Letter to Editor: Plaintiffs’ Response to AEA President (Part 1)

letter to the editor footlightsWe thank Dakin Matthews, Steven Leigh Morris and many others for their eloquent, considered responses to Kate Shindle’s recent statements during her interview on The Producer’s Perspective.

As Mr. Matthews said we also think “she is an admirable, trustworthy, and hard-working president,” and we “don’t for an instant question her integrity or her motives.” Like Mr. Matthews, our concern is with ideas and actions. We are happy Ms. Shindle has spoken out publicly because we think that public discourse is important and we welcome the opportunity to publicly respond.

We find there are continued pernicious beliefs inherent in her expressed concerns that have no factual foundation. These beliefs obscure what is really happening here and make it difficult if not impossible to decide what course of action is best for this community and Theatre everywhere.

This is the first of a series of responses we will be publishing. We will also be publishing facts which substantiate our positions such as this list of shows that moved from 99-seat to contract.

In the podcast interview with Ken Davenport, Ms. Shindle said:

“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?”

We who work in this community do not believe “people who produce these shows” have a separate agendas from the other artists working in the shows. Some of us here are directors. Some are designers. Some are actors who are members of other unions. Most are members of Equity. Some theatres are staff driven. Some are membership. We see ourselves as one and, while many of us may have our own small agendas, our common agenda is to practice our art and craft.

Members of the union and other theatre artists within this community think theatre is an important and necessary part of our culture and our own particular lives. In the past few years this community has coalesced into an art movement. We are making art to serve the greater Los Angeles community and for each other. There is a strong sense of community pride and a strong sense of determination that the movement must continue. We know we’re onto something. We are not disparate participants looking for different things. We are looking to do what we dreamed we might do with our lives. We are looking to make art. It’s kind of wonderful.

This theatre community is an incubator. It is not self-serving. We know of 127 shows incubated here under the 99-seat plan that went to a larger contract that paid more than minimum wage. At least 909 jobs were created from those shows.

In April of last year Equity ran an advisory referendum asking local members to vote on their new promulgated plan. Equity leadership ran a vetted phone bank out of Equity offices urging people to vote in support of the referendum. Those who were against the proposal also ran a phone bank campaign. 3121 local members voted. This is a 45% turnout of eligible voters. AEA spokespeople attempted to dismiss the vote as insubstantial, but that number actually represents four and a half times the usual percentage of local eligible AEA members who vote in national elections. 2046 members voted against the promulgated plan. That’s 65% of the voters, a landslide by any measuring stick.

The people who care about this issue voted. We can’t assume anything about the people who did not vote except that they were not interested enough to vote. We can also assume that the majority of interested members have expressed what they want.

No doubt there have occasionally been producers with other agendas who wanted to game the system. They are few and far between and all of us together should look for ways to prevent abuse. This community wants to enact changes which will address such abuses. We must be careful to understand what we have here and why it is working and not destroy what we have. We need to make small specific changes. With great respect, Ms. Shindle and the Equity leadership need to understand we are united. A vote was taken and Equity members of this now thriving community gave a decisive answer to what they want and don’t want.

We will be continuing to respond.  Coming next:

“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.”   ~ Kate Shindle

We believe the idea that there are fewer midsized theatres in Los Angeles because there are too many intimate theatres is unfounded – wishful thinking that ignores the real issues confronting this community and deters us from discussing and making the more difficult but much more practical choices that must be made in order to create more midsized theatres and contracts in the community.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Monday.

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

About Peter Finlayson

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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One comment

  1. I posted this question to Steven and he has yet to answer this one truism….the plan is Gone. Now what?
    ‘“What are you going to do when you find out you can’t do “the plan” anymore and you have to do the new 99 seat contract?”

    Tell me what you would do?

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