Grab a cup of coffee and settle in. You’ll be here for a bit.
We’re not really voting on this Proposal or the specific terms in this Proposal. This is just a “starting point for change.” Reality #1
Regardless of what anyone says, the FACT remains – and please, please, please let us deal in FACTS – that we are voting on the terms of THIS PROPOSAL and only this proposal, not on what we hope AEA might or might not do down the road. Listen, if a producers organization said to Equity, “here’s our contract proposal, and it kind of sucks for you and your members, but we promise you we’re gonna make all these great changes to it, so just vote “Yes” on what’s here and we’ll fix it later,” Equity would look at those producers like they had lost their minds.
Equity’s Proposal is written the way it is to satisfy “the specific requirements of the settlement from 30 years ago. Reality #2
Absolutely false. Equity had to follow a certain process to satisfy the settlement agreement. The substance of their Proposal could have been anything. They chose this.
Equity’s Proposal requires actors be paid minimum wage because California and Federal labor laws require it. Reality #3
Except no one seems to be able to point to any particular law to support this argument.
If it were true:
A) How could Equity itself offer two prongs of this very Proposal (Self Produced and Member Companies) which require NO PAYMENT, even though tickets are being sold.
B) How come SAG is allowed to offer contracts with deferred or no pay, for example, in their New Media agreements?
C) How is it that museums and all sorts of other arts organizations can charge money for tickets and still have legions of “volunteers?” Not to mention that there are plenty of organizations that take in money, say in the form of “dues”, which are actually run by unpaid volunteers, who for argument’s sake we might call “Councillors.”
The choice is between the change this Proposal offers and no change at all. In fact the “NO” side doesn’t want any change. Reality #4
That is absolutely NOT the choice. “Change… Just not THIS change” means exactly what it says. Nobody that we know of is talking about 25 more years of the same.
But listen, if you don’t trust that’s the case, if you’re afraid that it’s this change or no change, there is an airtight failsafe mechanism in place to ensure that change must happen. Once this Advisory Referendum is done, if Equity allows our community to come together to be the agents of our own change, and we stall, or can’t come to an agreement, or they just don’t like what we come up with, Equity is free at that point to unilaterally implement their current proposal or any other changes it wants. So change is definitely coming. It’s just a matter of what exactly it’ll be and who will be the agents of that change.
And that’s really what this all it comes down to. Self determination. We as actors are so out of control in so many parts of our careers. We don’t expect our union to be leading the charge to dictate how we can and can’t practice our art. We simply cannot fathom why Equity staff and council are so utterly determined to hand down edicts from on high in this matter, to NOT include us in the process in the ways that we can be helpful, and that we want to be and feel we have the right to be included. What could it hurt? Wefail to see how us needing to be an integral, equal part of the process is wrong, or outrageous, or unreasonable.
Equity will not be implementing a one-size fits all approach in dealing with the theatres currently covered by the current 99-Seat Plan. Reality #5
And yet a one size fits all approach is EXACTLY what they proposed and what we are being asked to vote on.
Equity does not “want to destroy small theatre companies” Reality #6
And yet what they’ve proposed will very likely do just that.
People on the “NO” side are anti-Equity and anti-union. Reality #7
Nothing could be further from the truth. Because the union is not its staff, or even its Councillors. The union is its members. WE, all of us, are the union. And so we would ask, why is our union not supporting its members? Why is our union not letting us participate in shaping our own destiny? What we owe to the union we love is not unquestioning, unswerving obedience but rather the commitment to stand up when we, the members, know the leadership is making a huge mistake that hurts those members, its reputation, and its cause.
Those people on the “NO side are all vicious, vitriolic, uncivilized, homicidal, Councillor eating cannibals. Reality #8
Ok, now that one is actually true.
Oh, all right, maybe it’s only partially true. Look, we certainly don’t condone boorish, intimidating, humiliating, hostile behavior. But how many of the 6500 Equity members in LA have been engaging in an activity that we’re now all tarred with, so much so that Equity can’t even hear what we’re saying because all they can think about is how awful our behavior has been? An incredibly small percentage of us who happen to be very vociferous have admittedly posted angrily or sent horrendous emails. And yes, it was horribly wrong and not at all helpful to engage in that kind of behavior. But the truth is we are outraged. And fearful. And we have every right to be. Because Equity has done this VERY badly, and at this stage we think they would be the first to admit it. They chose to mess with something completely essential and defining and epic to us, to our sense of who we are, to our very identity as artists and as people – and that is our ability to be on stage, to act. And they did it in a way that left us feeling ignored or disempowered.
The “NO” side doesn’t have any specific ideas about the kinds of change we’d like to see. Reality #9
Well, unlike Equity, we don’t want to jump to conclusions or assume anything without adequate, inclusive study and thoughtful discussion. And maybe by being open and engaging in that kind of exploration and dialogue, with all points of view represented at the table, we can come up with some ideas that haven’t even been thought of yet. But just to be clear, we asked — specifically – for a tiered approach to change. There are different ways to do that, but HERE are 3 possibilities.
A “Yes” vote will lead to all kinds of changes, like a multi-tiered approach, HAT contracts, and pension/health weeks. A “NO” vote leads to no change, stagnation, and more of the “same old, same old.” Reality #10
“Yes” will lead to all kinds of changes, just none of those mentioned above. A “Yes” vote is not a vote for just any change. It is a vote to approve the specific changes in the Referendum Proposal and only those.
And those changes mean you support minimum wage, regardless of:
· how many producers it forces to go non-Equity
· how many theatres it forces to close
· how many 2 character plays take over the landscape
· how many new or edgy plays never get developed
· how many opportunities it destroys for you to act in Los Angeles.
But what you are most assuredly NOT supporting is:
· a multi-tiered approach
· actors getting health/pension weeks
· a movement toward HAT contracts
· a process which encourages theatres to move toward contracts in general.
Because there is not a single word about any of those in the proposal.
ALL you get with this proposal is the opportunity to lose your shirt self-producing, membership companies dwindling away, fewer opportunities to act, and minimum wage for a very small number of us.
A Myth is as Good as a Mile
Unless you’re just totally opposed to any version of intimate theatre, of 99 Seat Theatre in any form, we suggest that if you’re merely unhappy with the current 99 Seat Plan and want to see changes, or if you love theatre and want to see the theatre scene in Los Angeles continue to thrive and grow, albeit with improvements that take better care of actors, you should definitely vote “NO” on the Equity Proposal, if you haven’t done so already. And then let’s fix the system ourselves, in conjunction with Equity, with all the voices which comprise our magnificent and unique theatre community fully engaged and represented.
Pour another cup of coffee … more Myth Busters HERE.
Myth: Small theaters with tiny budgets have to pay their actors minimum wage. It’s federal law.
Nonsense. If it were federal law, Equity has been breaking the law for the last thirty years; nobody gets minimum wage in 99 seat theater. And National Equity knows that its nonsense: under their new proposal membership companies can pay its old members NOTHING. Not even a stipend. Only new members would be paid minimum wage.
Myth: Unions cannot collectively bargain a contract for less than minimum wage.
More nonsense. SAG-AFTRA has negotiated deferred payment on their new media contract and the SDC (the stage directors society) has negotiated contracts for 99 seat theater on a fee basis in which no director will make anything like minimum wage.
Myth: If you vote no on this proposal, you are anti union.
Beyond nonsense into offensiveness. Loyal opposition when my union is wrong supports my union. I voted for Obama when Bush was president, my conservative friend Paul voted for Romney in the last election. Were we anti-American?
Myth: if we eliminate the small theater plan (Equity’s stated purpose) new opportunities will arise for Equity actors. Look at San Francisco and Chicago.
Here’s what’s happened in San Francisco and Chicago: more non Equity theaters. More theaters in which you wouldn’t be able to work.
In San Francisco National Equity tried the one- size -fits- all type solution that they want to impose here. Result: out of 75 theater companies in San Francisco , 55 are Non Equity. (Figures provided by AEA to Steven Leigh Morris.)
Myth Busting by RICHARD FANCY “Last season I played Fitz in Rogue Machine’s production of Penelope. At Pacific Resident Theater Ensemble I’ve played Willy Loman, Halvard Solness in The Master Builder, Robert in Betrayal; at the Odyssey I played Joe Keller in All my Sons and Moe Axelrod in Awake and Sing.
I’ve been lucky; I’ve had a career in television and film. But nothing I have done in the industry has been as significant to me as my experiences in 99 seat theater.“