Thursday, April 23, 2015


Cynical friends said before the Actors Equity Association Councilor’s vote on the disassembly of the Los Angeles 99 Seat Plan that the referendum vote would not really matter.  When the referendum vote came in with almost half of the approximately six thousand local actors actually voting, it showed that the interest in the change in the small theatre situation here was well publicized.   

The very sad thing is that even though the referendum to approve the new AEA plan was defeated by an almost  two to one margin, the AEA councilors, dominated by  East Coast Actors, totally ignored the expressed wishes of Los Angeles AEA members and approved their diabolical new plan.

A long time LA actor, John Ross Clark, was actively in favor of the new AEA plan. He has taught me a great lesson … or rather, has reconfirmed an idea that I’ve had for a long time. No matter what the issue may be, some folks see it one way and others see it another.  I’m talking about two folks looking at the same piece of art, listening to the same idea or music or seeing the same screening of the same movie or play. It may be our wiring, our environment, our intellectual capacity or what we had for breakfast (or didn’t) that colors our perception of things.  We just disagree.  Or agree! Expressing the obvious, of course, but it needs to be said.

 Also, there’s the issue of ‘tone’ when discussing issues.  Clark’s use of pejoratives and simply his tone in discussing these issues exposes his disrespect for small theatre and the artists who comprise Pro99 here in LA. I am guilty of the same thing, having called him ‘cute.’  Of course, the truth is that he is cute, which maybe begs the question?  We ridicule our detractors, I guess.  It’s better than coming to blows!  The saddest thing is when folks we disagree with are blind to what seems so obvious to us. 

Now, as the dust settles from the disrespectful treatment of Los Angeles actors by the very board who should have taken an oath to protect them, I have encouraged local AEA members to simply bolt the union.  Or, ignore it.  It’s important to have representation, of course, and to that end, perhaps a new guild of LA actors will emerge who can successfully negotiate with local theatre companies to come up with a fair and equitable way to produce Intimate Theatre here.  The irony, of course, is that the producers of small theatre here are often the same actors who may direct, design costumes and wear other hats in mounting a play.  

I don’t have a specific answer as to how to distribute the ‘wealth’ here.  Of course, the figures are different for every company: formal or informal.  Some are funded by grants and donors who pledge cash to these mostly non profit theatres.  The box office may add to the income.  Realistically, though, the production of a play in small theatre seldom winds up in the black. That’s why it is called NON profit!  It’s about doing the show.  It’s about stretching creative muscles. It’s about working in an ensemble with likeminded artists.  It might be about getting an agent or catching the eye of a casting director and that is certainly a ‘payment’ of sorts!   

I’ve quoted Helen Hays, the First Lady of American Theatre, in the past.  She reminded us that when she acted on stage, she ‘gave’ a performance.  Of course, some actors ‘sell’ it.  Some ‘kill’ an audience. But, ultimately, the performance from the artists’ point of view is a gift that may be reciprocated by money or other physical benefits. This is as it should be when the production is successful enough to pay the rent and other physical essentials. The real reward, if you ask practically any actor besides Mr. Clark, is the appreciation felt by the applause from the audience and the unique camaraderie with his/her fellow company members. 

The only way an actor can “work out” with other actors is on a stage in front of an audience.  This is essential.  Actor Jenny O’Hara has compared it to going to the gym to stay physically fit.  Others might compare doing a show to worshiping in the Church of Art.  

Why is unfettered Intimate Theatre is so important? Because it matters.  Because it is unique. It must remain a situation where individuals can make their own choices. It must be up to the individual actor to choose to create new theatre unhindered, and not to be bullied by a union who, in this case, has totally lost touch with the reality of what small theatre is really about here in Los Angeles.

Michael Sheehan

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