AEA Votes on #99Seat
We’re almost at a head.
I also recommend the editorial from Bitter Lemons and it’s detail about the full pager in the Los Angeles Times and Actors’ Equity Association’s response:
It’s very possible that union actors will be forced out of the indie scene by their own leadership, which will make producer-hyphenates like me seek non-union talent or hang it up all together. AEA insists on portraying people like me as exploitative of actors and dismissive of their contributions, when in fact, most of what I do is engineer opportunities for good actors to act in good parts for paying audiences. The paying part is important, mind you, to the audience part. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get an idea if you ‘have a play’ until spectators can feel either content or disappointed about the ticket price in the lobby after the show. The collective branding is important too. I benefit from the Brimmer Street brand equally with my co-collectivists, because that’s a way that we support each other, union and non-union alike. We are a group of equals with a brand which can extend beyond what each of is capable on our own.
AEA and their mouthpieces would tell you that those two things – box office and ‘institutional’ identity – make us a commercial enterprise which must pay its labor, not a community organization or artist’s partnership which can accept volunteer efforts from professionals who would, in other more profitable contexts, be paid. It’s a fine argument, both thin and nice to look at. But at its heart, it demeans actors by saying that the instant they step off the stage and write a play, write a grant, or write a press release, they cease to be artists and become The Boss. And everyone knows The Boss is in it for himself.
Under the lens of collective bargaining, the spirit of the work that brought everyone together in the first place becomes an empty sentiment used to exploit workers who would otherwise be making a living in their trade. But that just isn’t true. If we’re not allowed to be professionals (UNION professionals) at the same time that we are independent creators, (not only of theater, but of organs and collectives which facilitate that theater) then the future of our necessarily collaborative art is trapped inside those institutions with sufficient wealth and income to pay their overworked staff above an arbitrary minimum as thousands of plays go unwritten, unrehearsed, and unenjoyed.
I am not a member of Actor’s Equity Association, so I don’t feel comfortable telling people how to govern their own union. I am also staff and co-founder of a membership company, which has an exception written into the changes allowing us to continue operating (if we never add another member in the future, mind you, I call this the Morgana rule) so the matter is not nearly as urgent for me as it would be for other companies. But I do ask that members of AEA, SAG/AFTRA and every other creative and technical artists labor union to consider the reason why you chose your profession in the first place. Was it to put food on the table? Certainly you deserve to eat. But don’t you also deserve to practice your skills in the ways that work best for you? Would you allow other people in a far off state, to whom you pay dues, tell you when and where it is appropriate for you to apply your craft? When to pick up a gig for free, and when to demand a wage? If so, consider the impact that will have on the frequency, quality, and spirit of the work you produce. I would guess that if every painter demanded a commission before laying down a brush stroke, the Louvre would be full of paintings of self-obsessed aristocrats and their dogs.