The Temple of Theatre

Theatre is an art form. But what is Art? From Wikipedia, we get “Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities …..”. fair enough, but I think it goes a little deeper.  From me you get, Art is the effort of the individual to express their innermost passions. Art can be created without any further consideration than the intent of the artist. A painter may paint, a musician may compose or sing a musical piece for no other purpose but to hear themselves. A sculptor carves out his vision and the list goes on.

As art is the expression of the artist, the underlying hope is that someone will “get it”. But when it comes to theatre, there must be a minimum of two participants, the actor and the audience. And unless you are a fan of one man/woman shows as a genre, it generally takes more than one actor.

Unlike many other art forms, Theatre is the creation is in the moment, and lives only in the memory of the audience.

Film, television and digital media use actors, and their work is captured for posterity. Those precious salient moments when actors are earnestly spilling their souls into a camera, reflects the art, however, creating an emotional moment with a focal point is not the same the spontaneous response to a moment of stage. Deep down, if you’ve ever been an actor, you know that your best work, the moments that led you to become an actor and kept you engaged long after common sense told you to find a real job, occur on a stage in front of an audience. Just as in any other pursuit that involves another person, you want to work with the best collaborators available. We all want to work with people we trust and respect. Experience builds trust and trust engenders experimentation and experimentation renders discovery.

In Los Angeles, where artistry is at a premium, and in the film and television industry, where who you work with is usually determined by others and not necessarily of your choosing, the opportunity to work on a stage is essential. For an actor to have a safe environment where they can work with those they trust to create something new, something non-commercial, something experimental, is very important.

Intimate theatre in Los Angeles is that environment. Only on a stage before a live audience does an actor really have all of the ingredients to create great art. Stage is where actors grow in their craft and thrill those that are in attendance. It’s intimate, it’s passionate, and yet it’s not hugely commercial.  The reason that tidbit is important is it means there is not a lot of money to be made in creating on stage. Someday, sometimes, maybe, but not every play created is Wicked, or Book of Mormon.

In fact, there is often so little money to be made, that the bills are not covered. And the first to sacrifice their pay are those that want the work most, actors. An Actor cannot live without acting. To not act is tantamount to not breathing.

Nearly 40 years ago, a process was started that allowed professional actors to work in intimate theatre for little or no money.  Over the years, modifications have been made, and while the current plan is less than perfect, it serves the interest of artists and audience alike.

There have always been some issues, and most recently, a small group of theatre professionals began to publicly address their discontent with how progress was being made. Rather than sitting down with any of the bodies empowered to work on honing the plan, the stage actors union came up with a proposal to be forbid it’s membersfrom workingin the current environment. Unattainable standards are being set, not by God, not by government, not by their agents and managers, but by their own union.

Actors Equity Association (AEA) is poised to take away one of the brightest jewels of the city, hell the country, LA Intimate theatre.

What will be served, is that AEA will no longer have to administer the standards it established for working conditions in theatres for which they receive no monies. You see, when actors work for a small stipend, or for nothing, there are no fees that can be collected on their earnings. There is no financial gain for AEA to be had. There is only paperwork, and who wants to do that just because it creates art?

Whatever the motivation, a unilateral decision by the AEA National Council to implement their new proposal would mark the destruction of the current system. It’s an environment that has taken more than 30 years to build, a fragile ecosystem that is finally finding a voice, building audiences and influencing theatre throughout the world. But none of that matters, not to AEA, not to the few that feel entitled to be looked after, “I can’t live on what I make, I have to work a day job….” Those doing the complaining are few, not more than a handful, and they have emboldened AEA to become the bulldozer of LA theatre.

Theatre is a temple.  It is where audience and artist alike go to exercise demons, purge souls, examine hearts and to view one’s self in honest mirrors. It matters to the communities to which they serve, and it matters to the very foundation of creativity. If it matters to you, do something about it.

The institution is important enough that it must be saved. Theatre is a bedrock of human artistry.  It is storytelling and the repository of cultural values. To reduce it to money speaks volumes about values.

So, why is AEA hell bent on taking down this vital art form? Are they protecting actors from abuse? Are they building a market where more actors will work? Will art be well served by forbidding artists to work?  Please ask. Call them. Their number in LA is 818-978-8530. Speak to anyone there that will listen and tell them that there is a better way then just dissmembering intimate theatre.

 

 

About Peter Finlayson

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Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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