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.
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?
On Monday, August 22, a town hall event will be held at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) for members of the Greater Los Angeles theatre community. The purpose of the meeting will be to examine the real-life consequences on LA’s cultural ecosystem should Actors’ Equity Association’s new plan (which would eliminate the 99-Seat Plan) be put into place on December 14, 2016.
Community members will be leading this town hall (including Tom Buderwitz, Gary Grossman, Armina LaManna, Rebecca Metz, Larry Poindexter, Michael Shepperd and Vanessa Stewart) and will be presenting attendees with an alternative proposal to Equity’s plan for consideration by the rest of the community.
“This town hall is something that we’ve been contacted about repeatedly by LA theatre-makers,” says LA STAGE Alliance Executive Director, Steven Leigh Morris, who will be moderating the event. “We recognize this as a critical time for many of our 99-seat members and colleagues, and it’s our priority to provide them with the platform to disperse information and convene as needed, in order to ready themselves for any changes that may come.”
The event is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and will conclude by 9:30 p.m. LATC is located at 514 S. Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Attendance is free, but an RSVP is required to accommodate for audience size.
“The clock is ticking! Beginning December 14th, 2016, despite the Los Angeles community’s urging and a lawsuit served on Actors’ Equity Association by Equity members and producers, Equity will impose new rules and regulations which will change theatre in Los Angeles forever.
This change will take away most of the opportunities for Equity actors to work in intimate theatre in Los Angeles and destroy Los Angeles intimate theatre as we know it.”
• Read the joint message to the Los Angeles community from Pro99 and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Equity.
• Learn the 8 ways YOU can help preserve intimate theatre in Los Angeles.
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.
UPDATE 12/11/16: We are updating this petition, adding more names, then submitting again. If you’ve already signed, you will get a message saying so.
Dear Pro99 Members and Supporters,
Please add your name to sign the letter to AEA from Pro99. Once we have collected signatures from the community, it will be sent to AEA, and disseminated in the media with signed names attached.
Letter to AEA in Support of Pro99’s Call for a New Referendum:
We, the undersigned, are dedicated to the survival and growth of Intimate Theatre in Los Angeles. We are actors, stage managers, playwrights, designers, directors, producers and hyphenates of all of the above. We are also audience members, neighborhood restaurants and bars, and local businesses that benefit from the thriving L.A. Intimate Theatre landscape. We are committed to preserving, protecting and promoting Theatre’s of 99-seats or less, not only in Los Angeles but throughout the United States, while defending Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) members’ rights, privileges and protections when they perform in such venues.
Currently, LA’s 99-seat theatres are under unparalleled threat. With arts funding in decline, and at 1/10 of what New York City garners, we are also now faced with an assault from AEA, which seeks to raze the LA intimate theater landscape.
We are PRO99. We are dedicated to ensuring that this does not happen.
A lawsuit by AEA members and producers, on behalf of the Intimate Theatre community, has been filed against Equity. Pro99 supports this effort and is actively engaging the community in the court of public opinion, and by reaching out to people in all walks of life affected by theatres of 99-seat or less.
Additionally, we support AEA members and Intimate Theatres nationwide that would also benefit from a 99-seat plan that would allow them to incubate and develop new works to eventually go to contract, under vital union protections. We believe these protections and opportunities should be more readily available nationwide, and should certainly be protected, not rolled back, here in Los Angeles.
AEA has put forth a concerted effort to silence us. Our voices are not included in any official union communications, and what communications are issued by AEA are not only one-sided, but filled with misinformation, half-truths, untruths and outright distortions. We will continue to correct the record and put forth our own positive story.
We will also continue to enlist the community in the fight. Plaintiff and Review Committee member Gary Grossman has issued a challenge to AEA President Kate Shindle to make public AEA’s plan for 99-seat theatre, and we will make a new proposal public. We support Grossman’s proposal to have a side by side referendum that will allow LA’s union actors to choose between AEA’s plan and our own.
DAVID LM MCINTYRE
JOHN CHARLES MEYER
HEATHER ALLYN NAGLE
DAVID C NICHOLS
MARY EILEEN O’DONNELL
MICHAEL SHEEHAN ONSTAGELOSANGELES
WALTER TREY PERKINS
BARBARA PERRY BABBITT
MARY LINDA PHILLIPS
RICHARD AND. JACKIE POZIL. AND BOGIN
CAROLYN AND RICHARD ROSENSTEIN
MARK HENRY SAMUEL
R. CHRISTOFER SANDS
ZEPHYR THEATRE SANKOWICH
GENE FRANKLIN SMITH
MICHAEL JOHN STEFANI
JANE STEPHENS ROSENTHAL
SUSAN FRANKLIN TANNER
MICHAEL TAYLOR GRAY
LORI ALLEN THOMAS
MARK CHRISTOPHER TRACY
TONI TRENTON (STAGE NAME) AKA TONI MOSS
TINA VAN BERCKELAER
LAURA LEE WALSH
MELISSA WEBER BALES
ALLISON LINDSEY WILLIAMS
IAN PATRICK WILLIAMS
JEFF L WILLIAMS
PATRICIA LEE WILLSON
MARK MCCLAIN WILSON
JOHN WILLIAM YOUNG
PAUL HOAN ZEIDLER
STEWART J. ZULLY