As previously reported, under the current plan, members receive a performance stipend beginning with the first paid public performance (which can be as little as $7 a performance). In the new proposal, AEA states that the agreement will guarantee actors and stage managers are paid a salary no less than the legally mandated minimum wage and ensure members are paid for rehearsals as well as performance hours.
The plan included stipulations and opportunities for L.A. actors to work without being under contract; however, the West Coast theatre scene responded negatively. With more pay for the actors, experimental theatre in small houses may no longer be possible.
The proposal was also dismissed by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.
In a statement, the Drama Critics Circle said, "We are concerned that the inevitable result of such changes will be a drastic reduction in the amount and quality of local theatre. Indeed, we foresee what could be the virtual demise of Los Angeles as a leading incubator of plays and theater of innovation and diversity."
Click here to read more about the issue, including AEA's reasoning behind the proposal and how L.A. actors (and the Drama Critics Circle) are responding. A new statement released by Actors' Equity Association follows:
Although we respect that the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's statement about AEA's proposal for 99 seat theater in LA is rooted in sincere concern about what these proposed changes will mean for LA small theater, there are no facts to support the dire and immediate consequences their statement predicts.
AEA is proposing these changes because members in LA who can't afford to work under the 99 Seat Plan have asked us to help them. Under the 99 Seat Plan, a theater scene has developed in Los Angeles where the majority of work for professional actors is unpaid. Actors' Equity members work an average of 9 weeks on 99 seat productions, usually paid nothing for rehearsals and as little as $7 a performance. Many theaters have budgets to pay other professionals and administrative staff, except actors.
As a union, we strongly believe professional actors and stage managers should be compensated at least minimum wage for their work. At the same time, our proposal also creates exemptions to allow actors to continue to collaborate with one another and to self-produce without a contract.
It is important to note though that this is a proposal, subject to approval and to amendment by the AEA Council. If these proposals are approved in their current form, the rug will not be pulled out from underneath LA small theaters. The process and timeline to implement these changes will be informed by all of the feedback we have received since the proposal has been introduced.
We understand that there is frustration, fear and deep concern among producers and other members of the theater community about how these proposed changes will impact small theater in LA. We have repeatedly stressed that we are committed to working with producers to help build infrastructure and increase funding for theaters, including 99 Seat theaters in LA County. Should these proposals be adopted, we intend to be equal partners in helping to map a course for small theater in LA to adapt so that artistic missions can be fulfilled while ensuring that the work of professional actors is valued.
The National Council will meet April 21 to discuss and make a decision on the recent proposal.