Do you attend live theatre in Los Angeles County? In particular, do you attend intimate (under 99 seat) theatre in Los Angeles County? If so, your quality of entertainment is being threatened by Actors Equity. Read on.
I touched on this issue in my write-up of Loch Ness, but I’d like to amplify it a bit, and ask you for your suggestions and help.
Theatre depends on a triad:
- Producers and Directors are required to provide the acting space, the infrastructure, and to bring together the technical components of a show. Often, they are required to program the show, in terms of selecting the script, choosing the technical staff, casting the show, providing the funding for the sets, the infrastructure for tickets, the rehearsal space. Producers are also the ones that raise the money, pay for all the components they provide, and to pay the actors.
- Actors and Technical Artists are needed to create an interpret the art, to bring it to life on the stage. They are the people that get the “fame” and “glory” (such as it is). Some are lucky enough to make a living from the craft; others do the craft out of a need to create, not for the renumeration (although that’s nice).
- Audiences are required to receive the art, to provide the immediate feedback to the actors, to provide that energy that the actors live upon and for. Audiences are also required to buy the tickets, and provide the funds.
Recently, there has been loads of debate about the long standing “99 seat plan” in Los Angeles County. This plan, in essence, was a compromise to allow actors to create art. In particular, it was a plan that permitted actors that were part of the Actors Equity union to create art — without the plan, Equity actors would not be permitted to act in Los Angeles without giving up union status, union protection, and most importantly, union benefits such as healthcare and pensions. The plan severely limited the number of shows that could be done, required a certain number of “comp” tickets to permit the actors to promote themselves, set a cap on ticket prices. It provides rules regarding rehearsals and called for some minimum compensation (bus fare, free parking) to actors. Still, under the plan, theatre in Los Angeles thrived, and a number of under 99 seat companies were formed that do excellent work and permit the work of new authors to reach the stage. These companies often shared any surplus income with the actors.
Still, Actors Equity was unsatisfied and wanted to make a greater push into Los Angeles. Not being part of the union, I cannot know the reasons why. Whatever the reason, in late 2014 a move began to reform the 99 seat plan. Those in Los Angeles agreed reform was needed, and there were discussions exploring making changes based on the budget of a given production. As an audience member, this seemed reasonable to me. I should note that the website Bitter Lemons has been providing excellent coverage of all sides of this debate, and I urge those interested to go over to Bitter Lemons and to read and inform yourselves about it. AEA became interested as well, and at a town meeting they were told that reform was wanted, not scrapping the plan.
AEA has come back with a proposal that, essentially, scraps the plan. It provides for actor-mounted productions in theatres that do not have non-profit status. It allows for membership companies as of early February to remain, but to not have non-profit status, and to not admit additional Equity actors. For all other 99 seat and under productions in Los Angeles County, it requires that minimum wage be paid to all actors for all performances (3 hour minimum) and for all rehearsals. It removes the caps on the number of performances and ticket prices. If theatre want to continue to use Equity actors, this all but guarantees that prices will rise significantly; in the Los Angeles economy, that means — if theatres want to continue to use Equity actors — attendance will drop and theatres will close. Los Angeles is a price sensitive market. Just look at New York if you want to see the results — and the prices of Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre.
Will this kill theatre in Los Angeles. Likely not. It will make it so that the intimate theatres, to survive, refuse to employ Equity actors. This may affect show quality; it may also mean actors will be force to choose between their union and performing in Los Angeles. It may mean theatres will close. It may mean theatres will move to Ventura or Orange County to get away from the plan. It will hurt LA Theatre.
Remember I mentioned the triad above. Producers are mobilizing against this. Actors in Los Angeles are mobilizing against this. But I’m an audience member. I’m not an actor, I’m a computer scientist who attends theatre. What can we do as audience members, and is there any evidence that Equity even cares what audience members think? [Again, I think back to Sex and Education at the Colony — what can we say that will convince Equity that it is in their interest to drop this proposal… and that’s likely very different than what we want.]
I’m open to your suggestions. All I can think of is a threat to boycott Equity productions at intimate theatres if this goes through, but that doesn’t hurt anyone but the actors and producers, and means nothing to Equity. Perhaps letters to Equity indicating we will stick with our theatres if they choose to eschew the hiring of Equity actors? All I know is that without us, actors are shouting at an empty space. That isn’t theatre. That’s ranting — and that’s what we blog authors do.
(taps on the screen) Is anyone out there?