• Peter in Kansas

    Question? Is there more dignity being an employee at $9 per hour to work something you love or in volunteering to do the work you love for free (with a small stipend). Which one actually values the work more?

    I realize that great people and artists disagree on this point. But I don’t see the volunteers trying to force those who want to be employees to have to live under their rules.

    I believed a formula based on budgets (with an upside-only based on Box Office in longer runs) makes sense. But I believe that the percentages need to first subtract out the facilities costs. Many larger theatres’ facilities costs are artificially low because so many of the them occupy publicly owned or subsidized buildings. Once the facilities costs are subtracted, then I believe the artists receiving share similar to what they receive in other professional theatres approaches relative equity (pardon the pun).

    This should remedy the inequity of those few theatres or production companies whose administrators receive full professional salaries while the artists are still volunteering, and I think that is the philisophical point that most actors agree upon.

  • Christopher Carothers .

    I have to disagree with Peter. Any agreement whereby — more often than not — the actors are the only people working in a theater who are not getting paid is fundamentally abusive. And Mr. Weinert-Kendt might want to check into his facts a little more deeply. While “Small Engine Repair” and “Everything You Touch” did indeed move to Off-Broadway contracts, their casts DID NOT. I have no doubt that writers and producers are thrilled to be able to develop works here in Los Angeles without having to pay actors for their time and talents, but as a professional actor I resent their having the opportunity to do so. Thank you, Doug for your point of clarity mentioned below.

    • John Pollono

      Hey Christopher– John Pollono here to clarify. Just so happens that the Equity actors from the original cast DID transition to New York City… I was in the cast, so I can verify this first hand.

      • Christopher Carothers .

        Hey John – I know you did the MCC production. According to a Playbill article dated 08 July, 2013, “James Badge Dale, James Ransone and Keegan Allen will star in MCC Theater’s New York premiere of John Pollono’s Small Engine Repair, which will begin Off-Broadway performance this fall.” However, I don’t see Michael Redfield, Jon Bernthal, or Josh Helman — the other actors with you at Rogue Machine — mentioned.

  • William Lewis Salyers

    Hi, Rob. Great article.
    I, for one, will be one of those actors giving up my card after 20 years in the union.
    My immediate reason will be the art that I won’t get to do if AEA pushes this through.
    On a larger scale, though, I’ve been really disappointed – to put it mildly – in the way the union has handled this. McColl’s condescending tone, the obvious propaganda and misleading rhetoric being disseminated by the union in some of your sister publications, AEA’s minimizing of germane concerns and the number of Los Angeles actors who share them; it all feels – well, gangster-ish, to me.
    “Fat Tony is gonna change how yous do things around here, and if you don’t like it, well… nice little career you got there; it would be a shame if something were to happen to it.”
    I’m exchanging words with people all day, every day, about this subject, lately. We all feel stabbed in the back. We need a union to protect us from our union. Since that’s the case, my wallet may just feel a little cleaner without that card.

  • normanx

    I have worked with Pacific Resident Theatre for about 17 years. In that time… I have done six or seven ‘Mainstage’ shows…. Their runs generally go to 60+ performances. Four times a week. $15 a show. I’m not there to make money…I am there for my craft which I take a lot more seriously then money. The company was founded by actors, and is run by actors.

    Last year I did 80 performances of Henry V in a tiny space (35-40 seats)… It was a huge hit…and was sold out for all but less than a handful of performances. I was very proud to be a part of a production that came from nothing but an idea by one actor (who played Henry) who went to another actor (who then directed and eventually took over the part of Chorus)…I designed and lit it and played Pistol… and every last member of the cast were overjoyed to perform this show four nights a week for our $15 dollars. But we were not there for the pay…we were there for the chance to do something no one else had. To create art… our art. The ability to freely express oneself as an actor with whomever you wish (Equity, non-equity, from this company or that company…or no company at all) will end with Equity’s proposal. It is unpopular (to say the least).. with the vast majority of working actors in L.A….

    I could say I am glad that I am not a member of Equity (I’m not)… as when this proposal is shoved down the throats of the due paying diligent and respectable actors in our community, I will be afforded many more casting opportunities… However, I don’t care for that. I care for my brothers and sisters that I have worked with for a lifetime in theatre where are no lines between Equity and non-Equity… but who is good, and who is better and how can we make this the best show possible… Not just for opening night, but every damn performance..

    The ecology of L.A. theatre is a beautiful thing. It is a large but tight knit community that has created so much good work. It is a merit based system…not a money system. If Equity succeeds in their quest to pay everyone minimum wage… it puts the power of the art in the hands of those who have money… not those who create the art. So… oddly, Equity’s proposal empowers the producers with money…and not the producers with vision… the actors, as such…now employees instead of volunteers who receive a stipend… will be at the whim of those who sign the checks. This is not the way it is in L.A. now… but it will be.

    The very fact that the vote that Equity is going to hold with its L.A. members will not be binding speaks to the tyranny of their proposal. How can their leadership seek destroy the union from the inside by instituting policies so corrosive that it will divide and damage the collective that they are supposed to support? Collective bargaining is supposed to be to the benefit of the employees. The leadership thinks that it needs to dictate to their children what is best for them?? There are no children here. Just a lot of pissed off people who feel like this is a forgone conclusion.

    • Christopher Carothers .

      Actually, the non-binding referendum is a requirement of the Settlement Agreement, which very specifically prescribes the actions that must be taken when any changes are proposed to the 99-Seat Plan. And Pacific Resident theater will be able to continue to produce without having to pay it’s Equity members anything at all, if they so choose. Have you read the proposal?

      • normanx

        Yes I have…and if you know anything about PRT you will know that we bring actors in from outside the company all the time to best cast our plays. We would not be able to do that in the manner that we did. While there are problems to negotiate with the 99 seat plan… what equity is proposing is radical and destructive. Their lack of willingness to negotiate reasonably has created havoc in the Los Angeles theatre community. Have you read the plan?

        • Christopher Carothers .

          I have indeed read the proposal. I disagree with your use of the word ‘tyranny’ when Equity is only following the procedures they are legally obligated to follow.

          And I understand that PRT would have to pay its guest artists under the terms of the current proposal, should it choose to use them. Of course, the fact that this is only a preliminary proposal seems to have been lost in the hysteria.

          And as far as I — who have been a member of AEA for many years — am concerned, should AEA adopt an Agreement for 99-seat theater that moves actor pay up from the very bottom of a theater’s balance sheet, I am fine with that. And however radical or destructive Equity’s current preliminary proposal may seem to you, it is in line with the position of the California Labor Commissioner.

          And, for the record, the very same predictions about the complete destruction of 99-seat theater in Los Angeles were made (often by the very same producers) 27 years ago when the current Plan was put into place and actors suddenly had to be paid $5 – $11 dollars a show. The rhetoric is identical.

          And it is my understanding (although I was not at the meetings) that the plaintiff’s representatives on the Review Committee have been the ones who refused to negotiate reasonably.

          • normanx

            The proposal put forth by Equity is clearly not something that came out of negotiation. It is a destructive and divisive proposal that does not care whether it destroys the ecosystem of the 99 and under theatre companies in Los Angeles. As for minimum wage? That in itself is insulting. If I wanted to work for minimum wage, I would work for McDonalds.

          • Christopher Carothers .

            But you’re willing to work for less. It’s not a question of insult, it’s a question of law. Labor Code § 1720.4(a)(1)(A) and (B). With respect, if you want to blame someone for ‘destroying the ecosystem of 99 and under theatre companies in Los Angeles,’ blame the federal government.

          • normanx

            Don’t quote to me law when you don’t know what you are talking about. The federal government is not leading this charge… an out of touch top down union based in New York is doing this. By the way, we are done. You have not worked in this theatre community, and your responses are trollish.

          • bobfelcher

            Norman paying actors a minimum wage is a matter of respect for their time. It should be a no brainer. The people fighting this are the same people who would not dare deny a minimum wage to other people for their work and in fact many like Tim Robbins are fighting to actually raise the minimum wage law. just so long as it doesn’t apply to actors. And you have a few things wrong in your post. This would not “destroy” small theatre. this only applies to Equity actors. You can have all the actors you want just not members of Equity. Withdraw from the union i just do not understand why you would want to be a member anyway. You want to deny basic human respect to your fellow actors. You can still run your little plays just not with union actors. Pretty simple.

          • normanx

            You do not work in Los Angeles theatre. These companies were founded and are mostly run by actors to simply be able to perfect our craft. Los Angeles is a two union professional actor town. The ‘promulgated’ plan by Equity is to destroy the code that has been for the most part very successful over the past nearly thirty years.

            It is the management of the top-down AEA union that is the problem. Equity’s policy of dividing cities into AEA actors and non-AEA actors is a huge problem… as it creates a giant pool of non-union actors who want to work…but are put off by the lack of opportunity that exist in the various cities. It is a well known joke that if you want to work in Chicago… don’t join the union… as there are very few Equity houses… and an entire community of non-union theatre.

            One would think that the management of AEA is purposefully trying to corrode the strength of their union by pursuing policies of alienation that result in a contracting universe of well paid theater jobs.

            The 99 Seat Plan needs improvement, not destruction. AEA “plan” are three lines in the sand that are not based on what the reality of theatre production in this town are. Their plan is not a plan, but an attack. And they will fail.

  • Peter in Kansas

    Mary McColl is 100% clueless about the small theatre scene in Los Angeles. My father was artistic director of two theatres (Company of Angels and Los Angeles Repertory Company) under the old showcase code in the 1960s, then under Equity-Waiver, then the 99-Seat Plan. There are definitely some tweaks that could be made to the plan, but they are small tweaks to address chronic abusers. Most actors who work under the plan are quite happy with its flexibility and opportunity for exploration. And the ones who don’t want to work under the plan, don’t have to. It is not precluding employment elsewhere. McColl and AEA seem to believe that somewhere is a major pot of money that is going to suddenly be dumped on theatre in Los Angeles and magically there will be more actor employment. Good luck with that. I want to see Ms. McColl go out and find theatre investors in Los Angeles. The complete lack of understanding of the Los Angeles eco-system has created an incredible arrogance in AEA’s leadership. And having made their “decision”, behind closed doors, and with little input from the folks who are actually doing the living, acting, working and dying in theatre in Los Angeles, they are now firmly sticking their fingers in their ears to try not to hear the uproar that is coming from their members, who overwhelmingly oppose these drastic and sudden changes. Over 5,500 theatre people have joined the Facebook page that is opposed to this plan, almost all of whom feel that AEA’s plan is being jammed down their throats by people who don’t have a stake in it.

    • Douglas Clayton

      Point of clarity – over 5500 people were added to that Facebook page, without being asked. You can do that on Facebook. Some people left multiple times and kept getting re-added. Many of them are happy to be there, but it doesn’t reflect the kind of rush to support that it seems to imply.

      I think the ‘who has a stake in this’ is a really really core question. The union entity and the 80 actors and stage managers who serve as councilors certainly would say they have a stake in it, and a number of LA AEA actors who don’t like working for free also have stated they feel the structure of all this affects them too. Obviously an easy point to take sides on and argue either way, with great defensible positions all around.

    • bobfelcher

      Not clueless at all. Small theatre in Los Angeles is ridiculous. I am a NYC union member who came to LA in 1982. Most theatre productions in LA are exploitive to the vast majority of Equity members, roles are held out like carrots and then given out to tv & film actors who are using the show as a marketing vehicle. “Exposure” for most is equal to simple exploitation. The author of this piece talks about dozens of shows that have moved on, well this plan has been in use for decades and it was hoped to provide future work for Equity members. Probably far less than 1 percent of the shows have actually done that. I have seen 99 seat productions of one person shows featuring a commercial casting director. Yeah that is great theatre.
      And we belong to a UNION that is supposed to fight for decent wages and working conditions. To allow members to sell themselves out for less than minimum wage law is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous are the name actors who want to fight for RAISING the minimum wage law for all others as basic human rights and then denying it to their fellow actors. We are not talking production contract numbers here simply paying people a minimum wage for their time. SMDH at you people who want to deny actoirs a minimum wage….

  • Mary Kimball

    A divorce is a good metaphor.

    I thought Equity had clarified that membership companies can add new members. They would just have to be compliant with the new minimum wage rule.

    • Good point, I’ll try to clarify that.

    • Bill Brochtrup

      Mary, that’s exactly correct. Any AEA members added to a Membership Company’s roster after 4/1 would have to be paid minimum wage for rehearsals and performances if the rule goes through as written, while veteran members would not. My concern is that this would lead to an odd, divisive, and likely untenable two-tiered situation where some Company Members are paid and others are not.

  • M_B_W

    In a way, I hate to come at this from a business perspective, but is it really financially feasible/responsible to hire Equity actors to play in a 75-seat house?

    Unless you set the ticket prices right and pack the place, the math just doesn’t work….unless you have lots of donors to make up the difference.

    • Jason Rohrer

      “is it really financially feasible/responsible to hire Equity actors to play in a 75-seat house?” yes, if their informed consent is to work there for a stipend; otherwise it seems unfair of Equity to prevent them from a) creating art in b) an essentially non-marketplace job, given the lack of union-wage, artistically rewarding work in town

      “if market forces don’t support paying someone ‘x’ dollars, then is it unrealistic to pay actors what we feel they ‘should’ be paid even if we can’t afford it?” yes, it is unrealistic. much of the argument for the new plan depends on either a wholesale abandonment of small theater or an unprecedented, unlooked-for surge in union-wage productions

    • normanx

      The economic reality of under 99 seat theatre was that no one would get rich…the 99 seat plan was written that way… so that actors from both unions and non-union actors could work together and create theatre that was not controlled by the big money it takes to mount …say Broadway shows… but little black box theatre that has thrived…with some companies going to ‘full contract’…and shows every year moving up to ‘contract’…. bringing with it in both cases new members to Equity. It is in fact a very good ‘business model’…if Equity had the intention of increasing membership and expanding their influence. This war they are waging on Los Angeles intimate theatre is bad for their business. With any luck… the generals in this war will be replaced by people who understand what theatre is about…and more specifically, what intimate theatre is about in Los Angeles..