Intimate Theatre

Los Angeles intimate theatre is now under siege. Even if you’re tired of hearing about it, it continues. Actor’s Equity Association, (AEA) besides unilaterally changing the basic plan for theatres her in LA, has now gone an extra step and is telling theatres that have been producing for more than 20 years, that they have no record of for example the Evidence Room ever having produced a play. What that means to the company, is that at least for now, they are not able to continue as of next year as a LA membership company, and that can have some very dire financial consequences.

As of this writing we don’t know how many companies are being recognized, and how many are being denied. What we do know is that AEA is doing their best to discourage and dissuade producers from putting up plays. Rather than continue with negotiations through a committee that was set up 27 years, ago, or even sitting down at a table with the newly formed Theatre Producers League Los Angeles – Intimate, AEA is striking out and trying to force small companies without the legal wherewithal or the negotiating experience to deal with a union, to make individual deals that creates an atmosphere of mistrust and dissuades producers and companies from acting co-operatively.

In New York, while each show negotiates portions of their contracts with AEA, the basics are dealt with through the Broadway Producers League. When it comes to regional theatres, there is a general contract applied which is negotiated with The League of Regional Theatres (LORT). Only in the case of small theatres is AEA flexing it’s muscles to intimidate and control a growing industry.

One has to ask why. Why is it so important to a New York based union to crush and dismantle a theatre community that has struggled and growing for the last 27 years. And while there is much speculation on the subject, I submit it is because LA has proven, or to be more accurate was about to prove, that the historical model of theatrical productions was no longer the way for the art of theatre to grow.

Los Angeles has shown that small intimate theatres can not just grow, but can become financially viable if given the time to sort out all of the unique problems that go along with a business model that is too small to succeed.  Just as importantly, artist are finding that their creative needs are well addressed in this environment, so more and more union card carrying members want to take part. So far, this has not proven to be a financially rewarding experience for anyone, but the creative payoff is so great, that artist are willing to forgo traditional fees so they can feel fulfilled.

The amazing part of this experience, is that theatre artist have found that they can produce shows for relatively small budgets. Not only can they produce these shows, but the results are world class theatre. Productions that are riveting and engaging and so empathically powerful that audience once introduced want to go back for more.

In fact throughout the country there is a network of intimate theatres, and while they have been called community theatre, and looked down upon as being amateurish, the fact of the matter is that this network is the foundation from which tomorrows American Theatre will be forged.

As more and more people come out of colleges with degrees in theatre, they are going to find a way to make a living at the craft they love.  Communities that were once satisfied with community standards for theatre are discovering that with the use of trained professionals their audiences are more responsive, more inclined to attend and therefore supportive of the effort.

So there are powerful forces at work, artists that have learned to create for reasonable budgets, and theatres that are becoming aware that professionalism build their houses. And LA has been the incubator for that learning.

For more than a hundred year, AEA has lived under the premise that the end goal for the American Actor was to perform in New York. That is no longer a valid presumption. The 50 or so Broadway houses can’t sustain the thousands that are now in the field, LORT houses are finding their own set of problems. Their houses are so big that they have to go to Broadway size budgets to come close to meet covering their budgets. And cavernous houses don’t necessarily fulfill an audiences want of intimacy.

As LA gets closer and closer to finding the formula for creating theatre and offering a living wage, AEA get’s nervous that the fiefdom they have build in Manhattan will no longer control theatre. In fact, AEA has no concept of dealing with a national theatre movement. If I’m right, the thought actually scares them.

The want of theatre is universal. The intimate shared experience between story- teller and audience cannot be replicated anywhere else in any other medium other then Theatre. Whether that be a small circle by a fire, or it be a 200 seat house where everyone is within reaching distance of the stage, the human connection is vital to our social growth. Intimate theatre is an answer.

What now exists, is a topsyturvey world, where actors and producers are marching together to stop a union from destroying a culture model so lovingly built. This strange bed fellow alliance is not comprised of powerful moneyed moguls with deep pockets and an army of attorneys. They are artists that need your help in persuading the AEA that there is something important here, a theatre culture that is growing and learning and will be a model in which many will eventually find employment. Call AEA (323) 978-8080, ask for the Executive director, Gail Gabler, and tell her that the AEA needs to support LA theatre, not dismantle it.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and 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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