Letter to the Editor: Plaintiffs’ Response to AEA President (final part)

letter to the editor footlightsThe intimate theatre community is a community of artists. We believe artists should be paid. We share that common goal with Equity. We also believe Equity’s attempt to radically alter intimate theatre in Los Angeles is precipitous and will not lead to more contract houses and more paying jobs for artists here in Los Angeles. We hope we can work with Equity and other local entities to find paths forward that will lead to more jobs without damaging the thriving intimate theatre scene. Here are some ideas worth considering.

One of the rallying cries of this community has been “change but not this change.” We believe the old 99-Seat plan can be reworked to encourage growth and to curtail potential abuse.

A minimum wage contract could be a good addition to available contracts here and could make it possible for more intimate theatre shows to go to contract without having to move venues. We think a new, more inclusive code than what has been proposed could provide a quicker trigger to contract. In the old plan there was a stepped system and some theatres did not have to go to contract until they had done 80 performances. This could be changed.

wizard of oz roadThe old plan had a tiered stipend system. Some local theatres are paying higher stipends and more theatres could and should pay higher stipends. Mandating stipends has become controversial and needs discussion. As theatres grow, the artists’ share could also grow. There are agreements in New York that stipulate percentages and we feel a percentage stipulation is one possible solution which should be considered.

There has also been some controversy about staff salaries. We believe staffs are an absolute necessity if theatres are to grow. Our own recent survey showed that theatres with paid staffs paid significantly higher stipends and the average length of runs at these theatres are longer. Most of the shows that have moved to contract or gone on to subsequent contract productions have come from theatres with paid staff. We need to look for ways to encourage growth and discourage potential abuse.

There are theatres in this community that would be willing to immediately become midsized houses if funding were available and assured. Steven Leigh Morris and The LA STAGE Alliance are now in discussions with local government agencies about creating theatre zones. Here’s what his mandate has become:

“Let’s create a series of arts districts with rent subsidy for non-profit arts organizations and affordable live-work spaces for artists; in exchange for fiscal stability, the participating orgs commit to diversity and youth engagement as part of their programming. The civic takeaway: theaters that locals can actually get to, a spike for local businesses, lower crime, higher literacy and cognitive development among the area’s youth — all of which has been empirically proven. The arts takeaway: financial stability, a more immediate and relevant art form, a new and engaged generation of theater-goers.”

We believe a midsized initiative should be a part of this plan, that each of these districts could and should have a midsized theatre as a hub. This initiative must have funding as its priority. We advocate forming a task force of civic and private sectors leaders as well as leaders from the arts community and representatives from the creative unions to strategize how to develop funding and strong, continuing Board support for these organizations. We think the creation of a fund for midsized theatres to be administered by an entity such as The California Community Foundation may help encourage community support from private donors, local foundations and corporations and perhaps even the motion picture and television industry.

We will be continuing meeting with representatives of Equity. We see ourselves as partners not adversaries. We believe we all must understand the world has changed. This is not a Labor versus Management conflict. Today’s artists must also be Entrepreneurs. Equity must help members be so and help small and midsize theatre exist because these theatres are the only places left where theatrical development and experimentation is affordable. If we don’t understand that, the impact and importance of art in theatre will continue to diminish. So will jobs. If we want change, if we want theatre to have a stronger presence here in Los Angeles, we must work together. We must research and plan. We need to be in true union not disunion.

The way forward will not be easy but a carefully researched and planned midsized initiative is much more likely to succeed than Equity’s unfounded assertion that curtailing intimate theatre will create larger theatres. The resources are here. Can we all come together to make it happen?

Ed Asner, Tom Bower, Gregg Daniels, John Flynn, Maria Gobetti, Gary Grossman, Ed Harris, Salome Jens, Veralyn Jones, Karen Kondazian, Simon Levy, Amy Madigan, Tom Ormeny, Larry Pressman, Michael Sheppard, Joe Stern, Vanessa Stewart, French Stewart
Los Angeles, CA

(Part 1 of this letter can be found here.  Part 2 of this letter can be found here.)

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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