Equity Exec Director Mary McColl Contradicts Equity Website

picard face palm forehead smack Mary McColl messes upEarlier this week,  I reviewed Actors’ Equity’s new website equityworksla.com.  Equity claims this special site will inform Los Angeles about the coming rule-changes.  Secondarily, the tone on the website is clearly designed to make the changes seem as benign as possible.  As I found in my review, however, the website is riddled with inconsistencies, partial truths, and deliberately misleading graphics.  The site is so flawed (it’s “not even wrong”), it was impossible to document all its issues in a single article.

The website has undergone some subtle changes as a result of the mistakes.  First, as pointed out in my review, Equity misidentified the Singapore skyline for that of Los Angeles.  This, however, was quickly identified by others and just as quickly corrected.  Equity even put an apology (of sorts) on its website.

One of the first mistakes I identified, the correct total number of active theater companies Equity recognizes in Los Angeles, has also been fixed.  Recall that Equity erroneously subtracted two numbers, the total number of companies Equity had in its records (180) and the number of companies no longer producing (64).  Equity then did the erroneous subtraction (screencapture from August 21, 2016):

180 – 64 = 117 116

Sometime in the afternoon of the day I published the review, this subtraction was fixed.  Equity didn’t put up an apology on their website over this mistake or note the change.  The 117 just quietly became a 116.  Equity has a lot more work to do, however, since changing one wrong calculation has a cascading effect on others.  Let’s note any newly introduced arithmetic errors as well as errors I reviewed last time but still not fixed.

From the Equity website (as of August 25, 2016):

That leaves us with 116 regularly producing companies.

Our members may perform with 61 of those 116 entities under the membership company rule; this is a complete waiver of Equity’s usual contract requirement, so the work is done without Equity oversight and without benefit of contract.

That leaves 56 of those 116 entities.

Um.  No.  The correct subtraction (as I pointed out in Section 2 of my original review) is:

116 – 61 = 56 55

Equity, you need to change this as well.  Remember these are your  numbers.  I’m just pointing out you have not done the basic arithmetic correctly.

#AskIfItsAccurate

Next, Equity still hasn’t fixed the counting problem with its 50-Seat LA Showcase Code theaters list I brought up in my review.  There are 29 theaters on their Showcase Code list, not 30 as Equity claims.  (Count them yourself!)

More serious errors haven’t been corrected either.  On equityworksla.com, Equity claims both the following statements:

a) …you will be able to continue performing with more than 75% of intimate theater producing entities in Los Angeles without benefit of contract.

and

b) only 14% of the 180 producing entities we currently have on record are projected to be affected by this contract.

In other words, Equity wants its members to believe that 75% of LA theaters are basically “unaffected” by the change while only 14% of the theaters are.  However, it is obvious that

percentage unaffected theaters + percentage affected theaters = 100%

but 75%  added with 14% does not equal 100%!  That’s because 14% is a sleight-of-hand.  It’s obtained by dividing 26, the number of affected theaters, by 180, the total number of theaters Equity has dealt with in Los Angeles since the beginning of time. Equity’s calculation makes the percentage look artificially small.  In actuality, there are only 116 theaters currently operating in Los Angeles of which 26 are labeled “affected.”  As a result, 22% is the true percentage of theaters affected.  This is the only honest calculation of this number as it represents the percentage of theaters at which an actor can currently work under the new Agreements.  Obviously, if a theater is closed and shut down, you can’t work there.  Consequently, shuttered theaters clearly don’t belong in any calculation regarding the new Agreements and Codes.

I believe Equity’s website was designed to reinforce a smaller number (14%) in members’ minds rather than the more accurate, and much larger, number of 22% (an increase of over 50%!).  Trying to focus attention on the inaccurate small number would minimize the perceived impact of the new Agreements in Los Angeles.  It’s a form of spin.  Equity also tried to promote this perception with a pie chart that made no arithmetical sense.  To review, here’s what the pie chart would look like if Equity plotted its own numbers correctly:

actors equity aea data pie chartsClearly, the new plan is going to be far more disruptive to Los Angeles than Equity wants its members to realize.

#AskIfItsAccurate

But it gets even worse.

In the town hall meeting on Monday, panelist Michael Shepperd, the Co-Artistic Director at the Celebration Theater, noted Equity’s new agreements will impose special hardships for minority groups in L.A. theaters.  Hoyt Hilsman discussed Shepperd’s remarks in The Huffington Post, writing:

A number of well-regarded and established theater companies, including The Latino Theater Company, Casa 0101, Queer Classics, Teatro de La O and many others may either go out of business or be forced to operate entirely outside of Equity rules, depriving their actors of any union protections for safe and sanitary conditions.

This obviously puts Equity in an embarrassing position.  Despite Equity’s national #ChangeTheStage campaign for diversity, the collateral damage created by Equity’s L.A. policy may well #EmptyTheStage for the very groups the Union wants to promote.

So it wasn’t surprising when Equity Executive Director Mary McColl released a response on the website the very next day.  It read, in part (screencapture from August 25, 2016):

Mr. Hilsman mentioned the Latino Theatre Company, Casa 0101 Theater, Queer Classics and Teatro de La O. To be factual, all four of those theater companies could use the LA Showcase Code. If that structure isn’t acceptable to them, Equity stands ready to assist them (and any other theater company in Los Angeles) in finding a solution that can work. All that is needed is the good faith and good will to do so.

However, to be factual, according to Equity’s own lists, only two of the four theater companies cited by Mary McColl can use the LA Showcase Code.  As of August 25, Equity’s own website places Queer Classics and Teatro de La O under the LA Showcase Code, while Latino Theatre Company and Casa 0101 are both on the “affected theater” list.

Mary McColl’s statement contradicts her own website.

This is not an off-the-cuff remark made in an interview.  This is a prepared, written statement placed on Equity’s website for membership information.   We must therefore conclude that Executive Director Mary McColl is either unaware of the Equity-created categories of individual theaters or simply can’t be bothered with any details so long as Equity can terminate, rather than evolve, the 99-Seat Plan.

This is reckless carelessness itself.  Unfortunately, it fits a pattern that has been apparent in the Union’s actions in Los Angeles since February 2015.  Equity’s interpretation of its survey was flawed on a mathematical basis.  Equity (through Mary McColl) claimed a silent majority supported its new proposals which never materialized.  When Los Angeles actors turned out in record numbers to reject Equity’s referendum in 2-1 landslide proportions, Equity tried to hide the devastating scale of defeat by scrambling the statistics (including tactics like including the number of nonvoters into their calculations).  Equity reports one set of membership numbers to the government and another set to its membership.  Equity tried to spin workweek numbers by not scaling them per capita.  Equity made numerous errors, arithmetic and otherwise, on its latest website.  And Equity even tried to spin the presentation of a pie chart.

This is a pattern. It is not about nit-picking one or two errors. It is a vast tapestry involving multiple examples of major proportions over a period of months. The pattern emerges without having to question Equity’s data. The pattern emerges by simply analyzing Equity’s own data honestly.

On its website, Equity’s theater classification lists appear rigid and definitive. And yet, Mary McColl’s official statement makes the classifications seem arbitrary and casual – at least when refuting something uncomfortable. Equity appears to be laying down major policy decisions in a rushed and glib manner. This weakens the Union’s reputation. And that affects actors outside of Los Angeles, too. On topics having nothing to do with intimate theater.

How then to trust other statements Equity makes? Even if one is not in Los Angeles, this pattern of flawed math and ad hoc  policy is both obviously pervasive and objectively apparent. Equity wants to have its say by dictate rather than deliberation.

How many more errors and inaccuracies from their Union will members excuse?

About Kevin Delin

monsterid
Kevin Delin took a few writing courses (among other things) at MIT from playwright A.R. Gurney and author Frank Conroy. In addition to writing a monthly column for Footlights, he uses his extensive tech background, including a PhD in Physics, and work experience in both Silicon Valley and NASA to advise those who want to ground their entertainment in science. He's also contributed pieces about art and culture to American Theatre, LA Weekly, Script Magazine, and Stage Raw. You can follow him on Twitter @kdelin and find his other writings at kevindelin.com.

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6 comments

  1. If you want to be an Equity actor, you work under Equity rules. You are free at any time to resign your membership. It sounds like LA has a bunch of SAG-AFTRA folks who want to play stage actor and harm everyone else in AEA by demanding their little divertissement violate Equity rules and set a damaging precedent.
    Quit whining over one number. The exception for LaLa was never supposed to be permanent; it lasted way longer than intended as it is.

    • “You are free at any time to resign your membership.”
      Apparently, you DON’T know it all. There’s a little matter of union reciprocity, which dictates that a member of any actor’s union, including SAG/AFTRA, may NOT participate in non-union work in another union’s jurisdiction, including AEA.
      So, essentially, you’re saying that SAG/AFTRA members should not be allowed to make a living.
      You first.
      By the way, New York, much? Your casual dismissal of everyone else reeks of the rotten apple.

  2. Actually, that’s a great idea. Why should anyone have to pay money into a union that
    a. doesn’t listen
    b. doesn’t care
    c. aggressively abuses their members
    I’ve been following this for a year and I’ve seen nothing from Actors’ Equity by way of treating any of its LA Members fairly.
    Their behavior could be categorized as the dictionary definition of bullying.
    It’s absolutely criminal and should be treated as such.

  3. I am not generally in the habit of responding to comments on my pieces in the Huffington Post, since they often come from internet trolls or flame-throwers. (You can’t believe the deluge of insults an article advocating limited gun controls produces.) However, I did notice that Equity’s Executive Director Mary McColl took the opportunity to respond to a recent article of mine in the form of a full-page post on the Equityworks website — “Response to Hoyt Hilsman.” http://equityworksla.com/2016/08/response-to-hoyt-hilsman/

    My article focused on the impact of the new Equity rules on theaters serving minority, women and LGBT communities. In the piece, I quoted Michael Shepperd, artistic director of the Celebration Theater, who spoke at the recent town hall meeting on the Equity plan. “Ninety-five percent of the theaters that received so-called ‘carve-outs’ are Anglo,” said Shepperd. He noted that these are theaters that employ mostly white actors. “This makes it even harder for theaters that work with actors of color or from the LGBT community to operate, especially when funding for the arts is at historically low levels.”

    In the article, I pointed out that a number of well-regarded and established theater companies that address the needs of underserved communities would either be forced to go out of business or have to operate entirely outside of Equity rules, depriving their actors of any union protections for safe and sanitary conditions. As examples, I cited The Latino Theater Company, Casa 0101, Queer Classics and Teatro de La O – although there are likely to be many more that fall into this category.

    In her response, Ms. McCall suggests that the problem is not that the Equity plan that would put the minority, women-centered and LGBT out of business, but that theater companies in Los Angeles are not hiring enough minority, female and LGBT actors. This is a twisted and bizarre argument, to say the least. While everyone agrees that minorities and other underserved groups are underrepresented on LA stages – and in theaters across the country – it is nonsensical to suggest that by putting minority theaters out of business, Equity is somehow promoting the cause of non-discrimination.

    McColl cites Equity’s history against segregation, blacklisting and discrimination, and mentions equal opportunity clauses in its employer contracts. While all of that is undeniably true, it is also clear that theaters for the underserved communities and actors in Los Angeles are particularly vulnerable to Equity’s new rules, and are likely to either go out of business or be deprived of Equity protections under the new rules. One must ask why, with its long history of fighting for minority and other vulnerable groups, Equity has suddenly done an about-face by creating exemptions for specific theaters, which happen to be 95% Anglo.

    Everyone needs to do more to promote equality and non-discriminatory practices. But creating onerous rules that will put many vulnerable theaters that serve minority, female and LGBT communities out of business or deprive their actors of union protection has the opposite effect.

    Note: Kevin Delin critique in Footlights is excellent.

    • Christopher Carothers

      But, Mr. Hilsman, you seem to misunderstand the entire nature of the carve-outs you are decrying in your article, and your assertion that Equity has done some kind of about-face is simply wrong. The exemption for specific theaters to which you are referring is the Approved Membership Company carve-out. The reason that list is 95% Anglo is an indictment of the lack of diversity in LA’s 99-seat theaters, not some deliberate attempt at discrimination on Equity’s part. And the”select” theaters on that list are not getting some special, favorable treatment, as you seem to be consistently implying: they will all be operating outside of AEA’s rules. Furthermore, from the headline and the very first sentence of your article, I find your relentless statements of opinion as fact with absolutely no evidence offered to back them up to be very troubling.

      • Where is AEA’s evidence that their plan will work. Let them present those hard scientific, mathematical facts to prove their statements before you accuse anyone else of biased opinion Mr. Carothers. There has been a lot of talk throughout the last year about that but the union has yet to respond specifically as far as anyone has read anywhere.

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