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Town Hall: Actor's Equity Association & our 99-Seat Theatres

Town Hall: Actor's Equity Association & our 99-Seat Theatres

[Update: Got a better cover photo for the article, courtesy of Brian T. Finney.]

Last night, I dragged myself down to the L.A. Theatre Center downtown for the Town Hall on AEA & Our 99-Seat Theatres, sponsored by L.A. Stage Alliance. 

Yeah, I said dragged. 

I'm not going to lie - I'm tired of this. I've been tired of this. I can't imagine a time where I won't look back and still be tired of this, even after it's all over. This has been going on for a year and a half now, and it's been a day-in-day-out routine of frustration and headaches after frustration and headaches.

But y'know what? 

It ain't over 'til it's over, and it ain't over yet. So, we fight on.

That meant last night, as I walked into LATC, I reached down deep inside and girded myself for the next chapter of this boondoggle. 

And y'know what happened?

I walked in to a huge theatre that was almost completely full of members of our community. 

It gave me hope to see that so many people still cared, even after all this time. 

I walked in to the evening, half expecting the gathering to devolve into finger-pointing and shouting between the two opposing viewpoints represented in that room. But the discourse remained civil. Respectful.

It gave me hope to hear that respect and civility, even after all the toxicity that has been spewed by both sides for the past year and a half. 

I sat down and listened to comments and questions that were thoughtful. Honest. Earnest. And while the picture of theatre in Los Angeles after December 14th presented was bleak if things remained the same, the overall tone of the evening was... hopeful. 

Hopeful that a real conversation between Equity and its L.A. membership could still happen.

One where both sides could agree to a better course of action, where we could have our cake and eat it too - keep our companies alive while building a bridge to real contract weeks. 

Because here's the deal - I am Pro99. I am a professional. It is my stated purpose and goal to make my living as an artist. 

Yes. #ProsGetPaid. 

I agree with the NoHo10 on this point. 

That's right, you heard me; we agree on something. (And y'all ain't as anonymous as you think you are. Just sayin'. ;)

The disagreement we have is how to go about achieving it.

John Flynn, Artistic Director of Rogue Machine, said in a statement read by Steven Leigh Morris last night, "Everyone would like to be paid, or paid more. This is about methodology."

As we Pro99ers have said, over and over again, in spite of how often we are dismissed as only wanting to keep things the way they were, we are for change to the 99-Seat Plan. But not Equity's proposed change.

Just for sake of argument, here's the first of my problems with AEA's proposal - the 500-1,000% increase to existing operating budgets that companies somehow have to mitigate by December 14th or be faced with Sophie's Choice (and if you look at these figures and your flippant response is that "they just need to fundraise more," you've clearly never had to fundraise for theatre in Los Angeles yourself).

And here's what else:

It's myopic to compromise future opportunities for bigger contracts out in favor for the measly minimum wage income the new proposed contract would generate. This new plan simultaneously devalues me and my talent as an artist, while making me unaffordable to the overworked and underfunded actor-driven companies that are the actual theatre-makers in this town. News Flash: You can't live on minimum wage in Los Angeles, especially part-time minimum wage.

It's myopic for Equity councilors and Equity members to tell those who don't agree with the Union's proposals to leave the Union. Setting aside all the other reasonable objections to this textbook example of groupthink... Seriously guys, as Rebecca Metz said so eloquently last night, do you really want to flood the non-union ranks of Los Angeles actors with Union-caliber talent? If you got what you wanted and we all bail on the union en masse... who do you think will be getting all the gigs after December 14th if the proposed plan goes through? Hint: Not You.

It's myopic to think that what works for New York will work for Los Angeles, when the conditions here, especially relating to public funding and support, couldn't be more inverse.

It's myopic to think that *only* 26 companies are going to be affected by the new agreements. Here's a "for instance" for you: Crown City Theatre Company, one of the 26 named, is Theatre Unleashed's landlord. (If you're new to my blog, Theatre Unleashed is the company I co-founded in 2008 and help run today, as a volunteer). If Crown City closes up shop because they can't afford to work under the new contract... guess what, guys?! ("What, Greg?") My company is once again homeless! Ta da! After I just spent a year getting air conditioning in our little black box, too. I call that the Law of Unintended Consequences. Thanks Equity!

It's downright disingenuous of Equity to lead us to believe that these carve-outs (the Membership Company Rule, Self-Producing Code and 50-Seat Showcase Code) are going to last any longer than they absolutely have to. There are no guarantees or protections that those rules will stay in place. None. After that... what then? So far, there's been no answer.

So, what change are we for?

That's been the $10,000 question.

Well, last night, Larry Poindexter answered that question and unveiled Pro99's proposed change - the Los Angeles Intimate Theatre Code.

Here are the slides and handouts on the proposal, generously provided by Larry and the LA Stage Alliance.

Sorry for the quality of the photos, but I'm working with what I've got. 

That being said, I sincerely hope Equity councilors will take a good long look at this proposal.

The proposal, while not perfect, is workable for most intimate theatres in Los Angeles. 

Here's the gist: The LAITC would allow Equity actors to continue working under 99, creating opportunities for themselves. It would allow theatres to reimburse actors for actual expenses at first (in accordance with California state laws), then take successful shows to Equity's new contract after a reasonable number of performances. 

This keeps our companies in business. This keeps Equity actors on stages. This makes going to contract a more reasonable, attainable jump. This is the kind of environment we should encourage and foster.

I applaud this plan, at least in principle, as the specifics in some areas still need to be fleshed out.

...

I'm going to digress for a moment. Do you listen to The Nerdist podcast? I do. Seth Rogan was the guest on a recent episode. You know what he talked about? (Well, besides what it means to be a "productive stoner") 

Here, I've embedded the episode for you. Go ahead and give it a listen. I'll wait. The whole episode is great, but you can skip to around the 54-minute mark if you want to hear the good stuff.

Did you hear it? 

He talked about how if you want to make it in the entertainment industry, you have to make your own opportunities.

Bam. Right there. That's it right there. The straight dope, straight from a guy who's "made it."

And see, that's what we've got right now. That's why I co-founded my own theatre company. That's how I became a producer. I took responsibility for my own career and began building my own opportunities. 

That's what at stake here: the ability for actors to create their own career-making opportunities, and grow the successful shows they produce themselves with their own companies into real, paying contracts.

We want to get paid. 

We want to be able to pay ourselves and our friends. 

We want to be able to grow our companies and our careers. Those purposes aren't mutually exclusive.

We want to build bridges to contracts, not barriers to entry.

It's possible, but don't just take my word for it; Vanessa Stewart took it upon herself to compile a list of as many shows as could find that have gone from the old Waiver and 99-Seat Plan to contract. There were at least 125 verifiable productions that she could find information on. I guarantee you there have been more. (I'm also willing to bet Equity has even better data on all of this, seeing as how they handled all of the applications for the old Plan, and subsequent contracts.)

That's what we're fighting to preserve. What's more, that's what we should be encouraging to grow.

That's what our Union's new contract is going to take from us, whether New York knows it or not. 

My question here is, why is it impossible for my Union and my community to work together? Why do we have to be adversarial? Why can't we have real, meaningful dialogue? Why can't we work together in good faith to actually develop an agreement, or series of agreements that benefits all parties and encourages growth?

Pro99's at the table, guys, and there's a good idea here.

After last night, I once again have hope we can work something out before it's too late. 

If you want to see this happen, please take a minute to help our intimate theatre community and sign Pro99's petition for a new referendum, linked below:

Your signature is needed in support of Pro99

We, the undersigned, are dedicated to the survival and growth of Intimate Theatre in Los Angeles. We are actors, stage managers, playwrights, designers, directors, producers and hyphenates of all of the above. We are also audience members, neighborhood restaurants and bars, and local businesses that benefit from the thriving L.A. Intimate Theatre landscape. We are committed to preserving, protecting and promoting Theatre's of 99-seats or less, not only in Los Angeles but throughout the United States, while defending Actors' Equity Association (AEA) members' rights, privileges and protections when they perform in such venues.
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