Thank you Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren is among 99 Seat Theatre’s most notable actresses, having appeared in Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Woman in Mind’ at The Tiffany in the early 90’s. In regards to the assault Actors’ Equity is staging against small theatre in Los Angeles, fellow AEA member and Pro99 supporter Vanessa Stewart reached out to Dame Helen. Here is her reply:
I am very much in support of your initiative and would lend my name to it. Actors are often taken advantage of and financially abused, but this is a case of actors doing what they want to. No one in this situation is going to make a million, while a contributing artist starves. – Helen”
Vanessa Stewart has a 99 Seat Theatre success story of her own
Vanessa writes, “I want to frame the current 99 Seat Plan into a picture of how I saw it when I was 27 years old and on my back and completely clueless about how to move forward as an actor. I had been fired by my agent because of my lack of success at booking work. I hadn’t yet learned to control my anxiety with Beta Blockers and was simply bad at auditioning back then. But I knew I was good. I just needed a shot. I realized I needed to create my own content if I was going to get anywhere. And I had wanted to tell the story of Louis and Keely for a long time.
Cut to: Me talking to the Artistic Committee at Sacred Fools theater. I had no reputation as a writer and barely one as an actress. All I had was an idea and a really good actor/writer that agreed to work with me: Jake Broder. In what world would anyone take a chance on me? Well, Sacred Fools Theater Company did, because they could. Because with two actors and seven band members and a 99 seat agreement, they could take that chance on growing a new piece of art. And even then it almost didn’t happen. My own parents had to front me 5,000 bucks to help fund our tiny budget and some money that my Godmother left me after she passed went to paying a gentleman to do the arrangements. Was I expecting to make money? No. I just wanted a new agent and maybe to be seen as an actor worthy of working. Plus, I wanted to be Keely Smith.
Cut to: Louis and Keely won every LA theater award for best musical, including beating huge budget shows like “9 to 5”. Sacred Fools made money to help fund other new works and also buy an air conditioner so that art could be seen in August. Taylor Hackford, who saw us at Sacred Fools came on as director and took us to the Geffen Playhouse for what turned out to be the longest running show there at the time.
We were able to hire 4 new actors as we added parts and swings. I got to quit my day job of selling fish at Duke’s Malibu. And I got an agent. You can’t quantify the value of the waiver agreement in dollars and cents, I learned. It’s much more than a small fee that a person could get paid at a fast food joint. The 99 Seat Agreement gives people like me the ability to make their art and dream big. I am glad that this proposal that AEA is putting forward wasn’t in place when I was 27. I would not have been able to bring along the incomparable Jake Broder, my partner in this, as he wasn’t a member of the company at the time. And because of all of it, we are now able to bring the show to Chicago, giving myself and two new AEA actors what will hopefully be steady work. Someone asked me on twitter today: “How many of those actors that worked for free are going with you to Chicago?” Well, I don’t think it’s about that but- I’m happy to say that everyone that dreamed big enough to start this project was compensated ten times over. The theater company. The actors. The band. The LA theater community at large. I know that there are big bad producers that take advantage of actors using this agreement. I know that the agreement has problems. But surely we can find a way to take care of actors without decimating a platform that has helped so many. Without this agreement, the only people creating new works will be people with deep pockets. Not 27 year old actors that sell fish for a living.