Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Wednesday, June 28, 2017
This is the second attempt to get this posted in a readable format.  
For the past ten minutes I've tried to post this with the font and size consistent with the other posts. It's not working unless this looks about right.  Apologies, if it doesn't. 

I started a FB post a couple of days ago filled with ..not anger.. but frustration.  I learned that the Actors Equity Association (AEA) that governs the hiring and work of professional actors and stage managers is still a force majeure to many professional actors here in Los Angeles.  In spite of a resolution that failed regarding the 99 Seat Plan that Equity took some months ago, the power of this union prevails and it should not. 

This is an idea that I really don't have a direct hand in, but I'm weighing in because if someone doesn't step up and do something, the small theatres in Los Angeles will pretty much be driven out of business.    This is just wrong.  

All of the arguments in favor of actors: professionals and wanna bes.. having control of their own destinies are valid.  A few think that pay for small theatre is a good idea.  I think that's a good idea, too...  if the company itself doesn't find itself strapped for:
the rent
the utilities
the necessities to keep the doors open 

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Company Theatre and The Company Theatre Foundation that was organized  by actor friends of mine. They were dedicated to making theatre that was important to them.. this included classics as well as also hosting playwrights like Megan Terry and Michael McClure and Sam Elliott. They also created their own original works of art like The Emergence and The James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre.  

About the time that this was going on in the late sixties, the actors in The Company were also interested in making an actual living in theatre and movies and TV professionally.  This meant joining the three actors' unions: Equity, SAG and AFTRA.  Soon Equity came sniffing around the door and demanded things.  Pay for the actors who were, in fact, the administrators, the producers, the directors, the box office personnel, the  designers and builders, the janitors for The Company.   Through a series of negotiations, it was declared that theatre companies with 99 Seats of fewer COULD produce shows and waive the fees for actors.   This was important because the amenities listed above had to be paid and often came out of the pockets of the members themselves. It was, essentially, a collective.  This was a creative endeavor.  Later, with the formation of a non profit foundation, they were able to lobby for funds via grants and other sources allowing for donations to the foundation tax deductible for donors.  Good news.

The Subject of this Post.. as AEA has manipulated the 'rules' to make it difficult for this type of arrangement to now exist.. is BOLT!..  Those in the know KNOW that it is not the Los Angeles branch of Equity that really controls much of anything besides a handful of Equity actors who perform at The Music Center and a few other venues.  The Pantages shows big, big road shows and I am unsure if Equity even has a contract with that theatre.  When you fill huge houses like The Ahmanson and The Pantages, payment for all of the folks involved is a BUSINESS  venture to make money. The 'art' of this type of theatre is about entertainment. It's about money.

I can't find the numbers of Equity members here in Los Angeles, but I'm guessing that if even a hundred actors who are based here are making an actual living from their stage work, that's a stretch.

The point is that, of course, having contracts to protect actors and producers is a good idea.  The current decimation  of small theatres here by AEA is just wrong.  Thus.. this is a call to all Los Angeles AEA members to BOLT.. keep your SAG-AFTRA card and tell Equity to take a hike. Then.. have a party and see who shows up and form a Los Angeles Alliance Defying Equity.. (I wanted the acronym to spell LAA DE DAH.. but.. I'm lazy)... create a fair and workable agreement that producers and the new group think is okay and let New York and their goals to make money do what they will, but not in LA. 

I review small theatre productions here in Los Angeles and have seen some really wonderful stuff.  We try things here. We experiment. We allow folks to take chances.  And,  with a Plank and a Passion (all one really needs?) actors can blow audiences away in honor of what Theatre is really all about.. The Play's the Thing..  There are local producers at The Skylight and The Fountain who are ready and willing to at least discuss this.  Find the art and the artists and then..  go make art..  do Theatre! 

Michael Sheehan
June 28, 2017  

The Complete History of Drag in a Few Mo-Mo

Directed by Mark Silva, the title of David LeBarron’s one person show is slightly misleading..  set in a "shitty little drag club in the valley," bare bones stage on the concrete floor of a utilitarian little theater in West Hollywood .. although he may touch on men in dresses throughout history, the show is short on actual facts. His clever approach is well written and nicely presented with footnotes and ‘exposition.’ 

Of course, in order for the play to progress, there must be exposition and here-in lies the rub.. the tiny theater complex on Formosa is made of concrete.  The sound in this tiny black box space is so ‘live’ that though volume was not a problem, understanding the dialogue was difficult.  The oddest thing was that the woman behind us was laughing her head off and when I turned to see who else was laughing, not everyone was. The timing of  LeBarron’s piece is such that the rhythms may dictate the laughs.

His clever use of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly as himself for ‘exposition’  and then, with a remote control, changing the lighting and switching back to his “Auntie Luscious” drag character was smooth as silk. The actor delineated his ‘sister performers’ one by one but not enough for us to really keep track of them. The dingy dressing room for the drag show where Auntie was the head liner (who never started on time!!) did not start on time, but once underway was well underway.

This last night of the Hollywood Fringe Festival packed the house with fans and those whose curiosity, like mine, was piqued to find out about this glamorous side of what most straight folks presume to be a gay scene did provide some insight. Though Auntie Luscious is flaming and LeBarron may certainly be gay but is really cool, it seemed to me that the drag scene was first entertainment and secondly filled with homosexuals. Regardless one’s sexual orientation, the illusion in this show was left to the imagination as LeBarron only mimes his makeup and dressing in costume for the impending stage show. 

Rumor has it that the play might find new light somewhere in town. Should it play in a space where the sound is not reverberating off the walls like a tin drum, it would be fun to see again, or to read the script to catch all the missed jokes.  The audience loved it and the parts that I could actually understand, were enjoyable.  Perhaps developed into a full length play like "Melody Jones, a Striptease in Two Acts," a play by Dan Gerrity and Jeremy Lawrence which opened twenty five years ago exposing the back stage life of female strippers in a gay night club, meeting the other female impersonators as actual characters as well as the ‘newbie’ who is young and pretty, might bring more to light the history that LeBarron announces in the title of his piece. 

With the “T” part of the current movement now known as LGBTQ still ambiguous vis a vis female impersonators, dragqueens   transvestites or heterosexual crossdressers, this short piece begins to discuss the issue providing a good start.  It’s just a shame that the acoustics of this particular space and maybe the somewhat hurried pace of Mr. LeBarron made getting the jokes more of a problem than it should have been.