Gary Grossman’s Open Letter to AEA President Kate Shindle

Reprinted with author permission.

By Gary Grossman

 

Gary GrossmanKate,

Until now, I avoided the social media fray. Like you, I feared my comments would unnecessarily stir the pot. Your statements this week, however, compel me to break my own rule and address you publicly.

Kate, you know I respect you. You have been professional throughout the process. And I am sensitive that this is a situation not of your making. You inherited it. But still, I was taken aback by your denunciation. At the end of your post you say DEEP BREATH, as if to say calm down. Do you really not understand that we are fighting for our lives?

You say “a significant majority in quite a high-turnout advisory referendum voted against a plan that included several proposals.” Certainly you understand that when a “significant majority” voted against the plan, they were sending a clear message that they were angry and upset about Equity’s lack of understanding for Los Angeles Theatre and how it has evolved to serve Members’ specific needs.

I know you were not at the helm at that time. And you said publicly that you would have done things differently if you were in charge. This suggests you know that the Los Angeles Membership asked for the referendum to be postponed. Repeatedly, we voiced our objections on how Equity’s Plan was being foisted on the Los Angeles Community without full investigation into its serious adverse consequences.

We are not a “concentrated group of members and producers,” as you inaccurately characterized us in a recent Equity letter. Nor did we forge an “extremely unpleasant, and very public, campaign of misinformation and propaganda.” This is a united Los Angeles Theatre Community that banded together to say “no”.

If you saw the rallies, the town hall meetings, and the Equity Membership meetings that preceded the voting, you would know that a large majority of the Los Angeles Theatre Community believe that the true purpose of Equity’s plan was to eliminate the 99-seat system, eliminate the 1989 settlement agreement and its Review Committee, and prevent members from volunteering in intimate theatre. This is not propaganda. This is not misinformation. This is the truth. That is why we had a “history making” turnout. That is why Equity’s Advisory Referendum was voted down 67% to 33%.

And instead of acknowledging what clearly was an embarrassing defeat, Equity downplayed it…as you are doing in your Facebook post. Instead of doing what your membership asked for, which was to talk to the leaders in the community and fashion a workable plan that would bring this community forward instead of breaking it apart, the National Council unilaterally imposed its new Agreement and eliminated the 99-seat plan.
By doing so, the National Council turned a deaf ear to the Los Angeles membership. But to ease the pain, they offered a Trojan Horse. They created exceptions. They granted limited stays of executions. They created a code for membership companies; a showcase code for 50-seat theaters; and a self-producing code. Why? Because they thought they could buy time and appease a segment of the community. A divide and conquer strategy.

The Los Angeles Community is not fooled by any of this. It understands that Equity’s new Agreement does not only affect “26” theaters, as you claim. Actors in Membership companies will no longer have the protection of their union, because their code has no restrictions and no protection for actors. Theaters with 50 seats or less are limited in the amount of productions they can do, how much they can spend, and how many performances they can offer. As for the self–producing code: it too has many restrictive provisions.

Equity’s actions affect the entire Los Angeles Community. And Kate, you know all of this. We have talked about this in our private and public conversations. But as you wisely say “if one wants to represent ‘how LA feels’ as an outgrowth of the vote, all we officially, numerically know is how LA felt about last February’s proposals. We have not had a referendum on what happened April 21, 2015.”

So I propose we fix that. I’m a betting man. I trust my instincts and my instincts say that this community is still enraged at its Union. I’m willing to test my gut feelings… are you? I propose we give the Los Angeles Members another referendum. Our small concentrated group of members and producers (as you call us) will make a new proposal public. And we would welcome Equity to make its plan public as well. We can place them side-by-side on the same referendum and have the Los Angeles Members have a say on which one they would like.

Now I’m breathing better,

Respectfully,
Gary

 

Open Letter to AEA President Kate Shindle from Pro99 AEA Members

Fellow AEA members of #Pro99, we have written this letter to AEA President Shindle in response to her Inaugural Column in Equity News.

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

signature-for-kate-letter

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.

In solidarity,
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.