Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Theatre in Los Angeles - Actors Need to Act

Painters may create in silence. Sculptors may give life to their work alone. Even musicians may forge new work and practice their instruments in solitude. Only the actor requires the noise, the chaos, the collaboration of not just other actors but of audience. Actors are not the same as assembly line workers in Detroit nor is the theatre the same as the auto industry. Actors are not the same as truck drivers nor is the theatre comparable to the shipping trade. Actors are collaborative artists who depend upon, no, require, people and places to ply their craft. The protections a union provides actors should be as unique for them as they are for the other unions. Police, maritime, culinary, whatever.

If we lived in a cultural fantasy-land where all actors could be employed 40 hours a week, for 52 weeks a year, these difficult conversations about the 99-seat plan would be unnecessary. If we lived in a country that fully supported the arts, at all levels, and equally in all markets, these derisive issues would be less contentious. But we don't. In our reality, only 5600 AEA members nationwide (of the 45,000 members) work in any given week. And the average length of a contract is about 17 weeks.

The point: Even in a boffo year for the theatre box office there's not enough work to go around and merely mandating that theatres adhere to arbitrary pay requirements based on the desire for a different theatrical reality will not change that.

However, professional actors need to act, to stay sharp, to keep up-to-date, to work the muscles of their craft, to practice. Like all other artists they must grow, they must experience, they must continue to create. This is what separates them from the hobbyist, the mere celebrity, or the wannabe. The small theatres in Los Angeles provide that opportunity. Sacred Fools, Theatre of Note, Actors Gang, The Fountain, an others equally deserving of mention, provide theatre artists a place to do all this. Take a look at their 990s and you'll quickly see that most of these very creative and productive theatres are not rolling in dough. Far from it. They are surviving, yet they are vibrant and creative in spite of their bank accounts.

Are there abuses in the 99 seat plan? Of course. Those need to be addressed. But not all producers are evil geniuses bent on sucking the life force out of unwitting actors and draining ignorant audiences of their filthy lucre. Likewise, not all actors and theatre professionals are mindless sheep bleating for a kind shepherd to care for them. These are artists. Adults. They knowingly collaborate with friends and colleagues for their own reasons. That should be respected.

Is the current 99 seat plan perfect? No. Can something be done to improve it? Probably. But let's figure that out in a way that still serves those talented, caring and committed people most affected. Oh, and maybe, just maybe in the process AEA will reflect on the reasons that they were created in the first place: "Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society."