Look who’s upset over actors getting paid more.

There’s an interesting controversy brewing on the left coast, and it’s not about whether there should be a Sharknado III.

No, this one is actually about theater.  Yep, they not only have theater in Hollywood, they have troubles with the theater in Hollywood, just like we do.

So what’s the brouhaha all about?  (And a side note:  isn’t brouhaha one of the most fun words on the planet?  Say it with me.  Brouhaha.  Brouhaha.  Hehe.)

Here’s what happened.

Actors’ Equity tried to do what unions are supposed to do; work for better conditions and salaries for their members.  See, the current 99 Seat Plan in LA doesn’t even pay minimum wage, so AEA proposed an agreement that got their members increases for performance pay and compensation for rehearsals (there is currently none).

No brainer, right?

Then why did everyone, from Producers, Actors (including high profile ones like Tim Robbins) and even critics come out and say, “Don’t do this or you’ll kill what little theater there is in LA”?  One article’s headline was . . .

“Has Actors’ Equity Sounded A Death Knell For Small L.A. Theaters?”

See, it turns out that the majority of the Producers of 99 seat productions are actors themselves.  Many of them produce these shows to showcase themselves, so they see their compensation as visibility.  And since they are already losing money on these shows, additional salaries would just lose them more money.

But still, shouldn’t minimum wage be minimum wage?  Could ticket prices go up to pay for it?  Should the Producers find a way to raise more money to provide the actors with this poverty level compensation?

It has turned into a pretty big fight, with lawyers involved, and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out, especially since New York City has its own version of the 99 Seat Plan, called the Equity Showcase, where lots of Actors, Producers and Playwrights get their start.  The compensation for the Showcase Code is under minimum wage too . . . so will AEA propose changes here too?

Only time, and probably what happens in LA, will tell.

What do you think?  Should the pay go up?  Should the pay go down?  Comment below.

 

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Comments
  • Ilene Argento says:

    minimum wage would kill the majority of the 99ers in L.A. Period, end of story. L.A. Theatre is so limited already! As a former wanna-be-actor (well, I still wanna-be, but I wanna-pay my bills more), I did my share of resume building/it’s good exposure performances. Perhaps they could change the 99ers into not-for-profits, so the actors, etc are volunteers? Or change them to ‘clubs’ with ‘expense’ stipends? Maybe Actors Equity should focus their battles in L.A. on the bigger houses (Pantages, etc.) who are going more and more to non-equity and straight from college casts? Yes, it’s nice for these actors to be given a chance, but the theatres are charging and promoting as Broadway production, and giving its subscribers, in some cases, community theatre caliber casts (not ALWAYS, but more and more). [Although, I must say, some of the non-profits, Musical Theatre West and La Mirada, seem to be attracting the higher calibre, high experienced actors these days, but, I digress!]

    And, YES, brouhaha IS a fun word!

    • Jared says:

      Do play devil’s advocate for a moment: you specifically mention that the reason you aren’t acting anymore is that it wasn’t paying you enough. Which means the exposure didn’t turn into more profitable job offers (which, from what I’ve heard, is par for the course). If you had been paid a minimum wage for those showcase performances, do you think you would have been able to stick with performing longer (and maybe gotten that mythical “big break”) before the financial hardships caught up with you?

    • Minimum wage should be minimum wage in all sectors. Bosses have been complaining about paying workers since the dawn of time. In the wake of Equity allowing actors to work for free at 99 seaters a ton of these small spaces popped up, with full seasons, subscribers, and some theatres even charging actors for the privilege to perform. Everyone should be paid for their work, not just stage managers, technicians, directors and venues. Once producers start regularly budgeting for this again (as they had to before) perhaps the social value of what actors do will increase as well. Just like fast food owners saying that their companies will close when the minimum wage is increased, this hyperbole will fade, when producers realize that change does not mean ending, merely adjusting.

      • Michael: Originally, I thought that too. But then I thought some more. Look at organizations like Doctors Without Borders. They have skilled professionals that volunteer their time, because of the joy it brings them to do good, to bring something to the community. Look at any church or synagogue. There you have volunteers bringing their professional skills, without charge, because of the good of the community.

        Now look at theatre. In New York — especially on Broadway — you’re used to dealing with commercial theatre. Theatre whose goal is to make a profit and return money to investors. Theatre that is, like any other commercial entity, obligated to pay minimum wage. Even interns haven’t been allowed to work at commercial concerns for free. This is even true in the film industry — where working for free on pictures where profits will be made is not allows (the Veronica Mars Kickstarter not-withstanding).

        If we were talking commercial 99 seat theatres, I would agree. But we’re not. Most of the 99 seat theatres — like many of the larger theaters — are non-profits. They depend on volunteers — even the large theatres (don’t believe me? Ask the usher at the Colony or the Center Theatre Group what their salary is? I mean Salary, not a stipend) The smaller theatres we’re talking about are all non-profits. If they have paid staff, it might be the staff required for continuity. A modest payment to the executive director who works full-time on getting grants. Most of the non-profits don’t pay that.

        Theatre non-profits are organized for the good of the community. They bring theatre to the schools, to the prisons, to the house-bound seniors. If they have surplus after that, it goes to the actors.

        Oh, and remember those investors that exist in for-profit theatre that take the risk and suck it up if there’s a loss. No such luck. These theatres raise all their funding from grants (which often have specific strings, and can’t be used for salaries), subscribers, what little ticket sales there are, and fund-raisers). This funding is plowed right back into the theatre and the productions.

        Now, why would you take my word. I’m just a subscriber — at an 81 seat theatre, a 350 seat theatre, and a 4000 seat theatre (REP East, the Colony, and Cabrillo Music Theatre, respectively). This information comes from every executive director and artistic director I’ve spoken too. The numbers are posted for you to look at on bitter-lemons (dot) com and ilove99 (dot) com.

        Yes, we need to reform the 99seat plan. But this proposal — blanket minimum wage for all (with two exceptions), imposed immediately, is not the way to get there. Sitting down, in a spirit of cooperation, with ALL stakeholders, is.

      • Matt Richter says:

        Oh good lord. This again? Comparing a multi-billion dollar fast food corporation to small theatre? Have we run out of rations that we’re reduced to these old chestnuts? Ah, yes. We just aren’t raising enough money. Our bad. Point taken. We’ll do better next time. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on fixing Doctors Without Borders. Or the Red Cross. Or any other not for profit entity that preys on poor unsuspecting citizens to fill their coffers with blood and sweat. Unless you meant something else by “across all sectors”. In that case, yeah, I’d rephrase your argument.

  • Ken:

    Hopefully, you’ll get a response by a number of folks behind the “pro99” or “I Love 99” effort — that is, the folks who are working against the AEA proposal. They have a website at http://ilove99.org/ . It should be noted that they are not saying the current 99 seat plan is perfect or that actors shouldn’t be paid more — rather, they are saying that the specific plan proposed by AEA is bad and should be voted down, and all stakeholders (The Producers Leagues of Los Angeles, AEA, LA Stage Alliance, other creatives) should sit down and work up a new tiered plan, such as the 99-to-HAT plan.

    Here’s my perspective as an audience member and a quasi-theatre-reviewer (I’m not a trained critic; I’m a professional audience and blogger).

    Los Angeles is a unique theatrical ecosystem. We have over 6,000 actors in the metropolitan area, precious few who make their living on the live theatre stage. Their living wage comes from TV, film, behind-the-camera, or other work. Stage is often done to recharge the creative batteries, exercise the acting muscle, and keep their performance abilities at the top of their game for TV/film/other auditions.

    Back in the 1980s, LA actors sued AEA for the right to do performances in small theatres, specifically sized to not make money, so that they would have this recharge outlet. The AEA plan (it wasn’t a contract, meaning AEA did not receive money when folks used it — a likely underlying reason for the current effort) guaranteed working conditions and small stipends for performance. Actors could leave at any time for other work. This permitted LA Theatre to grow. There are hundreds of small theatres, many originating work that go on to commercial lifespans elsewhere and make money for the originating actors.

    How AEA is proposing to preserve that is by permitting self-produced work and company work. The self-produced work would have no legal umbrella behind it, making the actor organizing it personally liable for any injuries, with no guarantees of working conditions. The membership company rule would freeze company memberships as they were in February. New members would get minimum wage, creating two tiers and dividing membership, and forcing companies to stagnate as members age.

    The remaining bulk of 99 seat theatre — almost all of which is non-profit theatre companies organized by actors — would be forced to pay minimum wage for performances and rehearsals, and forced to hire a minimum number of AEA actors for each show. Remember, minimum wage costs the employer even more — there’s workers comp, additional tax payments and such. It also costs the actor, by being averaged into the wage calculation for unemployment insurance payments, making them lose money. Most 99 seat theatres would not have room in the budget for these additional payments — they will either close, go non-union, or only do small cast plays. This is not what the LA actors want.

    The argument is being made that only AEA actors are professionals. As an audience member, that’s BS. What makes an actor professional is their devotion to their craft, their skill, their work ethic. That’s their whether their union card is AEA, SAG/AFTRA, or another 4A union, or whether they have a card at all.

    The argument is made that AEA actors need a living wage. The problem is, IN LOS ANGELES, you don’t live off your theatre wages. You earn you money elsewhere. Actors do theatre for the love of the craft (plus it saves them money on acting lessions or acting workshops). They get paid in other ways — visibility, connections, networking.

    The argument is made that the money will come from somewhere. Ken, you’ve commented on the effect of the discount ticket booths in New York. It is equally bad here, with Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, and other discount ticket services. The typical price for 99 seat theatre is between 15 and 35, and people will not pay more. There will not be the money to pay for this. We’re not all actors in this city. I know — I work in the Aerospace industry, and go to live theatre every weekend, on average. This weekend is “Carrie: The Musical” in La Mirada; next weekend is a 99-seat production of “Doubt”.

    What is even more galling is that AEA is phonebanking and promoting this with misleading information. They are saying “Yes” means you want change, and “No” means you want the plan as it. That’s wrong. The vote is advisory, and “Yes” means you want the plan as promulgated. “No” means you want AEA to go back to the drawing board. TPPLA and LASA have commissioned their own study with results due in May. “No” means you want all the stakeholders to take that study and truly craft a plan that works for everyone — including audiences — in Los Angeles.

    More information at http://ilove99.org/

  • One additional PS. According to the ilove99 website and discussion on the pro99 facebook group, evidently your question is AEA’s plan: Once they address the 99 seat plan in Los Angeles, the showcase plan in New York is their next target.

  • Kevin Meoak says:

    Thanks Ken for posting this. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in New York about this proposal (mostly due to Equity). This is a fight between the union and its members, not the union and employers. Everyone in Los Angeles would love to be paid more, but the money simply isn’t there. If this passes as written, Equity members in Los Angeles will just not be able to do theater. A lot of great alternatives have been proposed, but here is a detailed look at how this proposal is detrimental from one of Los Angeles premiere companies: http://ilove99.org/tag/sacred-fools/

  • Kai says:

    If a Theatre professes to be a professional theatre and want to work under Equity rules and regulations then they should pay their actors and crew at the very least Minimum wage. If they want to be a not for profit community theatre then no one should be paid including the producers

  • Anthony Porter says:

    Apparently, not for profit community theater in the “fly-over” states means something different. One “non-profit” community theater in Utah pays producers and some directors a 6-figure salary, all the while receiving special tax breaks, community tax funds, etc. to produce their “non-profit” theater. Their productions are not that great, but they keep requesting and getting more and more tax dollars to prop themselves up and pay their producers those ridiculous wages. But that is just my own opinion. And I will go back to lurking…

    • Anthony – That’s one reason the AEA proposal is bad for Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, there is a wide range of 99-seat theatre, almost all of it non-profit, ranging from actor-driven companies to larger non-profits. What the community seems to want to move to (and is currently researching) is a form of tiered proposal: those 99-seat theatres with larger grants and larger budgets would need to pay more to actors and creatives; those with shoe-string budgets could pay less.

      It should also be noted that it is reasonable for non-profits to have paid staff. Most non-profits do, from religious institutions to medical charities to… you name it. The paid staff doesn’t leave on no notice; they provide continuity and continued support. The pay varies widely — and I agree it shouldn’t be outragous. Many of the producers in the 99 seat theatres in LA are paid very little.

      It should also be noted that many of the 99 seat theatre budgets at the non-profits go to support community outreach — bringing performances to prisons, schools, senior homes, and such. Actors do get paid for those efforts.

  • Andrew Hsmann says:

    I joined equity in 1982 at the age of 18. I like unions. But now, having dabbled in producing and intending to continue, I have problem with this issue. If actors want to assume some of the risk, I believe they should profit…as a producer. So I’m all for group-funded theatre. Take a vote. Pick a show. Pick a director. Everybody put in some money, work hard and then bust your own to put some in the seats. But the math involved in micro theatre makes art difficult…it makes commerce next to impossible. Yes the numbers are small but the risk of loosing all the money is not only possible…it’s probable. Only 1 in 5 Broadway shows ever pays back it’s investors…But investors on that level know that going in and they can afford to loose it. I applaud anyone who has the guts to scrape together $10K and risk it on Santa Monica Blvd…but supply and demand is a law and there are plenty of very talented people who are willing to work for free for the sake of the lotto-ticket concept of hopefully, someday getting some kind of commercially viable acting work…or even mediocre representation as a result of their efforts in front of 46 people on a Thursday night in West Hollywood. The bottom line is this: There are very few 99 seat producers who are making any money…and of them, there are almost none who are skipping to the bank having scammed a bunch of actors. These are the risk-takers. The ones who are willing to plunk down, work 18 hour days to get a show up and create an opportunity to create and network. If you really want minimum wage…go wait tables. If a producer is willing to take a risk and is lucky enough to keep a show alive long enough to show a profit…more power to him…or her. I know someone who sold her house and is limping along producing anything she can…and she’s innovative…producing in unorthodox spaces…making it happen. NYC at least got the name right,,,Showcase…because if you’ve only got 99 seats…that’s all it is.

    • Christopher Carothers says:

      What you are describing in your post is exactly what the LA Self-Produced Project Code will cover. Under it, AEA members who want to put on a show are free to do so with no restrictions from AEA regarding length of rehearsal, length of run or ticket price. Commerce IS happening in LA 99-seat theaters:many have run for years with regular seasons and the financial resources to pay everyone else in the building except the actors. Indeed producers are risk-takers, but if they want to use union talent, why shouldn’t paying those people be a part of the financial risk they take?

      • (1) Regarding the LA Self-Product Code, what you say is true… however it doesn’t tell the whole story. Those actors can only mount the show as individuals, meaning they are personally taking on all the risk if an actor gets injured. They also have to develop all the supporting infrastructure — they can’t work with an existing non-profit theatre to mount the show. This is extremely risky.

        (2) Regarding “Commerce is happening”. Running for many years with many seasons does not mean financial success. I’m involved with one such theatre as a subscriber, and I know that there is constant fundraising, and that most shows barely break even … even with the 99 seat code. This is because many of the tickets are comps, tickets given to promote a show, or discount tickets sold via promotion, Goldstar, or LA Stage Tix. The theatres I know, on the rare case that a show does more than break even, provides additional payments to the cast. The 99 seat theatre environment is not a commercial environment; this isn’t the case of “producers getting rich”. This is Ken’s blog, so ask him: Given a six week run, with ticket prices topping at perhaps $30, with at least half of those tickets comp or at discount, with an average of (this is a guess) 80 seats, and token payments to the other creatives, and with set and promotion costs and the (very expensive) theatre rental — would a show break even? Don’t believe me. The numbers have been posted at both bitter-lemons (dot) com and ilove99 (dot) org. The funds are not there for most theatres.

        Note that I said most. There might be one or two where things will work. That’s why the mantra is “change, but not this change”. The AEA proposal usurped an effort to develop a tiered approach based on show budgets and theatre budgets that would increase compensation when possible. This approach needs to be voted down so that the community and all stakeholders — not just AEA, but TPPLA, LA Stage Alliance, and the other unions and organization can develop a plan that works and works for all.

      • Matt Richter says:

        Christopher- you are aware how much shows cost to produce, yes? And also, that the new SPPC forbids partnering with any 501c3 or existing companies? So, no donations, grants, or even co-productions.I’m thrilled to hear that you are well off enough to make such a financial undertaking. So what you are lobbying for is an elitist setup where only the rich can produce shows, under this specific part of the overall code, I mean. What about everyone else?

  • Meredith says:

    The belief that producers are lining their pockets while not paying actors at these theatres is a fallacy. Most of the 99-seat theatres in L.A. (and showcase productions in NY) have little to no staff, and the staff that they do have is part-time or low wage. They are employed to keep the doors open so that actors have a place to present their work, as most of the work presented is, in fact, self-produced by performers, directors and designers, not by typical producers or by the theatres themselves. The net box office receipts rarely, if ever, cover the costs of the production. No one is making bank here except for the large theatres. (Note: there are no real mid-sized theatres left in L.A.)

    Furthermore, Los Angeles is a film city, not a theatre town. It is full of unemployed actors awaiting their next film or TV gig (more remunerative employment!) who are eager to make work, to showcase themselves and their creativity. But they are stifled by the fact that the theatre-going audience there is limited due to simple urban planning — it takes two hours to drive across town (a drive that is 30 minutes without traffic in the middle of the night). With such a hassle, it is much, much harder to get people to actually show up to the theatre in the first place.

    This results in a much more limited audience and funding pool to draw from. That pool is generally focused on a handful of major theatres: Center Theater Group, The Geffen Playhouse, REDCAT, UCLA Live, Boston Court Theater and Pasadena Playhouse — South Coast Rep/La Jolla for the O.C.). Those theatres already have substantial (for L.A.) funding, and thus can produce higher quality work. So the resources continue to pool in their direction.

    How, given all of these obstacles, are unemployed, professional artists to create and present work? Enter the 99-seat plan. This Equity contract was not created to give producers a break. It was created to give actors a break — give them an opportunity to present their work in the same way that the Showcase Code was invented for La Mama to present New York actors’ self-produced work.

    If you change that code and raise the minimum wage (among other things they are trying to implement), you will see the following things happen:

    * The limited resources (audiences and funding) will be concentrated on fewer 99-seat theatres, which will force many 99-seat theatres to shutter and fewer performers to showcase their work.

    * The rest of the actors who are no longer getting even the pittance they were making on the 99-seat plan won’t be making anything and won’t have an outlet to create their own opportunities. Without such an outlet, they are even less likely to make a career out of their art.

    * The increased resources for those surviving (survival of the fittest!) will result in higher quality productions at those theatres and properly paid actors. This could very well change the artistic landscape for the better in L.A.

    Which is better? Perhaps reducing the over-saturation of artists is a good thing. Or, perhaps, it’s killing innovation in the art form. Who will produce experimental work now if the work is so reliant on making a buck? How can struggling performers fight their way to the top if their own union is holding them back?

  • Jared says:

    I have been fascinated by the way this is all unfolding. On the surface, the idea of paying actors more for their work seems like a no-brainer; I have often heard my performing friends complain that they aren’t being compensated enough for the work they do. And yet when AEA comes along and actually tries to increase wages, they are met with an incredibly passionate backlash.

    As an ex-actor I may not be as qualified to talk about this as someone who it more directly affects, but this idea of performing for “exposure” has always struck me as something of a fallacy. How many people do you truly know who were offered more lucrative jobs (or even just an agent) based off of work done in one of these showcase type events? It just doesn’t happen. I honestly think it would be better for the actors to be paid more when they are working (even if it means less total performance opportunities) than to give up that pay on the hope of getting in back down the line. Because every time someone performs for nothing or next to nothing, you’re reinforcing the idea that actors don’t need to be paid that much for something that is ultimately a lot harder than it looks.

    • Jared:

      From what I’ve been reading — at least here in LA — the actors aren’t doing it to get their “big break”. C’mon — this is LA. You won’t find a theatre producer fishing for actors in the pond, and as for TV/Film casting agents… From what I’ve read, what you do make are connections. You get to know someone who knows someone, who can get you in the door for the film or TV role. Additionally, you get to keep your acting muscles sharp and ready for the unexpected audition. For the actors out here, that’s incredibly valuable — and working in small theatre gives you much more challenging roles, and exposes you to new work — plus you get carfare (oops) a stipend. That’s something you don’t get when you pay to go to an acting class.

      It is also worth noting that a number of the shows that start under the 99 plan — especially new work — go on to larger theatres and equity productions. Two great examples of that are “Stoneface”, which was recently at the Pasadena Playhouse (and started at Sacred Foods, IIRC), and the Louis Prima and Kelly musical, which started in some 99 seat and ended up at the Geffen. I also know the recent production of the Discord: Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy started at the NoHo Arts Center and went on to a Geffen production. Here’s another: “Sex and Education” started at the Victory Theatre Center, and went on to the Colony Theatre.

      Usual disclaimer: I’m an involved audience member, not an actor. I respect actors: they do things I can’t. But I do software stuff they can’t 🙂

  • To put this in perspective: There are several different kinds of 99-seat theaters in L.A. There are TRUE 99-Seaters (that ACTUALLY have 99 seats) and then there are the rest of the micro-budget companies that have as few as 25 seats. I am the Artistic Director of a non-profit “99-Seat” theatre in North Hollywood. We have a permanent space for the first time in our 8 years of existence and that space is a converted chapel in the loft of a church. It’s tiny – seats 35 if we squeeze in extra seats. EVERY SINGLE PENNY we make goes into paying rent on the space and production costs (which we try to keep as low as possible.) However, we also try to put on good, innovative theatre with high production value.

    Our current production is getting RAVE reviews from critics and has probably the best set we’ve ever had. That set? A donated carpet from another theatre company, recycled flats, company members’ personal belongings as set dressing and every single piece of furniture was found for free on the streets. Yep, we’re recycling stuff people threw away as our set pieces. And guess what? It looks fantastic! Does it look like a $10,000 set? Nope. Does it look like a real-life apartment – sure does! Total set cost was about $270 for paint, some wood and some set dressing. $150 of that came out of my personal pocket and I am not going to get that back.

    So why do we do this? Why do the leaders of my company as well as the company members (both AEA and non) spend SO much time, energy and money to create theatre that won’t pay us? Several reasons. 1. You have to start somewhere. We would LOVE our company to be our full-time jobs and pay EVERYONE. That’s always been the goal. We’re working towards that. 2. We want to do creative, innovative work and develop new works. We’ve had new plays written and road-tested at our company that have gone to New York, San Diego and Sydney and, in one instance, even get published and licensed throughout the country! That wouldn’t have happened without a place to produce and workshop.

    So bottom line – 99-Seat theatre is not all in the same box. The vast majority of 99-Seaters are NOT 99 seats. They are tiny companies in tiny spaces that sometimes play to full houses and other times play to 5 people. That’s just the nature of it. Do we WANT to pay actors, stage managers, staff, and marketing teams? Of COURSE we do. Can we suddenly be FORCED to do that by a union mandate and just make the money appear? Sure can’t. If we could we (at least my company) would already be doing it.

    I can’t speak for other companies, but for mine, we’re not going anywhere. We’re small enough that changes to the 99-Seat agreement will hurt us and certainly sadden us, but we’re not going to shut down. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and working towards our goals. As a COMPANY – we’re ALL actors first. Unfortunately what it will mean for us is that AEA actors will no longer be able to play with us.

  • Ruth Silveira says:

    I am a Los Angeles based actor and director and a member of Equity.
    The proposed plan removes safety and the respectful rehearsal and performance conditions that are an important feature of the present 99 seat plan, (so, in that case, NOT doing what Ken says a union should do) unless, I suppose, a production is done completely under contract. OK, policing these conditions was a headache for Equity, cost them too much money, wouldn’t have been able to pay their top administrators so much. OK, fine, but be out front about it. We, the pro99 actors have offered suggestions to alleviate this burden. They are ignored.

    And the new plan requires union actors to be paid for rehearsal, however an actor is not actually ‘under contract’ and can leave at any time. Yes, any time. Even after 5 weeks of rehearsal, that actor could take their rehearsal pay and just leave, leave to take that TV commercial that is shooting in Florida for a week.

    The new plan just doesn’t address the realities of intimate theater in Los Angeles. There are a large number of membership companies in Los Angeles, the companies act as producer; the Producer is not a person, pocketing the box office receipts. Sacred Fools, for example (and btw, Louis & Keely also originated at SF), has writers, directors, actors, designers, and crew people as members. Not just actors. Everyone is there because they love doing theater. So this new plan not only reduces opportunities for union actors (being priced out) but also for writers, directors, designers, and crew people.

    Lastly, there is complete confusion over the non-binding referendum vote that is coming up. One would expect that a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote would relate directly to this proposal, right? Do you like and approve this plan? Do you not like and do not approve this plan? We are being told, however, that a ‘yes’ vote means ‘being in favor of change’ and a ‘no’ vote is a vote for no change. We are being told to vote ‘yes’ and then the proposal will be amended. What? Changes made after the proposal is approved? And a ‘no’ vote means that everything will remain as is. Which it won’t because Equity can change anything at anytime. This is all very suspect and how can we trust anything they say.

    The pro99 actors do want change, just not this change.

  • Curt says:

    Jared, your statement “but this idea of performing for “exposure” has always struck me as something of a fallacy. How many people do you truly know who were offered more lucrative jobs (or even just an agent) based off of work done in one of these showcase type events? It just doesn’t happen.” is patently false for many reasons.

    First, we are not doing showcase theater. At least I sure haven’t for at least 15-20 years. Because of the 99-seat plan, this town has gone from showcase crap to theatrical powerhouse. I have been in some of the most exciting new plays and musicals in the country in 99-seat theater in Los Angeles. One of those shows just won the NY Fringe festival last fall for Best Play, Audience Favorite and Best Lead Actor. Another show from the same 99-seat company won Best Musical. Every single paying contract gig in theater I have ever gotten, EVERY ONE, has come from a 99-seat show going to contract. Not to mention the film/tv work I have gotten directly resulting from someone seeing me in a 99-seat show. And I am nowhere close to the only one who will tell you these things. We have celebrities even who will tell you they owe their careers to 99-seat theater.

    However, the fact is, that is not even the primary reason we do these productions. We do them because we do not have those opportunities anywhere else. We do them because we love to create. We do them because it keeps us sane and happy in a town, nay a country, where the arts are more and more pushed out in favor of less fulfilling commercial ventures. That is exactly what this new proposal does, it puts commerce over creativity, money over art. And it’s sad. It will actually force us to go back to doing crappy, low-rent showcase theater.

  • (Earlier today I posted the comment below. As it is still awaiting moderation due to weblinks, I”m reposting it without those links)

    Ken:

    Hopefully, you’ll get a response by a number of folks behind the “pro99″ or “I Love 99″ effort — that is, the folks who are working against the AEA proposal. They have a website at ilove99 (dot) org . It should be noted that they are not saying the current 99 seat plan is perfect or that actors shouldn’t be paid more — rather, they are saying that the specific plan proposed by AEA is bad and should be voted down, and all stakeholders (The Producers Leagues of Los Angeles, AEA, LA Stage Alliance, other creatives) should sit down and work up a new tiered plan, such as the 99-to-HAT plan.

    Here’s my perspective as an audience member and a quasi-theatre-reviewer (I’m not a trained critic; I’m a professional audience and blogger).

    Los Angeles is a unique theatrical ecosystem. We have over 6,000 actors in the metropolitan area, precious few who make their living on the live theatre stage. Their living wage comes from TV, film, behind-the-camera, or other work. Stage is often done to recharge the creative batteries, exercise the acting muscle, and keep their performance abilities at the top of their game for TV/film/other auditions.

    Back in the 1980s, LA actors sued AEA for the right to do performances in small theatres, specifically sized to not make money, so that they would have this recharge outlet. The AEA plan (it wasn’t a contract, meaning AEA did not receive money when folks used it — a likely underlying reason for the current effort) guaranteed working conditions and small stipends for performance. Actors could leave at any time for other work. This permitted LA Theatre to grow. There are hundreds of small theatres, many originating work that go on to commercial lifespans elsewhere and make money for the originating actors.

    How AEA is proposing to preserve that is by permitting self-produced work and company work. The self-produced work would have no legal umbrella behind it, making the actor organizing it personally liable for any injuries, with no guarantees of working conditions. The membership company rule would freeze company memberships as they were in February. New members would get minimum wage, creating two tiers and dividing membership, and forcing companies to stagnate as members age.

    The remaining bulk of 99 seat theatre — almost all of which is non-profit theatre companies organized by actors — would be forced to pay minimum wage for performances and rehearsals, and forced to hire a minimum number of AEA actors for each show. Remember, minimum wage costs the employer even more — there’s workers comp, additional tax payments and such. It also costs the actor, by being averaged into the wage calculation for unemployment insurance payments, making them lose money. Most 99 seat theatres would not have room in the budget for these additional payments — they will either close, go non-union, or only do small cast plays. This is not what the LA actors want.

    The argument is being made that only AEA actors are professionals. As an audience member, that’s BS. What makes an actor professional is their devotion to their craft, their skill, their work ethic. That’s their whether their union card is AEA, SAG/AFTRA, or another 4A union, or whether they have a card at all.

    The argument is made that AEA actors need a living wage. The problem is, IN LOS ANGELES, you don’t live off your theatre wages. You earn you money elsewhere. Actors do theatre for the love of the craft (plus it saves them money on acting lessions or acting workshops). They get paid in other ways — visibility, connections, networking.

    The argument is made that the money will come from somewhere. Ken, you’ve commented on the effect of the discount ticket booths in New York. It is equally bad here, with Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, and other discount ticket services. The typical price for 99 seat theatre is between 15 and 35, and people will not pay more. There will not be the money to pay for this. We’re not all actors in this city. I know — I work in the Aerospace industry, and go to live theatre every weekend, on average. This weekend is “Carrie: The Musical” in La Mirada; next weekend is a 99-seat production of “Doubt”.

    What is even more galling is that AEA is phonebanking and promoting this with misleading information. They are saying “Yes” means you want change, and “No” means you want the plan as it. That’s wrong. The vote is advisory, and “Yes” means you want the plan as promulgated. “No” means you want AEA to go back to the drawing board. TPPLA and LASA have commissioned their own study with results due in May. “No” means you want all the stakeholders to take that study and truly craft a plan that works for everyone — including audiences — in Los Angeles.

    More information at ilove99 (dot) org

  • Janet Miller says:

    Our LA 99 Theatrical Landscape needs to be supported. We DO want change, but not THIS change. Too much, too fast.

  • The Argentine theater scene rivals New York, L.A. and London, with a 100+ theaters and scads of new productios ever year. Many people from all the Spanish-speaking world come to Buenos Aires, often with the sole intention of seeing multiple plays. The lucky actors are able to survive by doing voice-overs, commercials and occasional TV and movie gigs. But an overwhelming majority of them and the production people have “real jobs” to supplement their financially unrewarding passion for the theater. To deny them and the very appreciative theater goers access to the stage would be unthinkably cruel. Most of these productions are financed by the participants of the play itself and they share equally in the profits and loses. Also (on the upside of poverty), the lack of resources often make for some incredibly wonderful creative innovations. The results are not only as charming as the Little Rascal’s improvised shows in the barn, but also marvelously professional.
    As much as we’d all love to see everyone earn more, sadly the economic realities of our business preclude this, as it would create a mass closing of theaters and with it culture deprivation for all involved.

  • Eric Goldman says:

    My understanding is that AEA’s stated goal of minimum wage for every actor us not the true objective. AEA has no intention if telling Broadway commercial producers they have to pay actors minimum wage for Equity readings.

    Equity believes there is an over-abundance of 99 seat productions in LA that don’t pay minimum wage and thus do not generate Equity dues. The publicly stated goal is to “thin the herd” reduce the number of small non-dues paying productions to make room for more commercial productions that can pay minimum wage and thus generate dues.

    The minimum wage argument is Equity’s solution to getting out of the settlement agreement reached in the 80s that created the unique LA 99 seat plan. They have no data that their plan will lead to more better paying job, because in truth that is not their objective.

  • Allison says:

    We want change, just NOT THIS CHANGE. The actors should get a tiered contract. SDC has a pretty darn good one, and I so appreciate that….And anyone who thinks that everyone is getting paid except for the actors is completely uninformed. I directed and choreographed a show last year in a well-respected 99 seat theatre. I got paid a stipend – slightly more than the actors received (which doesn’t seem horrible since I put in significantly more time). I also voluntarily put MORE than my stipend in to the show. Oh, my producer got zero, and I think designers may have received $100 each. (To be clear, that’s less than the actors received. Plus the actors get many comps that no one else gets.). My big questions for AEA is this: Where the heck is the money going to come from? So far their answer has been that producers are creative and they’ll figure it out. That’s great planning, AEA. ILove99.org

  • John says:

    Feels like a big corporate response to a little business problem. If producers are really already loosing money, its likely ticket prices are already as high as they will go. If so, higher people costs will therefore result in smaller productions, or “events” that are not technically theater, but still get the job done. Broadway aside, NEA data shows theatrical attendance has been in strong decline for years. Equity would be better to focus finding out why, and working on fixing that so there are more working actors, then trying something that is likely limit the opportunity. The digital world beckons…

  • I take issue with the statement “what little theatre there is in LA.” Take your east coast superiorit complex and recognize it for what it is. With the exception of one remarkable city, theatre attendance in every city in America has dropped for decades. In Los Angeles, it has gone up. “Not a theatre town” yadda yadda bullshit. You want to sit over there and pretend you’re putting out the best theatre while you produce a remount of Godspell? For f*cks sake, do not, for a second, pretend you are doing what we do in Los Angeles. And in case you didn’t know what that is, it’s taking a bunch of artists that want to work together, and then doing that. 99 seat theatre in LA has been the incubater for the most interesting theatre in the country, and the world, because of the 99 seat plan. “What little theatre?!?” Go mount a remount:

    • Meredith says:

      For the record, I began my producing career in Los Angeles at 99-seat houses. There is no superiority complex here. The challenges facing Los Angeles are different and significantly greater than the challenegss facing NYC in terms of audience (and thereby funding) development. To deny that fact is delusional. When I say Los Angeles is not a theatre town that is true in terms of overall audience percentages focusing on theatre versus film/tv industries. You can fill up the Arclight with ease on any given day, but filling a 30 seat house for the theatre, with tickets equally priced at $15 is difficult in Los Angeles. THAT is what I mean by it is not a theatre town.

      And insulting the work done on the East Coast, chalking it all up to boring revivals, sounds much more like a superiority complex than anything anyone else has said in these comments. The artistic landscape can be diverse and challenging in every city, including NY and LA. (Although, personally, I find Chicago to be the most active in creating new work. But that’s just me.)

  • Ken–I can only speak to the Equity Showcase Code in NYC. I have a small non-profit theater and dance company. It USED to be that if a Showcase cost $3-5,000. one could break even with ticket sales over 2-3 weeks. Now, a 50 seat theater cost 3,000.00 a week to rent and no way to make more than half back, even selling out and it costs $12,000.00-20,000.00 to mount a Showcase.
    And I can tell you that getting a $2,000.00 DONATION is much harder than getting $1,000.000.00 as an INVESTMENT for a Bdwy or off-Bdwy show.

  • Donald Jordan says:

    There seems to be one consideration missing in this discussion. If an actor prefers to work in a nonequity, nonpaying and nonprofessional context, they can simply give up their Equity professional status since they want to do what is essentially community theatre. If they prefer to have the status of a professional stage actor, then they stand together to maintian safe and sanitary working considitions and rules that promalgate a professional atmosphere, including at least a minimum wage. The choice is entirely with the actors, but the debate seems to be that some actors want to be Equiy professionals without being treated or paid professionally. It is the choice of the individual.

    • Janet Miller says:

      Donald, I have worked with plenty of AEA actors who do not behave ‘professionally’ and plenty of non-unions who do. Human nature. Sorry. That argument just doesn’t work.

  • Thom Bray says:

    I believe in unions and what they have done for me in my life.

    But I also believe in creating art, and the 99 seat house code seems more about that than about commerce.

    Dealing with Equity can be as frustrating as dealing with the cable company. In many ways they can be rigid, and tone deaf to the desires of their membership. Other unions have managed to strike a balance: SSDC has been noted as an example. I believe USA also allows members to figure out how to work in a small theatre.

    The danger for Equity in going down this road is, young folks are not as pro union as an elder like me. They are happy to take a tour right out of college in a non union touring company. Doesn’t anybody on the AEA board see what’s happening to unions in this country? Why would you want to piss off your own membership?

    And then there is the gigantic gorilla in the room: Financial Core.

    If Equity does not want to become a union that only services Broadway and large LORT contracts, they better start listening to membership, otherwise they may someday find themselves *only* servicing Production contracts and LORT A and B contracts–and not developing new theatres and new opportunities for its members.

  • Kate Fuglei says:

    Here is something I have heard no one suggest. This comes partly from observing the Writer’s Guild of America, the union to which my writer husband, Ken LaZebnik, belongs and is very active. In the yearlong lead up to the 2008 strike, the then guild president Patrick Verrone wisely held many meetings at which all members were allowed to voice opinions and thoughts about this huge decision. He solicited ideas from every part of the WGA. I feel that whatever eventually happens with the LA 99 seat theater question there should at least be a period in which people representing ALL SIDES of this debate could sit down together and discuss the pros and cons and JOINTLY come up with some suggestions. Yes, I know. There was one meeting held in LA recently. One. Instead of a joint proposal that was the result of an aggregate of people from various sides of the debate, I felt as though only one solution was proposed and that solution came from our union representatives in NY without any sense of representation from those who would be most affected.

    I feel that there are things that could be improved in the 99 seat theater plan. But this feels to me like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Actors are in a unique situation among creative artists in that a painter can paint alone, a writer can write. But actors, unless they do a one person show, need the community of other actors. My husband writes scripts on spec even when he isn’t on a show because he wants to continue creating and getting his voice out there so that people can read his work and hire him. This happens all the time. Playwrights write plays without knowing where they will be produced all the time. So, in my opinion, actors sometimes act in plays to practice their craft and to continue to grow and learn from other actors. The strictures and protections of the 99 seat plan in LA and the Showcase Code in NYC ARE important and I think getting rid of them would be really harmful.

    So to sum up, isn’t there some way to back off of this referendum and create a steering committee of people from all sides of the debate and come together as caring union members and JOINTLY take a look at what works, what doesn’t, and come up something better?

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