Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Not a left/right but a left coast/right coast issue

I don't have time to delve into this as deeply as I would like, but there's an interesting labor story developing here in LA. It pits union management against people who are normally very pro-labor.

Here's a slightly edited rant on the subject by Ken Levine.
What’s the point of having a union if it goes against the overwhelming wishes of its members? That’s exactly what happened last week when Los Angeles Actors Equity members voted over 2-1 to keep things status quo in the small theater (99 seats or fewer) LA scene; to not demand they be paid minimum wage per hour for all performances and rehearsals – and the New York board completely dismissed their vote and implemented it anyway.
Why even conduct a vote if you completely ignore the results? Jesus! Elections in Iran are more legitimate.

My hope is that the LA branch breaks off from Actors Equity. Or files such a blizzard of lawsuits against the union that it completely strangles its ability to govern.

Here’s the issue: Small theaters make no money. For the most part they lose money. Everyone concerned does it for the love of theater. No one really gets paid – not actors, playwrights, directors, crews. The Whitefire Theatre in Studio City will be doing a one act play in June my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. I’m also directing it. We’re making nothing. Not $9.00 an hour. Not $.09 an hour. But we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to see our work performed. We’re also employing eight actors. That means eight actors get to work on their craft, have a nice showcase, and perhaps get discovered.

And the evening will feature three one acts. Both the others also have casts of about eight. So do the math. Twenty-four actors, all the hours of rehearsal and performances – even at $9.00 an hour that adds up pretty quickly. Especially for a production where we have to buy our own props. If this ruling had already been in effect we simply would not do the production.

And this is what’s going to happen all over town. Producers will stop staging shows, small theaters will close, actors won’t work, and everybody loses (but Actors Equity).

LA actors understand this. They make their living in TV or films or commercials. And again, they voted 2-1 to not implement new restrictions.  That's a mandate, folks.


But your union clearly doesn’t care. So what if they destroy the LA theater scene? As long as they maintain their control.

At your expense.

And by the way, I’m very pro-union. I’m a proud member of the WGA, DGA, AFTRA-SAG. I totally understand that without unions the studios and networks would pay us all less than a janitor makes in Cuba while raking in billions on the wings of our work. But no one is making money in small theaters.

So now it’s time for actors to take action. Your union is supposed to represent YOU. Actors Equity most definitely does NOT. Are you going to stand for that? Are you going to let a board with its own agenda dictate your career path? Send the message. Your vote COUNTS.

It’s bad enough actors face rejection every day, but to be rejected by its own union is, to me, intolerable. 
This is consistent with something I've noticed about bicoastal musicians I've gotten a chance to talk with over the past few years. At least for small venues, everyone makes much more money back east, particularly in NYC. Audiences just seem to be willing to pay more.

In LA, performers tend to make their money in recorded media. Live performance plays more of a supporting role, developing craft, making connections, workshopping material. The proposed rule changes probably make sense from a New York vantage point, but most LA actors don't think they make sense here.

1 comment:

  1. Is it maybe that audiences are willing to pay less due to a greater abundance of small theaters? (Competition pushing the price down.)

    I don't really know that LA has so many more small theaters than the East Coast, but it seems plausible (more actors around, etc.).