As new Actors’ Equity rules go into effect today that require small theaters in Los Angeles to begin paying their union actors at least minimum wage, some small non-union venues, it turns out, aren’t paying their actors anything at all.
Last week, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by for SAG president Ed Asner that would have prevented Actors’ Equity from requiring small Los Angeles-based theater companies that sign its contract to pay their actors at least minimum wage.
Deadline has found numerous casting notices posted on a popular employment referral website that are looking for professional actors who are willing to work for free. Producers of a non-union project called Reservoir Bitches has a notice posted on the Casting Frontier site seeking a male actor of any ethnicity, age 25-65, to play the role of The Cop, a “poor guy (who) is about to have the worst day of his life.” The pay rate is listed as “none.”
Producers of A Vagrant Walks into a Bar posted eight notices on the site, including one for an actor to play the role of Danny, who’s one of three friends who walk into a bar and tell one another jokes over drinks.
“This role requires a character actor,” the casting notice states. “This show is a series of short bits all associated by the same theme. All of the actors will play multiple roles within the many bits in the show. This role requires a character actor, preferably someone with improv and/or standup comedy experience within their performance histories.”
State law, however, requires theater companies – union or non-union, for-profit or nonprofit – to pay their actors at least minimum wage, which Equity only now is requiring its old 99-seat waiver theaters to do.
Kathleen Hennessy, a spokesperson for the California State Labor Commissioner, told Deadline that stage actors are not exempt from the state’s minimum wage laws. “There is no such exemption for actors at nonprofit theaters,” she said. One exception, Hennessy noted, was for “learners.” According to state law, “Employees in the first 160 hours of employment in occupations in which they have no previous similar or related experience may be paid not less than 85% of the minimum wage, rounded to the nearest nickel.”
Which means that beginning January 1, “learners” must be paid at least 85% of $10.50 an hour – or $8.90, rounded to the nearest nickel.
The casting notice for A Vagrant Walks into a Bar, however, isn’t looking for “learners,” but “character actors” with “performance histories.” But instead of paying their actors minimum wage, as the law requires – or even the “learners” rate – their notice states that the pay rate is “none.” And rounded to the nearest nickel, that’s still none.