Lawsuit filed against Actors’ Equity Association and Mary McColl

Lawsuit Against Actors Equity Association Filed

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.

StageRaw has posted the full complaint HERE


Open Letter to Mary McColl and the AEA Councillors

Letter to AEA's Mary McColl from actor Joel Swetow

What I just sent to Mary McColl* and the Councillors

By Joel Swetow. (Reprinted with Permission).
* Mary McColl is the Executive Director of Actors’ Equity Association.


Hi Mary, Hiya Gang,

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


joel_swetow 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.






Hollywood Chamber of Commerce denounces AEA’s 99 seat theatre proposal

Hollywood’s intimate theater community is threatened by Equity’s proposal.

Read the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce letter to Actors’ Equity Association’s Executive Director Mary McColl and President Nick Wyman below:

Damage done to the businesses of Hollywood and LA County would be extensive.

Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Letter to AEA

Dear Ms. McColl and Mr. Wyman:

On behalf of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and its nearly 900 members in the Hollywood area, I am writing to express the Chamber’s opposition to the Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) proposal to require actors be paid a minimum wage ($9 an hour in L.A. County) for rehearsal and performances. While the Hollywood Chamber itself has no vote in the matter, our member business organizations (including many small theaters) will nonetheless bear the brunt of the consequences.

As you may know, Hollywood’s Theater Row is the home of 13 theatre venues and their collective 25 stages that have been producing live theatre in Hollywood since the 1940s. Hollywood Theater Row is the backbone of a thriving economic and entertainment community and has been a home for thousands of entertainment artists who have plied their trade to an eager audience of millions of Angelenos. In fact, two of the Theater Row stages were built by Charlie Chaplin in 1946.

The Hollywood Chamber knows the very thin margin that the small theaters of Hollywood (and all of Los Angeles) operate on.   Keeping the doors open for these venues requires constant fundraising, grant writing and, volunteerism. If the AEA proposal moves forward these smaller venues will not survive.  The damage that would be done to the businesses of Hollywood and LA County would be extensive.

Devastation to the local economy would be extremely significant

If the minimum wage proposal goes forward, and many theatres close, what happens to the ancillary businesses near them? What happens when those businesses are laying off employees because that next-door restaurant lost 40% of its business? We know what happens…those businesses close too.  The Otis report tells us that for every dollar spent at a local theatre in Southern California, $7 to $12 are spent in the surrounding community. Simple math tells us the loss to the local economy would be, as the LA Drama Critics Circle has stated, “catastrophic.”

In order to save millions of dollars from leaving the local economy, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce asks that Actors Equity Association come to the table to discuss changes to the Intimate Theatre landscape of Los Angeles with all interested parties and stop any movement on their current “promulgated” proposal.

While on the surface, this is a battle between a labor union and its members, which we hesitate to comment on, the economic devastation to the local economy if AEA unilaterally makes these changes would be extremely significant.  Given the important historic and cultural significance of Hollywood Theater Row and the overall LA small theater scene, we ask that you do all you can to ensure that LA’s intimate theater community remains vibrant and thriving.  Please stop your plans for a mandatory minimum wage for our small theaters.


Leron Gubler
President & CEO
Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

DOWNLOAD a .pdf of the Chamber letter HERE.

Click the below image for larger view:

Download the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Letter to AEA

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!


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

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

Oscar Winner Tim Robbins and Rebecca Metz win the debate with Actors’ Equity on KCRW radio

McColl, Woodard, Robbins, Metz

The Actors’ Gang founder Tim Robbins and AEA member Rebecca Metz square off against Charlayne Woodard and AEA Executive Director Mary McColl over what Equity’s proposal means for LA. 

Six thousand local AEA members will start voting in two weeks on whether they should be paid California’s minimum wage of $9 an hour.

Moderated by Warren Olney, Tim Robbins and Rebecca Metz hold Equity’s feet to the fire and tell the truth about Equity’s disastrous proposal for intimate LA theater…

Click to Listen:


And the winner is …

“If you’re Equity in L.A., again, listen to this before the upcoming vote. It’s as clear a picture as you’re going to get.
This is what they brought. This is all they had.
In a half hour, Equity Executive Director Mary McColl is extremely unguarded and transparent in the absolute lack of substance in her words, except once, when the host catches her in a lie. Charlayne Woodard repeats talking points and wanders off script and gets stuck in her own self-righteous ignorance. It’s humiliating to share humanity with such people.”