New York–centric leadership of AEA, the “national” actors union, has no record of venerable Los Angeles theater company.
Will Watkins, Leo Marks, and Don Oscar Smith in Evidence Room's 2008 Cherry Orchard
Photo by John Zalewski
LOS ANGELES (May 19, 2015)—Actors’ Equity Association, the national union of theater performers and stage managers, recently notified several award-winning Los Angeles theater companies, among them longtime membership company Evidence Room, that Equity has no record that they have ever produced in Los Angeles. Evidence Room founding artistic director Bart DeLorenzo has written a trenchant letter in response.
As part of a set of new Rules and Agreements that Actors’ Equity is attempting to institute in the Los Angeles theater community, the union is in the process of determining whether or not dozens of small theater companies working in theaters with 99 seats or fewer qualify as “membership companies.” This is a designation that would exempt them from substantially increasing actor pay in accordance with new rules for non-membership companies.
The union’s new rules have served to galvanize and unite theater practitioners who oppose them and have become the subject of heated debate in the media. Equity's requirements for acceptance as a membership company are twofold: one, the theater must operate primarily for the mutual benefit of its members; and two, the theater must have produced in Los Angeles prior to Feb. 6, 2015. Several theater companies have been notified that they are being rejected as membership companies because, according to Actors’ Equity, there is no record that they have produced in L.A. prior to Feb. 6.
Evidence Room—which has been in existence for 20 years, has produced more than 50 plays in Los Angeles, and was named by the Los Angeles Times in 2001 as “L.A.’s most valuable rising theater”—received such a letter from Actors’ Equity, which stated that, “Based on the information that we have, it does not appear that your company meets the requirements of the membership company rule, because your company had not produced under the 99-Seat Plan prior to Feb. 6, 2015.
De Lorenzo wrote the following response to the union:
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Please forgive my astonished response. As someone who has been directing and producing shows with the Evidence Room Theater for 20 years, I was really taken aback by your determination that you had no records of our theater, especially since I personally have probably signed and mailed in about 40 of those 99-seat forms registering our shows with Actors’ Equity over the years. And yet there are none in your records?
I have to say it makes me curious about the record-keeping over there…. To me it was like your wondering if Nathan Lane had ever performed in a Broadway show. (I just looked it up: he’s done 20, about half the number of 99-seat shows Evidence Room has registered.) A simple Google search would probably also have told you as much. (Which is what I conducted on you when I wondered who it could be that was asking such a, forgive me, LA-theater-ignorant question.)
Or a conversation with practically anyone working in theater in Los Angeles might have helped you. Or if you have seriously managed to misfile all those forms over all those years, you could also have looked at our company website, which might have led you to several articles on the company in the Los Angeles Times. We haven’t been hiding.
I have to say that I have been listening for months now to Los Angeles actors complaining about the willful ignorance of their Actors’ Equity representatives and Equity’s dogged willfulness to eradicate the LA theater ecosystem, but your email is my first actual direct Equity encounter. And I have to say, you do nothing to correct the terrible impression everyone keeps criticizing. You perfectly enact the pattern of carelessly shooting something down based on little or no facts and asking questions later. And that just seems so out of character with the excellent meticulous and conscientious Equity stage managers I’ve worked with over the years. What is happening?
Now, A-----, your resume shows that you have worked with all sorts of people I know and respect, and perhaps you have just been given a task completely outside your area. (I know I would have a hard time sorting through foreign theaters and making determinations about them.) But I have to wonder why you were given this job. Isn’t there one person in all of Actors Equity who is familiar with Los Angeles theater? If not, maybe that’s the bigger problem.
Well, A-----, you are undoubtedly tasked with many more letters like the one you sent me to deal with so I shouldn’t keep you any longer, but I would be remiss in not taking this moment to encourage you and your Equity brethren to dispense with all this bureaucratic nonsense and sit down with the 99-seat theaters and have a conversation. You all must know that this edict-on-high approach isn’t working and is never going to work. If you try to move forward with it, there will be lawsuits and strikes and rallies and all sorts of unpleasantness. The union isn’t listening to its own members, and even the most casual glance at history can tell anyone that a house divided will not stand. Everyone in LA theater wants actors to be paid more money, but there are too many Equity actors out here for that to work in the proposals that Equity has hastily revised and thrust at the community. (They perhaps save Equity’s face a little, but don’t really do anything to address the real issues.)
So please, I encourage all of you over there to get to know LA theater a little more before you try to administer it so strenuously. Rip up your unpopular proposals and start fresh with a community that really wants to work with you. If you want, A-----, you can start with me. I’ll be happy to tell you about my 20-year-old company and anything else you’d like to know.
Jeff Ricketts and Julia Brothers in Evidence Room's 1999 production of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Photo by Cassidy Harrison
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