Wednesday, February 25, 2015

PRO 99!! The Ninety Nine Seat Issue

Currently, the Actors Equity Association, the union representing professional actors and stage managers in the United States, has come up with a 'new plan' that they think will benefit small theatre companies and actors in Los Angeles.  The irony is that the leaders of AEA, the majority of whom are in New York City, have no idea of the problems that this 'self producing idea' may bring to the Los Angeles Theatre Scene.

I use caps for LA Theatre Scene because it is unique, possibly in the world.  Hollywood is the center for film and television production.  Small theatre exists here for a couple of reasons. The primary one is for actors to have a space to work: to keep their chops up and to try new things as actors.  The next, obviously, is to showcase their talents which they may do by inviting folks from film and TV to see them on stage. 

In a nutshell, Equity wants to get more dough in the pockets of its actors and stage managers.  They propose that minimum wage be required for everyone participating as an actor or stage manager, including payment for rehearsals.  Without carrying on redundantly (this issue is bad for many reasons which have been discussed at length by the Pro99 actors. Almost 6,000 have joined the Pro99 page on Facebook)suffice it to say that for a cast of six at minimum wage: 6x$9=$54 an hour for rehearsals and shows = lots of cash! on top of rent, utilities, advertising and etc. etc.!

Lumbered by the heavy toll of paying minimum wage, theatre companies here in Los Angeles would find it impossible in most cases to continue to produce. Death is not the answer. 

I am not a direct stakeholder in this issue, though my background with The Company Theatre long ago when all the Company actors wanted to do was to be able to produce new and exciting works (The James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre, The Emergence, The Hashish Club) and keep their membership in Actors Equity. No one is getting rich, let alone making a living. Actors who expect to make an actual living may find that New York is a place where opportunities to do stage work outnumber stage opportunities here many fold. 

My stake in this is that I have been reviewing these small venues for many years. The comparison of the work done at The Pantages, The Mark Taper Forum and The Ahmanson is like night and day.  The large houses cater to audiences who want to see Broadway plays and musicals which are  mostly for Entertainment.   LA's small theaters span the spectrum from revivals of tried and true plays to the edgy and experimental.   Many patrons of small theatre have limited budgets.  The budgets of small theatre are also tiny compared to the big houses. 

I encourage every AEA member who lives in Los Angeles to contact your union leadership asking that this terrible idea of restructuring the 99 Seat Agreement be abandoned.  Call your fellow Equity friends and alert them to this destructive idea and encourage them to call their friends.  My guess is that any actor who has had experience working on Theatre Row or at Antaeus or The Odyssey or with DOMA at The Met or The Atwater with Echo and Circle X can attest to the wonderfulness of the experience. 
It's about the Art.  Really and truly.  It is about the ART. 

Michael Sheehan

No comments:

Post a Comment