UPDATED: Actors’ Equity President on the 99-Seat Plan

kate shindle 2015 footlightsActors’ Equity President, Kate Shindle, was recently interviewed by Ken Davenport for The Producer’s PerspectiveThe podcast covers a number of pressing issues facing Equity and her first 9 months as Union President (she took office in June, 2015).  At the 37:55 mark, Shindle gives her assessment of the situation in LA associated with Equity’s significant alterations of the Los Angeles 99-seat plan and the resulting filed lawsuit:

I have to be careful what I say about this because now [LA actors] are suing us. There’s a group that has filed, but not served, a lawsuit against Equity for basically this [Equity change in the 99-seat plan]. So I can’t stray too far into it. But I think that the whole thing is something of a balancing act. I mean obviously there’s a somewhat thriving – some would say completely thriving – community out there of actors who feel that they can do the kind of work they want to do and they don’t care if they get paid. There are also members who have moved to LA – and I’ve actually even talked to some of my friends who are not involved in that conversation at all – moved to LA thinking “Let me try some tv and film.” People who work here all the time but in the meantime: “I’d love to continue to do some theater.” And they had to give up the theater because there’s just basically no way to make a living.

Now, there are a couple of different arguments. One is that there’s just no money to pay people. One is that there’s somewhat of an oversupply of inexpensive theater or 99-seat theater in Los Angeles so the audiences are spread out and basically no one is breaking even or very few are. And the other is that – and I think this is one of the things that guided the Council – the idea that a mid-sized theater could open at this point, or even a smallish theater, could open at this point in Los Angeles when they had to compete with the 99-seat business model (which is much more cost-effective) is kind of preposterous. So, if there are going to be jobs in LA, there has to be some way that some actors can get paid aside from the big institutional theaters like the Geffen (they have a budget).

So what the Council, I believe, did was try to figure out a way to get some actors paid some of the time and carve out enough opportunities for people who wanted to work with membership companies, for example, and volunteer their time.

It got to such a fever pitch that by the time the election rolled around (and then I found myself in this job [President of AEA]), I actually asked the staff “Let’s just stop talking about it. Let’s stop engaging, stop defending. Let’s just calm down.” Because at this point, if any of us went on Facebook and literally just wrote the word “volunteer,” there would be 35 responses and nobody is hearing each other anymore.

So one of the first things I did was go out there and sit with a number of people (and our Executive Director, Mary [McColl]), and just talk about what our members actually need. Because I think lost in the passion out in Los Angeles was the fact that our members are looking for certain things and people who produce these shows are looking for different things. And everybody united which is good and I’m sure was really exciting and it was nice to see their passion but, at a certain point, you have to say: “Okay. What do our members really want? And how can we talk to them about how to make that work?”

So it’s an ongoing conversation. It’s an interesting conversation. It’s definitely a challenge and I’m sure no matter how we solve it, someone will be unhappy.

I do think and I have said a number of times (and it’s gotten me in some hot water)… like when we were going in to sit down for the production contract negotiations, I thought “We’re not going to get through one day of this without our employers, our bargaining partners, reminding us that there are a few thousand actors in Los Angeles who want to sue the Union because they want to work for free.” There is bleed-over into other markets. And that was so public that… how can we sit down across the table from LORT theaters in San Diego or San Francisco or whatever and argue with a straight face that our members need a pay raise?

You just can’t.

(h/t to Daniel Faigin of Observations Along the Road  for drawing attention to this interview)

Update March 15, 2016:  Shindle makes similar comments in this podcast (the 14:00 mark) from Broadway Bullet  released a few days later.

About Tracey Paleo

Tracey Paleo is Associate Editor at FootLights Magazine. She's also the Founder and Chief Editor of the arts and culture site, Gia On The Move, where she often reviews live performance events.

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