I've yet to read the comments myself, but we all appreciate Nick taking the time to respond. Many thanks!
Dear Allie, Colin et alia,
Both Larry and Kate have beaten
me to the punch on these questions, and they have carried off most of
the prizes and tipped hats for their articulate answers, but I am happy
to add a few points of my own.
Equity has done a promotional campaign “Ask if it’s Equity/Ask if it’s
really Broadway,” (As if Broadway equals brilliance!) regarding the
non-union tours, it’s equal to trying to plug the hole in the boat after
Equity allowed it to start sinking. On the same note, many union
actors/SMs claim the lowest tier Union tours are now beneath the
non-union standards. What are your comments?
misrepresentation to say SET-Agreement tours are beneath non-union
standards and here's why: the Short Engagement Touring Agreement
provides for work rules, travel rules, pension credits, health payments,
and other worker protections that are nowhere to be found in a
non-Equity job. Also, the SET Agreement and the Tiers of the Production
Contract provide for a back-end profit participation that in some cases
(Newsies, Les Miserables) brings the minimum salaries above Production
Contract minimum. That said, one of the difficult decisions in creating
these contracts, particularly the SET Agreement, was where to draw the
line on compensation . As Kate pointed out in one of her comments, $550
per week plus per diem may seem like an insult to a NYC member used to
making Production contract money but it may seem like a fabulous
opportunity to a member in Seattle or Chicago or Minneapolis.
Equity deserves a great deal of credit for seeing the handwriting on
the Touring wall and creating the Tiers, which have brought the vast
majority of the one-week touring market back into the Equity fold. And
given that it is the local presenters (with whom we have no bargaining
relationship and therefor no leverage) who determine the guarantee our
bargaining partner the producer will receive -- which determines what
level tier or SET agreement the contract is and therefore how much the
minimum will be, Equity deserves even more credit for coming up with a
strategy (telling subscribers and patrons to "ask if it's Equity") to
put some pressure on the presenters to choose the Equity tours marketed
by our bargaining partners rather than the cheaper non-Equity tours.
nobody is saying that Broadway equals brilliance (though I have seen
some fantastic work on Broadway this season.) The campaign is about the
quality of the contract -- union protections, benefits, work rules --
not the quality of the work.
Though the Union was
formed to protect its members, what, if any, responsibility does the
Union have in serving, nurturing, promoting the theatre? Without IT,
we’d all be jobless.
I refer you to the Preamble to the
AEA Constitution. "We hereby constitute ourselves a voluntary
Association to advance, promote, foster, and benefit all those connected
with the art of the theatre and particularly the profession of acting
and the conditions of persons engaged therein; to protect and secure the
rights of actors; to inform them as to their legal rights and remedies;
to advise and assist them in obtaining employment and proper
compensation therefor." That is our mission. I take it seriously.
at the meet and greet for the play I am doing at the Long Wharf, I
buttonholed the theater's chairman of the board and talked to him about
board development and the need to find new board members and new sources
of funding as local banks and utilities are subsumed into megabanks and
conglomerates. I make it my personal mission to attempt to improve the
financial health of every theater organization I encounter. Why? Not
just because I love Theatre, but because a healthier theatre can hire
more actors and pay them more.
That's why I wish those who
cajoled the head of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Chair of
the California Assembly's "Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism &
Internet Media" committee and the Entertinment committee of the Valley
Industry & Commerce Association to issue statements opposing
Equity's efforts to change 99 Seat Theatre had instead used those
lobbying efforts to convince those worthies to create some laws and
regulations that would actually support Theater: rent subsidies,
allocation of sales tax dollars, etc. etc.
you think the change to the 99-seat plan, as it currently exists, will
help/hurt the LA Theatre and the theatre community as a whole?
This question, if I understand it correctly, needs a six-month answer.
I will try to be succinct. The current Equity proposals have
frequently been described as "one size fits all," but there are three
separate categories: the Self-Produced option, the Membership Company
rule, and the 99 Seat Theatre Agreement, which is basically the current
Plan with wages for rehearsal and performance instead of just a stipend
for performance. In fact, the current 99 Seat Theatre Plan is actually
"one size fits all:" whether you are a hole-in-the-wall artist
collective or a well-established theatrical producing entity, you all
get to take advantage of the same sweetheart deal of no rehearsal pay,
modest performance stipends and up to 80 performances. That sweetheart
deal is very supportive of the member who has a hankering to put on a
show with some pals but serves as a powerful disincentive for an
established producer to use a theater of more than 99 seats or to put
actors on contract. The current Equity proposals are, in my opinion, an
improvement over the current 99 Seat Theatre Plan as they stand. But I
have heard lots and lots of suggestions for changing/improving the
Equity proposals, and I firmly believe that some of those will be
adopted next week in Council. Should significant changes be made to the
99 Seat Theatre Plan such that the Plan is no longer available to the
members, the union will be free to meet with producers, theatre
companies, producer-members, etc. directly rather than going through the
Review Committee. The union will then have the power to tweak, revise,
expand, improve the 99 Seat Theatre Agreement and the internal
I absolutely believe that the future of Theatre in LA will be better and brighter.
is your take on the methods Equity is using, including the Anti-99
phone bank, to confuse its membership during the 99 Seat voting process?
(Matter of fact, this includes the lies in the phone bank towards Blank
Theatre, the tone of many of the councilors, McColl's use of double
speak and obfuscation, the incredibly insidious change in mid-stream
saying yes means you want change and after you vote yes THEN they'll
change the proposals, it goes on and on, and the behavior has seriously
eroded the legitimacy of Equity in this town. Examples here: http://losangeles.bitter-lemons.com/?s=actors+equity+99+seat&x=30&y=7#sthash.Nxu70Os7.dpbs
banks are a get-out-the-vote tool. Your elected leaders voted
overwhelmingly in favor of the current proposals, so those folks manning
the phone banks represented the union's position. (And let's drop
"anti-99" as well as "anti-union.")
As to the Blank Theatre, I
have no idea what their rent situation is, so I will accept their
disclaimer. Regarding their statement that the reason they have not
fulfilled their avowed (since 1990) intent to become a LORT theatre is
solely the 2008 recession and not the financial advantage of the 99 Seat
Theatre Plan, that seems disingenuous. Dozens and dozens of theatres
across the country have fought through the financial setbacks of
2008-2009 to come onto Equity contract.
As to the tone of
my fellow councillors, maybe the truly surprising part is how civil
they generally have been. There has been a lot of invective, outrage
and unbridled passion flowing into our e-mail inboxes. (We have also
received a number of calm, rational, and genteel notes asking me to vote
"No" and thanking me for my service.) Actors, perhaps by definition,
have easy access to their emotions; there have been lots of rude things
said on both sides.
For myself, I have always seen though the
language to the passion and commitment to LA Theatre and to a cherished
method of exercising one's craft. I have seen the fear and the anxiety
that those cherished opportunities would be destroyed. That is what I
have always responded to.
As to Mary McColl, I have spent four
years working by her side, and I tell you she is simply the best. You
want her in your foxhole. You want her on your negotiating team. You
want her as your Executive Director. Rather than being obfuscatory, she
is a remarkable straight-shooter. I back her all the way.
not fond of the idea of promoting a Yes vote as a vote for "change in
general" because both the Vote Yes for Any Sort of Change and the Vote
No if you want Change But Not This Change have muddied the waters.
LA 99 seat code ‘VOTE FOR A CHANGE” says it’s for any change, whatever
the change is will be decided later. While both coasts want change to
the 99 Seat, we don’t want to write a blank check that allows for
someone to fill in the blanks later. IF the proposed 99 change passes,
WILL members get to vote on those specific changes later?
check is far from blank. The shy, bashful LA County members have
managed to be surprisingly articulate and forthcoming in what they want
and don't want in a theatrical agreement and in their theatrical
opportunities. "Both coasts want change to the 99 Seat," you say.
Good, because I believe change is coming. It will reflect the survey of
the LA members, it will reflect the focus groups, it will reflect the
Town Hall Meeting and the Special Membership Meeting, it will reflect
the dozens and dozens of e-mails we have received. And no, members will
not get to vote on those specific changes -- just as members do not
currently get to vote on the HAT contract or the SPT contract.
has it taken Equity 25 years to suddenly realize that they are
"breaking federal labor laws" in regard to the 99-seat code? Why didn't
they bring this minimum wage ‘issue’ up back in the 80's? (Respectfully,
please don’t say, “We’re not lawyers.” ANY Union has plenty of lawyers,
and plenty of its members are lawyers who say this is absolutely
Equity is not breaking federal Labor laws
because we are not the Employer. Although I agree with the Federal
government that employers should pay employees at least minimum wage,
the impetus for this change came from members who approached us last
year about their wish to be compensated for their work.
is Equity trying to quickly pass the 99 seat change instead of sitting
down with the members who have been making theatre to get actual factual
evidence on the business of theatre in L.A? Why not use the resources
and firsthand knowledge of the AEA actor-producers who have been making
great work for the last twenty five years?"
solicited input from members and producer-members for months now. The
current 99 Seat Plan stipulation that Equity must deal only with the
Review Committee has limited Equity's ability to deal with and be
responsive to individual producer-members.
Where do you
stand on the statement, AEA needs to “protect” actors from themselves?
To the adult actors, that seems condescending. Pacino has publicly says
he does ‘shit’ movies so he can return to the poor paying work that
really matters. IF there are sleazy small time producers, making big
bucks – why don’t you stop then, instead of everyone??
think the union does indeed have an interest in protecting actors from
undervaluing their work. Al Pacino doesn't need to make money from his
stage work; not all actors are so fortunate. A young actor offered a
Broadway show might well be happy to do that show for $50 a week in
order to get the exposure; that would not be good for other actors.
uproar to the 25 year old 99-seat plan has been tremendous, and
rightfully so. The NY version, The Showcase Code, is 33 years old. When
established in 1982, the Showcase code clearly made no exceptions for
social media, the internet, diminishing rental space, etc. – It also
established the top ticket price at $15. JUST adjusted for inflation,
that is the equivalent of $36.49 in 2015 USD. The current top ticket
price is $18 – less than some Manhattan movie tickets. What changes do
you propose for the Showcase code?
I am not currently
proposing any changes to the Showcase Code, but I think the time has
come to remove the top ticket price limitation.
members of the AEA council have repeatedly referred to Equity members
who oppose the proposal as "anti-union" and suggested if they don't
support it, they should quit. Do you support a union member's right to
express disagreement about matters of policy? What are Councilors'
responsibilities regarding how they treat fellow union members?
totally support members' rights (and councilors' rights) to express
disagreement, both as a free speech issue and because I find dialectic
to be an effective way to develop strong policy. I think "anti-union"
is a mistaken and unfortunate characterization. (I also disagree with
the locution "Pro-99" -- a distressing echo of "pro-life" -- as if
Equity leadership were "anti-99.") We are indeed all on the same side:
the side of Theater, the side of improving and increasind opportunities
for actors and stage managers. We just disagree about our methods.
Why, if at all, is the 99 seat/Showcase codes important to you?
I have consistently written (I refer you to my Equity News column
"Work, Art, and 'Work'"), I acknowledge the value of Theater as a source
of Creativity and Community and Career Opportunities, and in my own
life, those have frequently trumped Cash as a reason to do a particular
As all theatres need to report final
statistics, why can you tell us what percentage of 99 seat/Showcase code
theatres made a profit in 2014? This has to be an easy number to get –
yet no one seems to know it.
Sadly, I am sure that number
is zero. I assume that most 99 Seat Theatres are not-for-profits, and
by their very definition they do not (and legally cannot) make a profit.
Even more sadly, Theater in general does not make a profit. Box office
receipts usually cover only about 50% of a theater's expenses.
Theaters, even the big-name theaters, have to scrounge for donors and
patrons and grants and corporate support to make ends meet.
The theatre should never be just an employer. It’s not Starbucks. Where do you think the theatre fits in to today’s culture?
love Theater. I love seeing Theater, and I am a cheerleader and a
champion for the shows I see. I love doing Theater because it gives me
the chance to work on more interesting roles than the stuff I do on TV
and film and because when you do a play or a musical you become a family
and I love my theatrical families. (I refer you to my Equity News
column "Why I Do Theatre" and the piece on my Facebook candidacy page
"The Case for Analog Entertainment in a Digital World.")
members of council have repeatedly referred to Equity members who
oppose the proposal as "anti-union" and suggested if they don't support
it, they should quit. (Very Boss Fatt of them!) Do you support a union
member's right to express disagreement about matters of policy? What are
Councilors' responsibilities regarding how they treat fellow union
members? IF NO ONE is running against them, what are our rights as
members to remove them from office?
If the non-star members do
make a mass exodus from Equity after the 99 seat vote – and it is a
reality on both coasts, what are your thoughts. NO ONE wants to leave,
but it may be the only choice that it left?
It is the
"non-star members" for whom the union exists. In 1913, stars like Mary
Madden Fiske and Francis Wilson didn't need a union to achieve fair
treatment from employers. If members disagree with Council's decision
on 99 Seat Theatre -- whatever that decision may turn out to be (and I
truly have no more idea of what Council will decide than I do of who
will win the 2015 World Series) -- then I strongly suggest that members
continue to make their case to their elected officers and councilors
about how to improve Theatre in LA. Work from within to effect change.
Clurman, one of the greats of the American Theatre – talked about
artists versus the ‘employees’ sitting in sludge and just wanting a job,
or as he stated were “more frequently known as an Actor Equity Member.
How, if at all, has that changed in 60 years?
and stage managers exist simultaneously as artists and as
small-businesspeople. We all want to do good work -- Art when possible
-- and we all want to make some money doing it. I have never sat in
sludge (whatever that metaphor might mean) but sometimes I just want a
job and I'm not too fussy about the Art part. The union exists to
ensure that actors and stage managers get fair treatment and make some
money; the union doesn't enter into the subjective world of Art -- good
art vs. bad art vs. non-art.
150 times the companies that agree with us, cheer us, and tell us, we
are going to get blackballed as we asked for a better Union! If we were
anti-union, we would have left and saved ourselves the hassle. What do
you feel about this huge majority of people who are AFRAID of their
No one at Equity -- staff or councillors -- is
going to blackball anyone. (What would I blackball you from? The LORT
committee?) I agree that some people are afraid, but I certainly hope
they aren't afraid of the elected representatives and the staff that are
here to serve them. I think the fear is members' concern about the
possibility of losing valued opportunities to practice their craft. I
share that concern and as I work to create theatre that values actors, i
am also working to maintain if not increase opportunities for our
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Monday, April 13, 2015
One of the major issues on the small theatres, the 99 seat in LA and Showcase code in NY, has been that producers are USING actors to get rich while not paying them. Per the NY Showcase, NO ONE on any show can make more money than the union actors, so there goes the fat cat illusions. I’ve repeatedly asked for statistics, which Equity can whip out when it benefits them, but NO ONE can give me 99 seat/Showcase code examples or statistics showing where there are examples of producers/directors getting rich off the backs of actors. It’s like a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
How many shows transfer to code now than they did in say, 1989? These are important numbers? Did any of the 2014 900+ NY showcases break even and transfer? AEA CAN PROVIDE THESE STATISTIC - THEY JUST WON'T!
The only answer I get it that 'most of these theatres are 501(c)(3)’s – (again, statistics please) and that they can’t expect to make money as they are charities'. (Yet, whenever I’ve referred to our company as a charity, I get told we’ charge tiny admission’ and therefore are not by Union Standards.) While legally unsound – (“All candidates proudly proclaim they are NOT lawyers” but if you are running for office – you wouldn’t consult one???) museums, memorials, nursing homes are non-profits, yet they charge fees in order to continue. Why shouldn’t we be allowed the CHANCE to continue? And yes, in RARE cases, 501c3 directors, secretaries, etc receive a salary. They are not working on just one show but have full time, year round duties (And I’d bet that almost all of us who do these full time jobs, get NO payment. As far as 501c3 staff, they can legally make something like 20-30% of what they would doing the same job in the commercial market. IF they’re making more, let the IRS get them.THE STATISTICS ARE OUT THERE – IF A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DOESN’T HAVE ACCESS TO THEM, THEN WHO DOES?
Posted by Lefty Costello at 1:50 PM
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Thanks Kate for your time!!
As a preamble to addressing each issue directly, I would like to state two things. First, we’ve all been asked not to respond “like a politician,” which is a confusing request to me. Does this mean “don’t be diplomatic?” I don’t work that way. Does it mean “say what you think, regardless of the consequences?” Because I rarely, if ever, do that in my own life, let alone when asking 50,000 members to elect me as their advocate. I typically strive for a balance between straight talk and consideration that there are lots of opinions that differ from mine. So, that. Second, I don’t agree with the premises of all of these questions. In some cases, I strongly disagree; in a couple of cases, I would classify the questions as outright combative. However, I’ve learned (over a lot of years of tangling with communication on difficult or radioactive topics) that it’s generally better to meet the questioner where they are, rather than where you wish they were. So in that spirit, here are my thoughts.
While Equity has done a promotional campaign “Ask if it’s Equity/Ask if it’s really Broadway,” (As if Broadway equals brilliance!) regarding the non-union tours, it’s equal to trying to plug the hole in the boat after Equity allowed it to start sinking. On the same note, many union actors/SMs claim the lowest tier Union tours are now beneath the non-union standards. What are your comments?
1. Equity has heard a lot about tiers. There was something of a member revolt last year (largely young members, as it happens; the very actors and stage managers who some assume would be thrilled to accept these contracts) about the wages and especially about how the finances of the road have changed. I attended the Town Hall that these members successfully demanded, and it was packed. Given a sophisticated and intelligent explanation of how touring itself has changed (guarantees, trucking costs, etc) it seemed to me that most of those members left that room far more satisfied than when they entered it. This tells me two things: first, we have a lot of smart members who deserve nuanced information. And second: if we don’t deliver that information in ways that gives them credit for more than being able to stand on line for orange juice commercial auditions (no offense, orange juice; you are delicious), our members start to doubt the sincerity and transparency of their own union. And that helps absolutely no one.
I know that there are some who take these jobs just to get health weeks. But also, there are members around the country who are comparing these contracts to the lower-paying contracts they are currently working, and who might actually be enthusiastic about some of this work. If you live in New York and your gold standard is the Production
Contract, then sure, the numbers are lower. But if you live in many other places I’ve worked, and you could make your whole living on a tour--instead of working a full-time day job and then rehearsing all night--you might welcome that. IMO, this speaks to a larger issue: when everything is viewed through the lens of NYC, it does a disservice to many, many other people. And fixes like online EPA signups, which I’ve been talking about since I took office six years ago (and is a conversation I know continued after I left office three years ago) could make it much easier for members in other cities. I remember having an early-stage meeting with Brian Myers Cooper and a (now former) staff member at AEA, in which we were told that online signups would be disastrous. And I walked out of the meeting thinking “well, not if you live in DC, or Philly, or Boston, and you could actually get a reasonable appointment instead of taking a 3 a.m. bus.”
Finally, one more thing that will underline probably everything I say in this document: members must participate. In a matter of weeks, Equity will be asking for thoughts about these exact contracts, so that the team has that information and can use it in the upcoming negotiation of Production and Touring (including SETA) later this year. If your biggest beef with the Union is that you want better touring agreements, then for God’s sake, participate in that discussion. Because it enables your fellow members to walk into that room and have more leverage on your behalf.
Though the Union was formed to protect its members, what, if any, responsibility does the Union have in serving, nurturing, promoting the theatre? Without IT, we’d all be jobless.
2. Well, sure. And AEA does engage in arts advocacy, some lobbying and a fair amount of promotion of the arts in general, although our Constitution prohibits the endorsement of political candidates. For the record: there is no part of me that believes that AEA has any interest or investment in killing theater. Quite the contrary. And also for the record: as an actor, I have been in a lot of rooms with a lot of producers who have told me that Equity was trying to destroy them. And it was usually because they had asked for a concession that they had not been given. As a Councillor and then as an Officer, I typically view minimum agreements as a baseline. If a producer wants to go below the minimum (double the permitted unpaid layoff to accommodate a star’s touring schedule, for example, or to revive a previously-produced Showcase before the rules allow that to be done, for another), I have to think long and hard about that. And weigh the potential precedent we set by allowing those things, and how those “exceptions” can quickly become a new standard that everyone feels they can ask for, and that a committee then feels compelled to grant. I wish everybody would join a committee--even briefly, even as an observer--so that they understand what a slippery slope this can be.
Equity exists to act in service of its members. Ideally, that includes the greater theatrical community as well. But I do not believe AEA works best as a nanny state. I believe it works best when we, as members, communicate as peers. And again, the more educated our members become, and the more they participate, the more likely we all are to be able to look at the big picture together.
HOW do you think the change to the 99-seat plan, as it currently exists, will help/hurt the LA Theatre and the theatre community as a whole?
3. Well, I think it’s a mess, for several reasons. First, I believe that minimum wage is a fine thing to aspire to. But what theatre company on earth wouldn’t need some time to adjust to such a significant budget change? Trying to roll it out immediately, if it does pass, could be a disaster. And even if the Union is okay with some attrition in the service of the minimum wage package, this would mostly just do a fabulous job of reinforcing the “us vs them” mentality that is so destructive.
Additionally, having served on a few negotiating teams when I was a Councillor/Officer, the presence of volunteer labor in one market has the power to erode contracts elsewhere. It’s hard to sit across the table from employers--in San Diego or San Francisco or even LA County--and basically say “ignore what’s happening in Los Angeles; you need to pay actors more” when those theatres are also struggling to keep the lights on. There are some very, very wealthy LORT theatres, to be sure. There are also many who have been surviving on a wing and a prayer since the crash in 2008 dried up their credit lines. So when members hear “it’s a national union,” it doesn’t mean “your local issues don’t matter.” It means something closer to “we have to examine how your local issues may affect SPT in Illinois or LOA in Florida, in ways that you don’t intend and certainly would not wish upon those actors.” I understand that pro99 is fighting for their community’s right to use their free time to create art. But this seemingly local issue is just not that simple, when considered against the whole. And I should emphasize here that I do not have any kind of vote here, as I’m neither a current Councillor/Officer nor an LA County member. But that’s what springs to mind for me.
Finally, the communication has been dreadful. We’ve got Councillors--who are not even authorized to speak on behalf of the Union--unofficially trying to explain the situation on social media. We’ve got paid-up members who say that they’re not getting referendum ballots. Both “sides” (and again, I hate using that word, because we are ostensibly on the same side) feel victimized and criticized and defensive, which has created so much anger. And if this was the only example of the negative consequences of poor communication strategy, I could live with that. But it’s not. There’s a blowup almost every year, like clockwork. And I’m talking “major national blowup”, not “tempest in a teapot”. Equity needs to recognize that despite its intentions, there are plenty of members who apparently don’t understand what is being said, and why.
What is your take on the methods Equity is using, including the Anti-99 phone bank, to confuse its membership during the 99 Seat voting process? (Matter of fact, this includes the lies in the phone bank towards Blank Theatre, the tone of many of the councilors, McColl's use of double speak and obfuscation, the incredibly insidious change in mid-stream saying yes means you want change and after you vote yes THEN they'll change the proposals, it goes on and on, and the behavior has seriously eroded the legitimacy of Equity in this town. Examples here: http://losangeles.bitter-lemons.com/?s=actors+equity+99+seat&x=30&y=7#sthash.Nxu70Os7.dpbs
4. Okay, here’s where these questions veer into the land of not-objective, but okay. I get it. I can’t characterize all the tactics that Equity is reportedly using, because--for example--I’ve asked for a transcript or a legal audio recording of an offensive phone bank call and never received one. Deductive reasoning tells me that the Union is probably advocating for its official position, which is understandable.
As for the Blank, again, I’m only hearing what was actually said through a filter (full disclosure: I did a show at the Blank several years ago, and have spoken to Daniel Henning more than once about this whole 99-seat episode). Just for kicks, I went onto Guidestar and checked out the Blank’s most recent 990, which is a good way of dispelling misinformation...but I see that most of the figures regarding rent and other expense specifics are blacked out. That’s legal, of course, but I think that the Blank could shoot any perjorative “theories” out of the sky if they made their numbers public without requiring in-person inquiries. In the same vein, why not post a copy of board minutes, or some other document, reflecting a discussion about converting to contract? If they intended to move in that direction before the 2008 crash sent their plans up in smoke, this would easily reinforce their argument. It’s hard to argue with a good-faith paper trail.
Finally, I’ve been on record several times stating that the “YES vote means that you vaguely support change, and pay no attention to the proposals behind the curtain” message is preposterous. Some of this, I think, is Council-speak for the process, particularly the timing of when changes to the proposals are permitted, based on the terms of the settlement agreement. But for the many thousands of members who don’t walk around with the Constitution, By-Laws, and Robert’s Rules of Order in their pockets, it can certainly read as obfuscation. Which is why I favor more plain-English communication between our Union and its members.
The LA 99 seat code ‘VOTE FOR A CHANGE” says it’s for any change, whatever the change is will be decided later. While both coasts want change to the 99 Seat, we don’t want to write a blank check that allows for someone to fill in the blanks later. IF the proposed 99 change passes, WILL members get to vote on those specific changes later?
5. I’m confused. “Vote For A Change?” If this refers to the concept that members are not voting on specific proposals, but rather on the general idea that change needs to happen (and I think that’s what’s being asked), see above. As I understand it, the advisory vote is to be taken into account by the Council during its debate in a couple weeks, at which time the existing proposals can be revised. The settlement agreement, as I read it, does not require a member vote on amendments. But that would be a question for a labor lawyer, not an actor.
Why has it taken Equity 25 years to suddenly realize that they are "breaking federal labor laws" in regard to the 99-seat code? Why didn't they bring this minimum wage ‘issue’ up back in the 80's? (Respectfully, please don’t say, “We’re not lawyers.” ANY Union has plenty of lawyers, and plenty of its members are lawyers who say this is absolutely untrue.)
6. But see, I have to say that I’m not a lawyer. Because I’m not. I have good reading comprehension skills...but there are things like case law and legal precedent that I have no clue about. To the larger point, of course, we actually don’t need to be lawyers--because our Union hires lawyers for the express purpose of interpreting our contracts and the law. And regarding the labor law issue, there are obviously federal laws, and state laws, both of which govern employment and both of which must be complied with. To assume that those laws haven’t changed in 25 years is the real problem embedded in this question. So again: a labor lawyer would be able to point to the exact moment at which attorneys for the Union believe that the existing 99-seat plan--or any other agreement, code, or contract--became noncompliant with state and/or federal law. And here, again, is where I personally believe the Union could have communicated better; as problematic as it may seem to have thousands of members trying to interpret legislation, I would have nonetheless pushed Equity to cite the relevant clause(s) or statute(s) right from the very beginning. When in doubt, choose transparency.
Why is Equity trying to quickly pass the 99 seat change instead of sitting down with the members who have been making theatre to get actual factual evidence on the business of theatre in L.A? Why not use the resources and firsthand knowledge of the AEA actor-producers who have been making great work for the last twenty five years?"
7. Everything that I have read and discussed has indicated that AEA is closely following the terms laid out in the original settlement agreement regarding any changes to the 99-seat plan. I would speculate that the Union is adhering strictly to those guidelines in order to protect against legal exposure. I do know, however, that a number of Councillors have had private conversations and small meetings with LA members that they characterize as very productive and informative...and the Councillors are the ones who will decide what gets finalized. I know time is short, but if member-producers would still like to speak personally to Councillors before April 21st, I believe it’s very possible to make this happen.
Where do you stand on the statement, AEA needs to “protect” actors from themselves? To the adult actors, that seems condescending. Pacino has publicly says he does ‘shit’ movies so he can return to the poor paying work that really matters. IF there are sleazy small time producers, making big bucks – why don’t you stop then, instead of everyone??
8. That’s a couple different questions in one, so let me answer the easy one first. Any sleazy small-time producers exploiting actors should absolutely be dealt with. And if you personally know of any, contact me directly. I will protect your confidentiality, and if I am not elected, I will pass your concerns onto an elected official who will talk to you. And if it rises to the level of being handed to staff--for what would actually constitute enforcement--then we’ll go ahead with that to the best of everyone’s ability. One caveat: as I understand it, the current 99-seat plan is very, very difficult to enforce re: producers because, technically, it is an agreement between AEA and its own members, not AEA and producers.
As to protecting actors from ourselves, I’m of two minds. The first is that there have been times, in hindsight, that I’m glad the Union stepped in on my behalf. In one instance, AEA did not allow me to sign a contract for my first major (high-paying) role, because I had no idea that it contained an illegal clause allowing the producers to renew me without my consent. I would have happily signed that and never known the difference--but allowing that to stand could set precedent for other actors. AEA went all the way to (successful) arbitration with that on my behalf, while I was working under the other, legal, terms of the rider. And while the producers made veiled threats to me personally and piled on the guilt, my Union had my back. Quite frankly, there have been times when I would have worked neck-deep in quicksand because I loved the project so much...but if I do that, others will also be expected to. So I’m glad that Equity sets a baseline for professional actors and stage managers, because otherwise I would have given away the farm on numerous occasions. And when you’re in a Union, it’s important to recognize that you’re not just talking about your own farm. All the other farms are potentially affected as well.
HOWEVER. The line between “protecting me” and “telling me what to do” is a pretty bold one. I joined the Union--quite simply--to represent my professional interests. I pay dues in order to work under the protection of AEA contracts. I expect Equity to step in if the provisions we’ve bargained for, over the course of a century, are being violated or disregarded. This is not to say, however, that I have any interest in Union-as-nanny-state. The question of how much freedom we are willing to give up in the interest of security is certainly a common one, and has different answers for different people. But that’s mine.
Oh, and obviously, Al Pacino is a tremendous actor…but it’s hard for me to compare my career to his, in terms of how we respectively make decisions.
The uproar to the 25 year old 99-seat plan has been tremendous, and rightfully so. The NY version, The Showcase Code, is 33 years old. When established in 1982, the Showcase code clearly made no exceptions for social media, the internet, diminishing rental space, etc. – It also established the top ticket price at $15. JUST adjusted for inflation, that is the equivalent of $36.49 in 2015 USD. The current top ticket price is $18 – less than some Manhattan movie tickets. What changes do you propose for the Showcase code?
9. I’ve had this discussion several times, both publicly and privately, over the past few weeks. My first thought is that it’s a bit of a zero-sum game to conflate 99-seat and Showcase, unless one is trying to gain NYC support for what’s going on in LA. Which, I suppose, is fair game.
Here are the things I like about Showcase: fewer performances before converting to contract, over a shorter period of time. A true “showcase” for actors to be seen, without the perception that it’s a real run. My showcase work has been some of my absolute favorite, and in at least one instance, provided me the opportunity to do a role I almost certainly would not have been cast in otherwise. If it was Broadway, or even off-Broadway, it would have gone to a TV or film star.
I absolutely, positively agree that the ticket prices should be examined, and the inflation argument is a compelling reason to do so (although based on the regularity of this assertion, somebody out there goes to way nicer movie theatres than I do). I would support the caps being removed altogether. That said, I don’t know if there are any existing proposed modifications to Showcase, because I’m not currently a Councillor or Officer. Sidebar: when I served on the off-off-Bway committee, which regulates Showcase, I was surprised by how many concession requests we got to a pretty straightforward set of rules. Fundamentally, I don’t know that Showcase will ever be a moneymaker (nor do I think there are many people who expect it to be), but I do believe that, given the structure and guidelines as they currently exist, it has inherent value. Frankly, I think it would have solved a lot of problems if the existing Showcase code was the model for beginning the revision of 99-seat. And while we’re at it, let’s look at the Members Project Code so that we have some parity and consistency across contracts, while still accounting for the uniqueness of individual regions/liaison cities.
Several members of the AEA council have repeatedly referred to Equity members who oppose the proposal as "anti-union" and suggested if they don't support it, they should quit. Do you support a union member's right to express disagreement about matters of policy? What are Councilors' responsibilities regarding how they treat fellow union members? Why, if at all, is the 99 seat/Showcase codes important to you?
10. I would like to be very, very clear on this point. It is my firm belief that any one of our members who chooses to participate is pro-Union. It is my even firmer belief that our Union is well-served by members who continue to be involved when the issue they are most passionate about is resolved. It’s easy to get angry about one thing; I’ve done it. What’s harder, in the midst of this crazy, cobbled-together business model, is making time to attend a committee meeting once a month. But it is incredibly important, and that participation directly affects our day-to-day lives as actors.
Also, there’s this ridiculous idea that we all need to work toward consensus, all the time. And to this, I simply throw my hands up and ask “WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?” I mean, come on. We are artists, every last one of us (yes, stage managers, you too!) Consensus is pleasant, but so much of our identity as artists is that unique passion. I would argue that the person who tells us to check our passion at the door is delusional. And more to the point, I don’t understand why we’re supposed to tuck away the very thing that makes us artists when it’s time to discuss the business of our art. We should argue. We should fight for what we believe in. We should also try very hard not to be flat-out assholes to each other. In that respect, a Union that looks quite a lot like an exciting, collaborative rehearsal room--where there are rules of the road, sure, but where we also aren’t afraid to have our say--is my ideal version of Actors Equity.
As all theatres need to report final statistics, why can you tell us what percentage of 99 seat/Showcase code theatres made a profit in 2014? This has to be an easy number to get – yet no one seems to know it.
11. Nope. I don’t have it. Maybe the current Councillors/Officers/Staff have been studying those numbers. I know that a lot of them have spent time examining tax returns. But let’s be real: “profit,” especially for a nonprofit or not-for-profit entity, is an ambiguous and fluid thing. For example, if Theater X (a true hypothetical; I’m just riffing here) operated under the 99-seat plan--which obviously provides actors a stipend, but not a proper salary or benefits--and showed zero profit for a particular calendar year, does that mean that Theater X didn’t make any money? Okay, what if Theater X paid 8 staff members? What about 20 staff members? What about all the designers and the musical director? What if it spent $50,000 renovating the space? Obviously, the people who love and work hard for Theater X would have reasons to be proud, and the attendance might improve, and the shows might be great. But as long as any nonprofit entity spends all the money it makes, it will show no profit. So looking simply at “profit,” instead of examining revenue vs expenses, does not reflect the whole picture.
The theatre should never be just an employer. It’s not Starbucks. Where do you think the theatre fits into today’s culture?
12. Lol. Is this a question? Okay:
-Of course the theatre *should* never be just an employer; I would argue that it *is* never just an employer. Especially to us. But for me to make the argument here about why theatre is more than simple commerce would be, IMHO, preaching to the converted.
-Seriously, why the hate for Starbucks? I kinda feel like there are some people who like working for Starbucks. Or making minimum wage at other jobs. Or working purely on commission, with no salary, as I do in my day job. This idea that “minimum wage” makes being an actor equivalent to “all those jobs we don’t do” seems reductive to me. And, frankly, a bit snobby. I spent time talking to a young flight attendant the other day, and I’ll tell you what I told her: I could never, ever in a million years do what she does. I don’t have the patience or the customer service skills to handle people at any stage of air travel, let alone with a smile on my face. I’m sure that there have been many times when I’ve made a lot more money than she has...but I have an infinite amount of respect for her and her coworkers. It’s the same reason I respect people working at Starbucks; as simple as it may seem to some, I could easily have stress dreams about trying to get the foam right and make the caramel sauce look pretty while customers are barking at me. We all have different skills; it doesn’t have to become a value judgment based on take-home pay.
-If there’s one thing I think we can agree on above all else, it’s that theatre is an extremely important part of any culture, regardless of the era. That said, it’s also a business. Not commerce at the expense of art, hopefully...but art that recognizes commerce as part of survival. This is not new, of course. I would love to see the day when theaters don’t have to compromise on producing adventurous new work. But the truth is that, like everything else, theatre lives in a land of supply and demand. I’ve used this example before, but I think there will always be some kind of tradeoff. If you want to do a new play, you probably have to program Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams plays (neither of which, for the record, is anything to be ashamed of). If you want to put up an exciting undiscovered musical, then you may have to sell the hell out of the space with “Hello, Dolly” so you can keep the lights on. Could we advocate for more government support of the arts? Yes, and Equity does. But will it fundamentally change the short-term market, or will politicians go to the mat for arts funding? I’m not counting on it. In fact, I think that we are better off not to count on it, and then be pleasantly surprised when legislators do show up for us.
Several members of council have repeatedly referred to Equity members who oppose the proposal as"anti-union" and suggested if they don't support it, they should quit. (Very Boss Fatt of them!) Do you support a union member's right to express disagreement about matters of policy? What are Councilors' responsibilities regarding how they treat fellow union members? IF NO ONE is running against them, what are our rights as members to remove them from office?
13. See above for what I think of the whole “anti-union” thing. I can’t see myself ever advocating that members quit, although I respect their decision if they really don’t feel they’re being represented, and paying dues no longer seems like a good use of their money. And even if that’s the case, I would ask them to try getting involved with a committee first. There’s a low bar for involvement, and experiencing the process from the inside is incredibly educational. And of course members should express disagreement. The most productive way to do that, in my opinion, is to be involved in shaping the policy before it reaches fever pitch. Because when everyone’s upset and pissed off, nobody feels good about it. Finally, there is a procedure here (http://actorsequity.org/docs/about/AEA_ConstitutionBylaws.pdf, page 12) for removal of Councillors or Officers, but it’s very limited. Frankly, the easiest way to replace someone is to step up and run against them. Council seats come up every year, and Officers run every 3 years.
If the non-star members do make a mass exodus from Equity after the 99 seat vote – and it is a reality on both coasts, what are your thoughts. NO ONE wants to leave, but it may be the only choice that it left?
14. Well, if noone wants to leave, then why cede the union to people you don’t agree with? I disagree that it’s a reality in New York, at least as a mass exodus. There’s simply enough Equity work in NYC to make membership worthwhile. In LA, my fervent hope is that however the vote goes, the passion isn’t lost. It is so easy for this exact kind of engagement to simply flame out once a single issue is resolved. It is also easy for people to get discouraged and throw in the towel. I understand and respect every member’s right to make that choice. But we would just be so much better off if some of those members decided to stay involved. It’s hard to hear now, I think; I’m sure the LA membership is exhausted and ready for the whole damn thing to be over. But the people serving on Council don’t inherently have some mysterious superior value as artists--they’re just the ones who made the choice to run, and then show up to do the work. I think most of them would actually tell you that, if you asked them. Oh, and by the way, I lost the first two times I ran for Council. But I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with, so I kept plugging. And now I’ve gone from committee member to Councillor to Officer to Presidential candidate. It’s not that hard.
Harold Clurman, one of the greats of the American Theatre – talked about artists versus the ‘employees’ sitting in sludge and just wanting a job, or as he stated were “more frequently known as an Actor Equity Member. How, if at all, has that changed in 60 years?
15. Couple things: Harold Clurman was obviously an incredibly insightful man. I’ve always loved what he said about theatre’s relationship to society, and I studied at Stella Adler (which totally changed me as an actor) and am mesmerized by The Group. So: not objective. That said, I have to admit I don’t know this exact quotation, and a quick google search did not provide it. If you can give me the exact quote, I’m happy to comment. The wording here confuses me a bit, or else I’d just take a stab at it. But also, Clurman was a director, so his perspective was fundamentally different.
There are 150 times the companies that agree with us, cheer us, and tell us, we are going to get blackballed as we asked for a better Union! If we were anti-union, we would have left and saved ourselves the hassle. What do you feel about this huge majority of people who are AFRAID of their union????
16. I don’t understand the first statement, so I can’t agree or disagree. As for the rest: I think that if you were anti-union, you wouldn’t have bothered writing these questions. You would have saved about 120-ish bucks a year and a lot of hassle. And as for being afraid: just stop it. Seriously. You are the union; all of us are. So make the choice to be part of the solution.
Posted by Lefty Costello at 3:57 PM