Actors’ Equity To Require Minimum Wage At LA’s 99-Seat Theaters, But Smaller Stages Get A Break

Actors' Equity
Actors' Equity

Actors’ Equity has decided to force 99-seat theaters in Los Angeles to pay their actors at least minimum wage – which is currently $9 an hour and going up to $10 next year. The move by the union’s National Council comes just hours after reports that local Equity members voted overwhelmingly to reject the pay increase, which many fear will put small houses out of business.

The new minimum wage rule goes into effect April 22 for producers who have not produced before under the 99-seat plan. For those who have produced under the plan, there is a grace period allowing a year for a transition to the new options.

The new deal actually is a compromise – it allows theaters with fewer than than 50 seats to produce up to 16 performances of a single production budgeted under $20,000 without having to pay minimum wage. It also allows L.A. actors to collaborate as a group to self-produce theater without the requirement of an Equity contract and without having to pay minimum wage.

Other terms of the new deal provide that the union’s Small Professional Theatre Agreement, which long has been used in other parts of the country, now will be available for productions in Los Angeles County in venues with a capacity up to 349 seats. There is no budget cap per production, no limitation on the length of the rehearsal period, and no restriction on the length of the performance run. The agreement provides for salary payments ranging from $229 to $664 per week, based on the maximum number of weekly performances, with pension and health contributions required.

In votes counted earlier today, local stage actors voted nearly 2-to-1 – 2,046 to 1,075 — against the pay raise, but that vote was only advisory to the Equity Council. Under the old 99-seat waiver, producers could pay their actors as little as $7 a day. The new rules appear to bring the union’s contract more in line with the state’s minimum wage laws, which make no exception for actors working in legitimate theater – even for small nonprofit companies.

“We are proud of our members who shared their insightful views and spoke with passion about the importance of intimate theater,” said Equity Executive Director Mary McColl.  “The National Council’s decision today is responsive to that feedback, and we look forward to working together to build a foundation for the growth and sustainability of intimate theater in L.A.”

Former SAG President Ed Asner, a longtime member of Equity, told Deadline that the council is “trying to ignore the 2-to-1 vote that actors in this town wanted.” Even so, he said, that because of the compromise, “there’s still hope for actors who want to practice their art.” Beyond that, he said, he’s reserving judgment until he sees the full terms of the deal.

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