The History of Equity Waiver and the 99 Seat Theatre Plan

Los Angeles: the Intimate Theatre Scene That Could

If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday │ Pearl S. Buck

By Tom Ormeny. Reprinted with permission.

LA Small Theatre Wars… Deja Vu?

Before we sued AEA, in the late 80’s, several of us who were plaintiffs flew to New York, on our own dime, to talk to council and ask them to give us the opportunity to be able to have a volunteer 99 seat plan in Los Angeles. We told them that we had a major law firm that was willing to bring a law suit against them for their unfair process and they would work pro bono. None of us wanted to sue our union and we wanted to give them every opportunity to do the right thing.

They did not and we sued and won.

Despite what some AEA members now say, we won! Not that there was a trial and a ruling by the court, but AEA was forced to negotiate a settlement or go to trial. They chose to negotiate a settlement. Now, mind you, they could have done that a year or so before when we went to New York and warned them that if they continued on their course to eliminate the waiver, they would giving us no option but to sue. When we appeared in front of the judge and they were told that their case was no slam dunk, the settlement agreement was drafted and agreed to by both parties. If AEA would have saved their time and energy and not force us into litigation, they could have saved $250,000 (1989 $ value) in legal fees.

In the settlement agreement, a permanent Review Committee was formed. That committee which had AEA representatives on one side and AEA plaintiffs on the other, in several meetings, hammered out what is, now, the basis of the AEA Los Angeles 99 Seat Plan.

AEA turned a deaf ear towards us

Since then, we have met to renegotiate changes in the plan a couple of times. Each time, AEA called on the plaintiff side of the Review Committee to talk about proposed changes. We (the plaintiff side of the Review Committee) would meet at AEA offices and listen to their concerns and proposals. Several times, we had to instruct the AEA side about the realities of producing 99 seat theatre in L.A. We brought in budgets and box office reports to show them what financial limits we were working under. In those meetings, some good changes were made to the plan that gave actors more protections, increased their honorariums, and put reasonable limits on producers. At the end of every meeting, we made a request that AEA help us lift the “brand” of Los Angeles theatre – to announce their support, approval and pride in the world class work that AEA members and hyphenates were producing here. We wanted their help to create more political, financial and moral support for our work, the work that was generating hundreds of weeks of AEA contract work when it moved to bigger venues around the country. Their non-response was deafening!

In 2014, we were called by AEA to several meetings. We were told that AEA could not administrate the Plan and wanted to cut it down to two pages. Our side of the review committee, told them that we could not and would not agree to that because it would eliminate protections for the actors – our actors, our fellow union brothers and sisters. We suggested policing the plan in partnership with the Producers’ League to take some of the burden of administrating the plan off of AEA. We had several meetings and were not getting any agreement on basic issues. In October of 2014, soon after our last meeting, Michael Van Duzer, who was, then, the administrator of the 99 Seat Plan, left his job at AEA and we were told that, for the time being, future meeting were cancelled. We were told that AEA staff was working on a bridge contract that would make it easier to move 99 seat productions to larger houses in L.A. Until they were finished with that they would not revisit the 99 Seat Plan. They never got back to us. We asked for and were given a courtesy meeting with AEA Executive Director Mary McColl, who said they would get back to us when they had something to talk about. She assured us that she was ready to help raise the profile of L.A. theatre and create an environment of cooperation and support. Then, a few weeks later, they dropped their bomb.

Our side of the committee was in discussions with them. AEA never brought their proposal for changes to the committee to discuss and negotiate these changes. They did an end run to surprise the community and try to force an unrealistic, divisive, subversive and destructive proposal down our throats. There was no concern expressed that their new agreement might hurt the community and no recognition of the loss that may be caused – not just in the infrastructure that has been built to support our work, but the excellent work that has been done and may not be possible in the future. Again, no respect and no cooperation!

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Read additional details, as told by Alistair Hunter, HERE.

We are for change but not this change. Vote NO on the AEA referendum.