What Do I Care How Equity Members Vote? (#iLove99 #NotThisChange)

Today is the first day of voting for Actor’s Equity’s new 99-Seat agreement, wherein actors would FINALLY be valued and paid what they’re worth…. um… minimum wage.

Boy, and I thought I was beginning to UNDERVALUE myself. I was thinking I was worth $8 an hour. But wow, to dream of $9 an hour…? For a part time gig? That would almost (but not quite) cover the expense of driving all the way to rehearsal. Plus, all that time spent performing and rehearsing instead of wasting my life at some minimum wage job will finally be worthwhile. Thank God the union can see the big picture and make clear that all they want is for me to VALUE MY CRAFT.

Here’s the deal people: I’m not in Equity. I’m in SAG-AFTRA. The difference is one is for stage and the other for film/tv/radio. This affects me only in as much as my union will demand reciprocity, which is a very real; no, a very expected possibility. I don’t do 99 seat theatre to get paid. Would I LIKE to be paid to do theatre? OF COURSE!! Would I like to be paid minimum wage at the expense of my theatre company’s ability to take chances and produce the kind of theatre I want to be a part of? HELL NO!!

What I mean by that is 2-fold:
1) My Theatre Co is a Non-profit 501(c)3. That means it is eligible for grants and govt money, it can fund raise without tax penalty, and there are various other benefits. Because of that, shows don’t need to be chosen because of the profit they promise to bring in. Another of the benefits is that we can volunteer our time to productions, in whatever capacity is required. As an actor, I sometimes run the soundboard for a show I’m not performing in. Other times, I help backstage. Still other times, I am a PRODUCER. In the new world order (after Equity makes this happen in spite of the wishes of literally everyone I know in Los Angeles theatre), I – as a “Producer” – will be on the hook for either budgeting for Equity actors (and CA taxes, their EDD expenses, medicare, all of that), or finding another way to provide money when the show itself is already not going to make a profit. Look into it: NO THEATRE IN AMERICA PAYS ITS EXPENSES WITH TICKET SALES ALONE.

What does that mean? It means we, as a company, won’t be able to afford to use union actors. Good job Equity! You’ve succeeded in eliminating the best way your members have to practice their work!! It’s ok though. Equity actors can just join a class. Will that prepare them for actually performing in an actual show in front of a real, paid audience? Perhaps. Of course, its a little like how a writing class makes you ready to write for the LA Times. Thing is, would the LA Times hire a beat writer based on classwork? Or do you suppose they’d want to see some kind of real-world experience? I don’t know the answer to that, but I can guess.

Bottom line: The company can become a for-profit entity, which is unrealistic. Or it can use non-union talent, which is more likely.

2) It’s only because I already belong to my Company that I would even be allowed (under the new proposal) to remain in the way I have been for the past 10 years. Because I belong to SAG-AFTRA and they’d demand I follow their sister-union’s rules – Equity’s rules – if my status changes with Equity, say if I were to join, new rules dictate my status as a company member would be lost. My company, who I have worked with and gained valuable experience and exposure in the process, would suddenly have to pay me minimum wage. Remember when I said they can’t afford that? Well, guess what? They still CAN’T AFFORD TO DO THAT!!

Bottom line: I will not be joining Equity, short of being offered a job at a large theatre with an Equity contract (3 of these exist in Los Angeles). You know, someplace where I would be able to make actual livable money. Not the couple bucks Equity seems to think actors are worth.

This whole thing is so sad. It’s clear to me that the union is only doing this because they have huge membership numbers here in Los Angeles because of the film/tv industry and they think they can squeeze some more dues money out of them. Instead of supporting their membership’s efforts to be more professional and prepared when the larger theatres (Or, God forbid, a movie or tv show) come calling, they are effectively telling them, “Go back to class. That’s the only place you’re allowed to improve your skills. When you aren’t getting paid, you’re not really a professional. Further, you must not respect your talents or craft since you don’t agree you should be paid the very bottom, minimum dollar amount possible.”

Thanks for that Equity. I was having trouble valuing myself before. Now that I know I am worth minimum wage, I feel so much better.
I guess it turns out, i DO care. Please, if you have a vote today, VOTE NO. #ILove99 #NotThisChange

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