Wednesday, March 25, 2015

They're Putting the QUIT in Equity!

Truly, maybe they want us all to quit - and it's sad, but actually understandable. We must admit, whether West, East or Peoria, as small theatres, we make no money for AEA. (Just as we don't make money for ourselves.) If they get rid of the little theatres, there's less competition for the BIG BOYS, MONEY MAKING, FAT CATS (The ones they are supposedly protecting us from!) in the ever diminishing search for an audience.

IF 2% of small union productions even break even, I'll run naked through Times Square.  They don't understand and they largely are not listening. The vote for an unspecified change is essentially handing someone a blank, endorsed check.

It's ridiculous and insulting. The lame arguments about us exploiting ourselves or the (false) accusations that it will make us ineligible for unemployment are infuriating. Shouldn't the union be more focused on helping us to work than helping us sit at home and collect unemployment??? Actors WANT to work. We NEED to work.  You cannot ever monetize art.

So far, as for the Presidential elections, we're leaning toward Kate Shindle - once we hear a little more, we will campaign on both coast for whomever we collectively decide. At the very least, Kate has engaged in conversation and taken a slight stand over the 99 seat "Blank Check" vote.  Larry Cahn hasn't replied at all - Nick Wyman's statement is blatantly stale and not worth his time to update, as he writes, "The following is basically what I wrote five years ago. It still holds true." A lot has changed in 5 years - but not with the small theatres.  The LA code is 25 yrs old, the NY Showcase code is 7 years older. They don't even take into account the invention of the internet or inflation!  Adjust for inflation, and actors CAN be paid better.

Am I anti-union? HELL NO! But I am for a constructive union - one that not only looks after the actors but the art form as well. If there is no theatre, there's no need for theatre actors. The union has done many, many great things in its history - but they need to honor their own mission statement to take care of theatre 'artists'.  We all want money, of course, but even more so, we NEED work - meaningful experiences.  If not, we're totally insane for sticking with this profession. We can pay to stay in class forever, or actually get out there and make a fucking difference.

AEA and Broadway are not, as they like to state, equal to QUALITY. While you can see lots of crap in small theatres under the 99 seat/ showcase code - it may or may not be all union - ALL the horrible stuff we've seen on Broadway IS ALL union. That defeats that argument.

This is a major turning point in our theatre - Equity could topple if they don't play their cards right. In the age of social media - which also isn't included in the ancient codes - if someone is an asshole producer, they will be outed publicly. And if these mystery, greedy Mr. Producer X's exist - target them, not the people who skip lunch, WILLINGLY, to contribute to their craft. No, it shouldn't be, but maybe Equity would be better off trying to change the culture instead of killing off the little fish.

As for the many comments that all this speaking out against the union is dividing it, and keeping us from being 'UNITED', as some candidates have put it, it's as manipulative as these imaginary evil producers or Boss Fatt saying, "take it and like it." We can disagree with the union, and still be for it - many of the people in power are so far removed from what it is like for the struggling actor, they can't represent a majority of their members.  The East and West coasts are kept in the dark from what each other is experiencing - so there goes the 'united' argument. Hell, we New Yorkers' would love to have the 99 seat code! We're forming a bi-coastal union, in spite of our Union.  These issues should be on the front page of the Equity website - NOT fluff like "“Magical” Bahiyah Hibah is honored with Equity’s Gypsy Robe" and "Celebrating ... Tyne Daly." That's swell, but far from pressing matters.

Almost no one votes in these elections, it's determined by a small handful of votes. WE CAN, AS A UNITED LITTLE THEATRE, CHANGE THE COURSE OF THE THEATRE! WE MUST!!

We, on both coasts, have offered to help change these codes for years now. We've volunteered our time and brainstormed for free (We'll send AEA a bill for the thousands of hrs at minimum wage.) We've gotten no where. We are sick of waiting for Godot, Lefty and Little Sheeba to arrive - we DEMAND change now. Candidates - now is the time to step up.

Otherwise, I see a coast to coast card burning party. Work WITH us, not against us.

The Theatre is bigger than Broadway, AEA, you or me.

ps. I've emailed over 70 professional, small companies and individuals this week asking them to get behind us. Few jumped on board, no one said 'no.' The main response is good luck, they agree but they're too AFRAID of being blacklisted. Honestly, I am too, but I'm doing what I feel is right. We should NOT ever be afraid of our union.


Friday, March 13, 2015

We Elect the Next Union President

As founders of the Facebook page "NY ACTORS STANDING IN SOLIDARITY TO UPHOLD THE LA 99 SEAT PLAN," we're overwhelmed to have over 400 supporters in less than 12 hrs.  As the 99 Seat (LA) or Showcase (NY) producers/actors/etc, now is the only time we have any clout. We don't have the fat wallets of the Broadway producers or tiered tour producers who can pay for a dozen exemptions.  We make theatre TO MAKE THEATRE. No one gets rich- we do it out of love, to train, to make the world a better place, etc. Or as at my AEA Orientation, when asked about any concerns of being an Equity member, the moderator laughed and prodded everyone in the room to laugh at me, and wrote it on the dry erase board as 'artistic theater'.  ISN'T THAT THE WHOLE POINT?

Maybe we need two theatre unions. The Disney theatre and the art theatre.  (I'm not dismissing their work, it's just not what WE do.)  What AEA is trying to do in LA is disgusting.  It will KILL the struggling theatre scene there. In this day and age of social media, if a producer is a jerk, word will spread immediately.  Besides, AEA requires producers to submit their final budgets, and I'd expect 99.9% of them are big losses. That's sadly the state of the theatre (and only partially AEA's fault -$18 top ticket price, really???).  If a producer is making huge profits, then they need to investigate them, not punish all theatres and cause us to lose even more money.  As an AEA member and a producer, I've lost money I cannot afford to lose to bring great theatre the stage.  I have thousands on my credit card to cover the gaps in funding. I'm not asking for praise or thanks. I'm no martyr. I did it freely and without regret. I BELIEVE THE THEATRE IS BIGGER THAN ANY ONE OF US.

We've recently put out a survey asking LA and NY actors (separately) WHY they do these small theatre projects. Full stats will be available once we collect more info - but an overwhelming amount have already said that they've gotten other PAID work, great reviews, free training, signed with agents, etc from this rewarding work.  There's not always big paying work out there, and to those of us who do the work for the right reasons, we'd likely do it even if it cost us.  It means that much to us.

As the most widely produced code out there, the Showcase and 99 Seat Code have one rare trait, despite our lack of money, WE CAN CHANGE THE ELECTIONS SINGLEHANDEDLY. It's time for us to pressure the candidates, and the changes to the LA 99 seat plan is the first warning sign they DO NOT GET IT. As a painter, if I want to paint - I PAINT. I don't have to ask permission, and painting is not a hobby. I believe in a union but one that must understand the needs of its members.

We've posted on all 3 Presidential Candidate's Official "Facebook Pages" asking them for their stance on the code - The Awful 99 Seat Proposal AND the 33 year old NY Showcase.

This is a pivotal point for the theatre. How can we compete with digital media? Yet, there's never been a time when actual human connection is MORE needed.  While NY AEA says the LA plan won't ever happen here, I don't believe it.  The NY Showcase is 33 years out of date. (And we wonder what happened to the Golden Age of American Theatre!) This influences us all.  Theatre isn't a money making business - but it can be rewarding beyond any monetary standards.

We are artists. That doesn't mean we don't want or deserve to be compensated, but look at history. What greats were??  Don't believe me, believe Brando: