Can a real conversation between Equity and its L.A. membership still happen?
On Monday evening, August 22, LA STAGE Alliance convened a town hall, moderated by Executive Director Steven Leigh Morris, to discuss the new Equity proposal for small theaters in Los Angeles. Actors, producers, and other theater professionals, along with members of the wider community attended. The house was packed and the agenda included a panel discussion by leaders of the theater community.
Same Side, Different Views
Here are two excellent recaps of all that was discussed, quite civilly it was noted, despite the months of rancorous disputes. These articles are written from quite different perspectives. So give them both a read for a fuller understanding of the multifaceted crisis facing Los Angeles’s intimate theaters.
LOS ANGELES (Oct. 17, 2015) — Actors and other members of the Los Angeles theatrical community (Ed Asner, Tom Bower, Gregg Daniel, John Flynn, Maria Gobetti, Gary Grossman, Ed Harris, Salome Jens, Veralyn Jones, Karen Kondazian, Simon Levy, Amy Madigan, Tom Ormeny, Lawrence Pressman, Michael Shepperd, Joseph Stern, French Stewart, and Vanessa Stewart) filed a lawsuit today against Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers and Mary McColl, AEA Executive Director. The lawsuit challenges the Union’s decision to eliminate its 25-year-old waiver of jurisdiction over small 99-seat theaters, a program popularly known as Equity Waiver. Plaintiffs claim that the Union’s decision to end Equity Waiver will unfairly destroy small theater in Los Angeles and deprive thousands of actors of opportunities to collaborate on creative theatrical projects.
The lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles federal court. The plaintiffs are Los Angeles-based members of Equity, together with other theatrical artists and theater operators who had entered into a litigation Settlement Agreement with the Union in 1989 that established a system for regulating future changes to the Equity Waiver program.
The lawsuit alleges that the stage actors’ union violated this Settlement Agreement by improperly interfering with the democratic and due process procedures established in the Agreement to prevent any unilateral Union decision to eliminate the world of intimate theater. The lawsuit complains that Equity’s new rules, including a prohibition on volunteer acting at small theaters and a new wage compensation obligation on these theaters, will force theaters to close, reduce their production runs, or to hire non-union volunteer actors in place of Union actors.
The plaintiffs announced that they would not serve the Complaint on the Union immediately, in the hope that the Union would respond to their request to meet and confer about a mutually acceptable resolution of the small theater controversy.
“Although we have now filed the complaint, we have not yet served it on the Union,” stated Steven Kaplan, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “We have asked the Union to take this opportunity to avoid the time, expense and acrimony of litigation, and sit down with its members to discuss a mutually advantageous resolution.”
Gary Grossman, a member of Equity and one of the plaintiffs in the 1989 litigation, stated that “This lawsuit became necessary because Equity refused to comply with the preliminary procedural protections built into our 1989 Settlement Agreement. These procedural protections were designed to ensure that, before substantial changes were made to the 99-Seat Theater Plan, meaningful discussions would take place within the small theater community.”
Actor Michael A. Shepperd, also a plaintiff, said, “Our members voted to reject the Union’s actions by a 2-1 margin in one of the largest election turnouts in the organization’s history. We are terribly disappointed that our Union rejected the principle of democracy on which it was founded, and foisted on Union members new rules that will harm all actors in the long run.”
Actress Karen Kondazian, another plaintiff, explained that “the majority of Los Angeles artists who work in small theaters want Equity to put a moratorium on these new plans in order for local members’ voices to be adequately and fairly heard, and for the Union to work together with a task force of local theater artists to develop a comprehensive plan that will adequately address the needs of the Los Angeles theater community. But our leadership turned a deaf ear to our concerns.”
Actor French Stewart, another plaintiff, lamented that “we would hate to see either the death of intimate theater or the world of small theater go non-union. Equity’s decision was short-sighted and likely will contribute to an erosion of unionized acting in Los Angeles.”
Plaintiffs are represented by the Law Offices of Steven J. Kaplan and Martha Doty of Alston & Bird.
PRO99 members will be appearing in Breathtakingly Beautiful Costumes designed by Jeffrey Schoenberg of AJS Costumes.
Celebrate Los Angeles Intimate Theatre and the Noho Arts District
Join your fellow actors, stage managers, directors, designers, and of course, audience members of the Los Angeles Theatre Community. This is gonna be fun!!!
(And wear your #Pro99 t- Shirt if you’ve got one!)
All the deets:
**from the official press release:
The NoHo Arts District and members of the “PRO99″ Los Angeles theater community are throwing a block party to raise awareness about the impact that new regulations from Actor’s Equity Association, the union of actors’ and stage managers, is having on the local community – including AJS Costumes which is in danger of going out of business. The NoHo Arts District and PRO99 Street Party to Save AJS Costumes will feature entertainment, music, celebrity speakers, community leaders and a costume parade of extravagant period costumes designed by AJS founder and owner Jeffrey Schoenberg. The event will take place on Sunday October 18 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in NoHo Plaza, located at 5223-5225 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood. Admission is free and open to the public.
Actor’s Equity has promulgated a new plan regulating actors’ pay, scheduled to go into effect on June 1, 2016, that will force “intimate theaters” in Los Angeles to pay Equity actors minimum wage. Many smaller theaters allege that they will be forced to go “non-union” or face going out of business as a result. In anticipation, many 99-seat production budgets have already shrunk. AJS Costumes, which has served the greater Los Angeles theater community for over 13 years, currently faces a severe slowdown in business and is at risk of being one of the first major dominoes to fall.
“Changes in the local 99-seat theater plan are causing many theater companies to be very conservative about selecting their projects,” says Schoenberg, who has been honored with numerous awards and nominations, including Ovation, LA Weekly and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, for his costume designs. “They are doing smaller productions, with less costume design needed, and fewer period plays. Business has slowed to a trickle. It has been devastating.”
According to Nancy Bianconi, publisher of NoHo Arts District’s website nohoartsdistrict.com, many businesses in the district are worried about the upcoming Equity changes. ”Our fear is that this could cripple the NoHo Arts District and undermine the district’s success in becoming a cultural tourist and entertainment destination,” she says.
PRO99 member Frances Fisher states, “If the new Actor’s Equity 99-Seat Theater Agreement goes through, it’s not just going to affect actors, it’s going to affect the larger Los Angeles community and its economy.”
PRO99 members (who take their name from the current Actor’s Equity 99-Seat Plan that allows members to volunteer in smaller venues) oppose AEA’s new agreement. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles membership of AEA voted down an advisory referendum on the new agreement by an overwhelming margin of 66%. In addition to regulating pay scales, the new agreement eliminates basic protections and rights mandated by the current 99-Seat Plan. PRO99 is requesting that AEA put a moratorium on the new agreement in order for local members’ voices to be heard, and that the union work together with its members to develop a plan that will adequately address the realities of the Los Angeles theater community.
PRO99 is a collective of actors, stage managers, other theater artists and audience members who are committed to preserving, protecting and promoting the intimate theater movement in Los Angeles and beyond. For more information about PRO99 go to www.ilove99.org.
ABOUT NOHO ARTS DISTRICT
The NoHo Arts District is a community organization that promotes art, culture, theater, festivals and all performing arts and happenings in the NoHo Arts District of North Hollywood. For more information go to www.nohoartsdistrict.com.
FLYER to spread the word
Feel free to download and distribute the event flyer below (different sizes/formats):
If you are AEA, and you would like to add your name as a signer to the letter, which we will also disseminate publicly, please click the link here or below, to add your name.
Thank you, Fellow AEA Members of #Pro99
Dear President Shindle,
We, the undersigned members of AEA who support the Pro99 movement, both in the L.A. area and around the nation, congratulate you on your win, and wish you a successful term as President of our beloved union. We were satisfied that our passionate campaigning helped to elect you, and appreciated that during your campaign you came to Los Angeles to meet with us and express your interest in the 99-Seat debacle that has galvanized our Los Angeles Theatre Community.
In your “Inaugural Column” in the July/August 2015 edition of Equity News you wrote: “Everyone has a different definition of what’s cool; to me, the coolest thing Equity can do is to encourage its members to be passionate, vocal activists and ambassadors. Because that will not only make our industry more successful, it will also make our union stronger.”
We couldn’t agree more. We are also encouraged and grateful that you mention our cause in your column, especially since we do not feel we have always been fairly represented in Equity News and emails — that is, when we’ve been represented at all. Thank you for your willingness to both meet with us and publicly discuss what absolutely continues to be a crisis in our union. As you noted, we do have much to celebrate about intimate theatre in L.A. — almost thirty years of rich and creative work under the guidelines endorsed by our own union.
However, we’re concerned about your mention of a recent Fringe Festival production that was produced under the proposed “New 99-Seat Theatre Agreement.” Though you present it as something to perhaps celebrate, we wish to be clear that that Agreement is precisely what an overwhelming majority of local AEA members voted against in the advisory referendum (66%: a landslide). As you can imagine, LA members don’t consider this an event to celebrate. We think it is, in fact, the problem, and not the solution. Worse, we think the way the new agreement was promulgated by the union is even more problematic for the democratic process. We have found the actions and messaging of the leadership of our union troubling, and the fact that the leadership ignored the will of its own membership is deeply disturbing. Worst of all, we firmly believe this new plan will effectively destroy our vibrant theatrical community.
We love our union. We have, from the beginning, offered to work with Council and staff to find a solution that will not only address our concerns, but also make our union stronger and respectful of local members’ needs. We welcome turning a new page with your support and willingness to listen to us articulate the realities of our community in order to resolve this crisis.
Members of AEA #PRO99 movement
About “Intimate Theatre” and #Pro99:
Over the past 50 years, whether it be 99-Seats in L.A., Off-Off Broadway in New York, or companies starting out like Steppenwolf in Chicago, some of the most important productions in American theatre history have originated in “intimate theaters.” Right now, a 99-seat production from Los Angeles of “Spring Awakening” is opening on Broadway, with twenty members of the original LA cast all earning multiple contract weeks and, proudly, earning their Equity cards. This is only one of countless examples — hundreds of shows, thousands of contracts for hundreds of thousands of work weeks — over several decades that have come directly from intimate theatre productions, creating opportunities and work for actors, stage managers, playwrights, directors and designers. This is not just a Los Angeles issue, members across the country share similar issues that create the need for intimate theatre where AEA actors can do their work. To attack the state of 99-Seat theatre is to attack the core of American theatre. We must preserve these venues, not destroy them.
Daniel Henning, who spearheaded the Hollywood Theatre Row designation, spoke the following at the event:
“Good afternoon. I am Daniel Henning, The Founding Artistic Director of The Blank Theatre. We have been in Hollywood since 1990, and in this building right there since 1996. I am so excited for this amazing recognition of Hollywood Theatre Row today. I and my colleagues are deeply moved by the city’s support. I especially want to thank Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LaBonge for being such amazing champions of live theatre in Los Angeles and for making this historic day happen.
It’s literally a dream come true for me.
The current residents of Hollywood Theatre Row include: The Hudson, the Elephant and Lillian, The Blank Theatre at 2nd Stage, Theatre Asylum, McCadden and Lex Theatres, Complex Theatres, Studio C, Lounge Theatre, The LGBT Center Theatres, and the Circle Theatre. Even the Dragonfly and Three Clubs nightclubs are sometimes theatrical venues.
I founded Stayin’ Live! which is a coalition of theatre, business, government and neighborhood leaders to create the assured future of live theatre in Hollywood and all throughout Los Angeles. I thought it would be important to include the entire community in the conversation about how to support live theatre, not just the theatres themselves. And what I found was great.
Every board I went in front of to get support for this official designation was tremendously enthusiastic and wanted to know what else they could do. All of them voted unanimously to support this designation and to become partners in Stayin’ Live! It was heartening every time.
I want to recognize our current partners and thank them for their support. They include: the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Hollywood Arts Council, Hollywood Media District BID, Hollywood Heritage, Hollywood Pantages/Nederlander Ricardo Montalban Theatre and of course, Councilmembers Tom LaBonge and Mitch O’Farrell. And I’d also like to thank Cal Trans and the Department of Transportation for partnering with us to make this a reality.
This whole idea started at the first Stayin’ Live! summit held in November, 2014. Kamilla Blanche, Tom LaBonge’s amazing Senior Director for Arts and Culture, said to me “We should get you some signs!” and she set off to make that happen. We wouldn’t be here today without Kamilla Blanche, that’s for sure! Thank you Kamilla! Then Dan Halden, Mitch O’Farrell’s Hollywood Field Deputy, joined the team and we got this done! Dan has worked tirelessly to make today happen. Thank you, Dan!
But the people who need the most thanks are the thousands of artists that have offered their wares along Hollywood Theatre Row for decades. From Charlie Chaplin who opened the first theatres in this area in the 1940s, to the hundreds of productions that will be playing this month in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. By the way, Charlie Chaplin’s Circle Theatre on El Centro is currently under renovation to reopen as the new home of Black Dahlia and Red Dog Squadron.
Hollywood Theatre Row has been a safe haven from the commercial pressures of larger live theatres, and has allowed us to create new, vibrant and boundary pushing theatrical experiences for the residents of Los Angeles and tourists from around the world.
Los Angeles should be known as a major center of great theatre in the nation. The opportunity exists to put Los Angeles on the map as the “theatre town” that it already is; to show the world that this is a place that nurtures and supports the artists that are the future of the entertainment industry.
Did you know the economic benefits provided by having theatres in your community are astounding? For every 10 jobs in the live theatres they will produce 9 other jobs at outside businesses. For every dollar that is spent at a theatre, seven to twelve additional dollars are spent in the surrounding community: parking, restaurants, bars, shopping etc. We put more money into the pockets of our neighboring businesses than we do our own. Who doesn’t want a neighbor like us?
We can leverage our unique cultural assets in Hollywood and Los Angeles to enrich the quality of life for all residents and visitors from all over the world. But we can’t do that without you.
We need: artists who are willing to give their talent to the community to make something greater than themselves, we need community leaders who have the ability to support us in significant ways, we need audiences who will brave sometimes difficult conditions coming down to see the work. But what we all need to do is become supporters of Hollywood Theatre Row and the rest of live theatre in Los Angeles by showing up: Make plans to see plays and musicals like we do movies. Donate any amount of money we can to our favorite theatres, talk to people about live theatre and introduce friends and colleagues to the excitement that is live theatre and Hollywood Theatre Row. That is how we will survive in challenging times.
I don’t usually think of New York as a yardstick to measure anything in Los Angeles, but in this one way, they have us beat: they support their live theatres as part of the inherent culture of the city. We can do that too. And we can do it even better than they do, because we make better theatre than they do!
This recognition of Hollywood Theatre Row is a wonderful step. Thank you again Mitch and Tom and the rest of the City Council for this exciting designation. We look forward to further support from this amazing city that we have the privilege to live in.
Our movement is growing; the citizens of Los Angeles are starting to take notice of the Intimate Theatres that are the lifeblood of the entertainment industry, and the lifeblood of the communities we serve. We look forward to your continuing support as well. After all, we do theatre for you: the citizens of Los Angeles or as we like to refer to you: our audience.
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 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.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED WITH AEA COMMITTEES – START NOW
As we continue to fight for our collective voice to be heard, some of you may be asking what else you can do to support that effort. I encourage you to join an AEA committee and show that we are a force that will not lay down, that we are organized and that we will keep demanding to be listened to at every level. To that end, I contacted the AEA offices in North Hollywood regarding the process to join a committee. The information is not available or easily found in the member portal of AEA so I am detailing the process below in a Q&A format. I hope having the information here in one place will ease the process for you.
~ Edgar Landa, Candidate for AEA Western Region Councillor
FAQs about joining an AEA committee
For more information please call the AEA offices and you will be connected to the appropriate person.
Q: How does a member join a committee? Where is that information found?
A: To join a national or local committee submit an application directly to AEA. The application can be requested by calling AEA.
Q: Who can join a committee?
A: Any member in good standing and not in conflict of interest. (Members who go into “conflict-of-interest” while serving on a committee are put on Conflict Of Interest (COI) and are removed from the Committee until such time that the Member is no longer a Producer – after the Member is no longer a Producer he/she is no longer in (COI) and can re-join the Committee. This happens all the time – Members can go in and out of COI – and there is a different amount of time that the Member needs to be out of Conflict of Interest before he/she can re-join a Committee.)
Q: How long does the process take to join a committee?
A: “The process to join a Committee can take a while depending on how quickly the information can be distributed to the Committee Chair and the applicant’s name presented to either Council (for National Committees) or the Regional Board (in your case the Western Regional Board) for Regional Committees. Once I receive a volunteer application, I look at the applicant’s requests and check to see if he/she is in COI or has worked the contracts of any Contract Committee for which he/she is applying. If everything checks out I then send that person’s name to the Chair of the Committee who will then look at my notes and decide whether or not the applicant is a good fit for the Committee. If so, then the Chair sends the applicant’s name to the Council or Board to be approved as an Observer. Once the applicant is approved by Council or Board as an Observer the person must attend a minimum of three (3) working meetings of the Committee – the Observer may speak and ask questions at the meetings but cannot yet vote. Once it is determined that the Observer is fully committed to the Committee, the Chair then presents that person’s name again to either the Council or the Board for approval as a full voting Member. Once approved as a Member, the person is a full voting Member. So, again the answer regarding “how long the process takes” is “it depends” For instance, Council and Board meetings are not usually held during July and August, so if a person sends in their application in late June, it might take two or three months before the Council or Board even sees the applicant’s name for approval. Timing is everything. And of course the process between being an Observer and then becoming a voting Member can take longer depending on the Committee and how often or how infrequently the Committee meets.” – AEA staff member
Q: Are there any committees that do not require a member not to be in conflict of interest?
A: No. All committees require a member not to be in conflict of interest. (*** This is something that I will be addressing in a different format once the election cycle closes. – EL)
Q: Are there caps to the number of members on each committee?
A: Yes, regional committees are capped at 25 people and AEA is looking into increasing the cap on national committees.
Q: How long does a committee term last?
A: Serving on a committee is open ended. A member can resign from a committee at any time. Or the Chair might ask a member to resign if that member has more than three unexcused absences. Once in a while letters are sent to all committee members asking them if they are still interested in serving on the committee.
Q: What is the time commitment involved?
A: The time commitment varies from committee to committee. Some committees meet more regularly than others. Usually committees meet as needed. For instance the Developing Theatres Committee will meet when a Producer requests concessions or when a theatre’s season agreement is being re-considered. Other Committees don’t meet as often as the Developing Theatres Committee because there isn’t that much business to take care of for those committees…And then, of course, if it is a Contract Committee and that Contract happens to be up for re-negotiation, then the Committee will suddenly have more regularly scheduled meetings. It all depends on the work that needs to be done for the individual Committees.
Q: Where can I find information about the focus or purpose of each committee?
A: There are no descriptions of a committee’s focus available anywhere – not yet anyway. AEA is working on this since we have just begun work on the Committee system/structure and the database used for Committees is currently being migrated into the database system used by all the other departments – the Committee database has been separate and used only by the Governance Department – the databases being merged is in process. However, Contract Committees (Production, LORT, WCLO, HAT, etc.) focus on the contract and any concessions to that contract that a Producer might request.
Q: How can I find out which committees are in need of members and which are full?
A: There is no system in place to let a member quickly and easily access this information. AEA is in the process of revamping the committee system/structure so some committees are being trimmed while others are gathering names of interested applicants. This process will take some time but do submit an application, regardless. AEA says they will do everything possible to place an interested member on a committee.
Q: Are the names of the committee chairs and members available?
A: No. Those names are not publicly available at this time and it is unclear if they will be made available via the member portal after the restructure due to privacy issues. AEA doesn’t want people who can hire or fire Members to know who chairs a Committee if that person who can hire or fire a Member might be taking issues to the Committee Chaired by someone who is working at that person’s theatre. The same reason applies for not publicizing the names of the committee members.
Q: What is the process to creating a new committee?
A: A Councilor or AEA staff member can make a request to the National Council for the formation of a new committee. The National Council then discusses the request and the need for such a committee. Once Council discusses the request, a Councilor can make a motion to form the Committee and if there is a second to the motion then there is another discussion period followed by a vote.
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: