Actors’ Equity today fired back at the notion that smaller legit theatres in Los Angeles can’t afford to pay their actors minimum wage. “How is it that the rest of the nation can afford to pay its actors who perform in small theatres, yet Los Angeles cannot?” the union asked in a statement.
The union is being sued by a group of actors and local theatre owners who claim that many small venues will go out of business if the union scraps its 99-seat waiver plan and forces them to pay minimum wage. Some actors currently work for as little as $7 a day in local productions.
“More than 7,000 Equity members live and work in Los Angeles County,” the union said. “Despite being the ‘entertainment capital of the world,’ with actors flocking from around the globe to Southern California, Equity’s data reveals that LA County actually provides less paid work for stage actors than markets such as Baltimore/DC, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul.”
The union’s most recent data, for the years 2014-2015, shows that LA County, with 7,000 members, had 6,500 paid work weeks for Equity members. By contrast, Baltimore/DC, with 854 members, had more than 8,700 paid work weeks for its members; Boston, with 845 members, had more than 7,900 paid work weeks; Chicago, with 1,589 members, 15,800 paid work weeks; and Minneapolis/St. Paul, with only 437 members, had more than 6,700 work weeks – 200 more work weeks than Los Angeles, which has 16 times more members.
“The fact that these far smaller markets eclipsed L.A. in paid work weeks confirms the fact that a theatrical community can thrive and still pay the performers,” the union said.
During this same time period, the union said, there was a total of 11,013 unpaid work weeks for actors in Los Angeles County. “If those unpaid work weeks were actually paid work weeks, then 99-seat theatre would represent the second-largest source of paid employment in the Western Region, second only to LORT” – the League of Professional Theatres, which is the largest professional theatre association in the U.S., with 72 member theatres located in every major market in the country.
“Equity takes great pride in the diligence with which its producing partners nationwide work toward adding contracts,” the union said. “It’s time L.A. producers – some of whom are incorporated as not-for-profits, but all of whom sell tickets to their productions – play by the same rules as everyone else.”
“The old 99-Seat Theatre Plan represents an unnecessary and avoidable roadblock for actors in Los Angeles attempting to make a living in live theatre,” the union said. “An ecosystem has been allowed to develop where even midsize theatre suffers because it is competing with a small theatre system that pays actors little, if anything at all. This has created a downward spiral, or race to the bottom, where the real losers are the actors, the stage managers, the audience and the theatre industry overall.”
The union said that one of its founding principles is that “those who work in live theatre deserve to be paid for the work that they do. Every actor and stage manager who has joined this union has agreed to work under conditions that, to the best of Equity’s knowledge, are most beneficial to the whole. This is one of the fundamental definitions of a union. When an actor works through a rehearsal break, he or she contributes to an expectation that everyone else will give up that break as well. When an actor develops work without ever expecting any return on that development, he or she makes it more difficult for colleagues to ask for developmental compensation. Finally, when a member – any member – works for a few dollars a show, with no pay for rehearsals, he or she damages the earning power of every other member, both monetarily and philosophically.”