Letter to the Editor: Don’t Give AEA a Raise

What’s the difference between the Internal Revenue Service and Actors Equity Association?

One is a callous, far-flung bureaucracy that wants more of your money – and the other collects taxes.

Ba-DUH-bump!

But seriously, folks…

The people on West 46th who have such strict and pristine ideas about what makes for acceptable theater in Los Angeles (hint: musical$, revue$ and revival$) have decided their hard work and meritorious service deserve a raise.

That’s right. They want to increase our dues.

“What?” you may well ask, “The same people who shoved their Promulgated Plan down our collective throats, the same people who push-polled us, lied to us, bombarded us with celebrity endorsements and arbitrarily decided which LA theater companies would live and which would die? The same people who changed the rules of Equity meetings so proposals from members must be pre-approved to even be heard? Those people want more money?”

Unbelievably, yes. They want us to give them more money for their <ahem> service to our community.

There are those (mostly on the east coast if social media is any indicator) who are supportive of the initiative. They rightly point out that there has been no dues increase in over a decade. Some view the union’s current leadership favorably; no surprise there, since AEA has always been more, shall we say, considerate of its New York members.

But those of us here in Los Angeles have had a very different experience, particularly in the last few years. We’ve seen our votes, overwhelmingly negative in response to Equity’s plans for our community, summarily ignored. We’ve seen several of our finest intimate theaters – those that do some of our most profound work – eliminate Equity actors from their auditions altogether because AEA priced us out of reach. We’ve seen venerable, well-respected institutions like Interact Theatre Company (established in 1990, for heaven’s sake) denied membership company status with no reason given and no appeal allowed. If we don’t appreciate these union-sponsored “improvements,” we’ve been told, sometimes by AEA councilors, themselves, that we’re free to leave the union.

How’s that for service with a smile? “Get out! But if you must stay, pay us more!”

I understand that organizations need funding to operate and that the funding must increase over time. I also understand that you don’t reward bad behavior. When the kid on the playground beats you up and takes your lunch money, if he has the gall to say “And make sure you bring extra cash tomorrow,” you don’t respond with “Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!”

Maybe you, LA actor, don’t care about our small theaters. Maybe you’re only interested in auditioning for larger Equity contracts. That’s fine. If the union had respected the diversity of our theatrical community to begin with, I wouldn’t be writing this; but the way AEA has treated Los Angeles actors as a whole has been remarkably shabby. We’ve been shut out, shut down, condescended to and ignored. Such behavior hardly deserves to be rewarded.

Our union has shown us that our votes, our concerns, are not relevant, and the increase may well go through, regardless. In Los Angeles, however, this vote is about self-respect. It’s about civic pride and having the dignity to say “no” to a bully, no matter the outcome.

Members will be asked to vote starting the 31st of July – this month. Keep an eye out for your ballot or email – and please, for the dignity of our community, vote NO.

~William Salyers (member of AEA)

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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5 comments

  1. More pissing into the wind, folks. It’s time to DO SOMETHING! Revolt. Form a new union. Ignore New York’s mandates. I mean…. just fucking IGNORE them. Is it SAG you’re really afraid of? GROW SOME COJONES, LA actors. You’re being had for lunch.

    • William Salyers

      “Revolt.”

      I’m doing my best. 🙂

      “Form a new union.”

      That was looked into early on, and it’s apparently an insurmountable effort. Assuming it could be done, once it happened, you’d have to convince a whole lot of theaters to break their agreements with AEA.
      I could be wrong, of course, but I think it’s like saying “Impeach Orange Julius Caesar!” Sounds great, and I’m all for it, but it’s far from quick or simple.

      For now, let’s not give the existing one any more of our money.

  2. Wendy Worthington

    I have to agree. Equity’s attitude toward its LA members has, with a few exceptiobs, been remarkably shabby. And its timing is now so tone-deaf that my only response (aside from answering the recent survey with brutal honesty that I do not expect to see reflected in the eventual tabulations) is to vote NO on what might otherwise seem to be a reasonable request.

  3. Please don’t perpetuate the idea they are more “considerate” of NY members. It’s fair to say they seem to only give a shit about BROADWAY, but that’s actually a very small percentage of NY union theatre. We’re in the same boat as you – actually, our 99 seat code is 35 years old and hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation while 99 seat theatres have closed faster than anyone can keep track.

    There is strength in numbers. A lot of us have been fighting for you on the East Coast all along and still do. You got totally screwed. I know that we are next. I proudly wear my I <3 99 shirt. They won't listen until they have to – I've said for years, #NewUnion.

    • William Salyers

      Bless you! And I stand well corrected. I’m aware that we have allies on the east coast and I’ve been very grateful. Thank you for your empathy, sympathy, and kindness. If and when they come for you, I’ll be proud to return the favor and stand with you, as you’ve stood by my brothers and sisters here.

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