LA Theatre Community

The Los Angeles Theatre Community is facing an existential crisis. After decades of struggle, and a tenuous thirty-year relationship with Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), the union for for actors and stage managers, the landscape is about to experience a seismic shift. On December 14th, 2016, the relatively unfettered use of AEA actors in Los Ángeles intimate theatre, wherein the actors voluntarily participate, will no longer be an option. AEA is slamming the door. Despite AEA members overwhelming objections, the Union has come to it’s own conclusions. The ramifications and implications of this change are yet to be fully revealed, but a glimpse into the potential is articulated in a posting entitled, “Darkness in December” on StageRaw.com.

The crux of the issue strikes to the very foundation of creating art. If artists are confined by commercial interest first and barred from volunteering, then the future of new untested works will be forever hampered. According to the above mentioned article, “The right to do the work we have always dreamed of – to be artists in relationship to our community, in theatres that are safe and treat all the artists fairly” is being challenged. AEA is trying to take away the actor’s right to volunteer.

Art is not and cannot be solely a commercial venture. Theatre has never in the history of the world trended as a successful commercial undertaking. Even in the lofty stratosphere of theatre centers such as New York and London, financial success of shows is often more a crap shoot than a business. Yet the standards by which artists may participate in Los Angeles will soon be similar to those applied to those commercial theaters which have well-heeled traditions and funding.

While there have been efforts made to stave off this radical change, the conversations have not gone well, and AEA is claiming a right to impose an arbitrary change on the Los Angeles community. Legal remedies are being sought, but as with all things taken to court, no outcome is assured.

Is there a remedy? There are many machinations going on that may bring a temporary relief for some companies. Some membership companies will get a reprieve from AEA, but there is no assurance as to how long that stay of execution will remain in place. And even should some be granted a guarantee, that still leaves a major part of our community blowing in the wind. By offering this token of relief, AEA is in fact working to divide our community, with the arbitray creation of different classes of theatre based upon the uniformed decisions by staff members at AEA.  How are these rulings fair to actors or theatre organizations? While unions are an instrument for protecting its members, AEA should not be allowed to dictate the methodology of art creation.

What is not helping is that the “LA theatre community” is often such in name only. Artists live in a fairly cloistered world of their own making. What may seem as a problem to some may be entirely unnoticed by others. This in fact may have caused some resentments, some polarization within the community. So a collected voice is a great beginning. But who should have a voice?

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so too it takes a community to bring excellence to the art of theatre. These rarely seen or produced works are like young children that need to be nourished and supported so that theatre becomes more than an art form, it’s a voice, a representative of the community.

The theatre community is made up of more than just the various theatres and companies, it includes the individual artists. It includes businesses and organizations that are built and tailored to serve theatre, be it vendors, or service organizations, or restaurants, and, just as importantly, includes the audience. Every participant has duties and responsibilities that cannot be ignored nor assumed. Nor should anyone’s efforts be taken for granted. It is the interactivity and cooperation between all members that allows for comprehensive and successful theatre in a community.

The producers/artists have been spending countless hours to find a better way, FootLights and other organizations have diligently been at the forefront of keeping the community and public informed. What is literally at stake, is we may end up with an extremely truncated theatre scene. Some of the businesses that were built to support theatre will be put in jeopardy, and audiences may very well loose a vital and important voice in the community, intimate theatre.

We, the audience, must now be heard. The cry must be loud and sustained. We must participate. We can go to ilove99.org and sign a petition to AEA. We can call theatres that we love and offer our time and energies. And we can clearly express our support by buying tickets. Real tickets, not discounts, not comps, but real asked-for ticket and fair prices. Because without sufficient funds, there is no long term solution.

Please, whatever you do, stay informed, take what actions you can, support the efforts and support the art. It is your community that is at stake.

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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