×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Guest Column: Noah Wyle Urges ‘No’ Vote on Actors’ Equity’s 99-Seat Theater Proposal

Since the late ’80s,  Actors’ Equity has recognized the Los Angeles 99-Seat Theater Agreement, which allows members to showcase their work for negligible stipends. Now, the union is proposing to eliminate the agreement in favor of two new internal membership rules and one new agreement.

The new agreement, if enacted as it is currently proposed, would require actors be paid minimum wage ($9 an hour in L.A. County) for rehearsal and performances, with no contributions to pension or health insurance. To many in the L.A. theater community, the proposal represents a threat to the city’s vibrant intimate-theater scene.

Equity members in L.A. County can vote today through April 17 on the proposal (i.e., an “advisory referendum”). The outcome of the vote will be taken into account when Equity’s National Council meets April 21 to deliberate over the proposal and determine the final form of the new arrangement.

NOAH WYLE, IN HIS OWN WORDS:

In 17 years serving as artistic producer of Hollywood’s Blank Theatre Company, I’ve learned two things about running a small theater.

The first is that you will spend most of your time engaged in an exhausting, bare-knuckled fight for survival. The second is that it’s worth it.

The Blank operates a 49-seat black box on that stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard recently designated “Hollywood Theatre Row” by the Los Angeles City Council. We’re a membership company, dedicated to providing a home for artists and to the development of new works for the American stage.

So why don’t we pay actors minimum wage for rehearsal hours? New works. 49 seats. The perfect recipe for a non-profit enterprise. All of our economics begin at that chokepoint: 49 seats x 4 shows a week =  ticket sales alone won’t get us there. Keeping our doors open requires constant fundraising, grant writing and, above all, volunteerism.

Call it “love of the craft,” esprit de corps or old-fashioned apprenticeship, we’ve survived because of a consensus of understanding: We are here to make theater, not money; that’s what TV and movies are for. Intimate theaters show we value you, the actor, by inviting you to create something new with us. You’re compensated by having a place to nurture your talent, showcase your abilities, satisfy your creativity and play roles the commercial entertainment machine would never let you play.

This proposed amendment is the reignition of an old debate, and it’s not “How do we monetize art?” or “How do we compensate artists?” From our perspective, the pertinent question looks to be: How can Actors’ Equity secure more contract weeks in a town where the 99-Seat Plan is so widely used?

The apparent strategy, with this proposal, is to force the closure of small theaters in the hope that they’ll consolidate into mid-sized theaters, thus generating more full Equity contracts.

As a proud member of Equity, I understand the issue and applaud the intention, however misguided. As a small theater producer, however, I am extremely frustrated.

Intimate theater producers have repeatedly proposed sitting down to negotiate a compromise with Equity before and after this proposal was announced, but Equity has not allowed such dialogue to occur.

We are not anti-union, nor are we anti-minimum wage, but Equity’s failure to converse with us and/or articulate the complexity of the issue to its members has forced us to engage in a media campaign to give full context to the debate.

Small theater provides opportunities for actors and directors to stretch and hone their skills. We offer an intimate, affordable theatrical experience to local audiences, play a vital role in the development of new work and are important economic stimulators for the entire County of Los Angeles.

The current 99-Seat Plan may be flawed, but you do not rid your home of termites by setting fire to it.

I will be voting NO on the referendum to eliminate the Los Angeles 99-Seat Plan.

— NOAH WYLE

(The views expressed by Wyle are his own and do not represent those of Variety.)


Noah Wyle, pictured below in the Blank’s production of “Lobster Alice”

noah-wyle-99-seat-plan-vote-equity

More Legit

  • ZZ Top, Caesars Entertainment Team on

    ZZ Top, Caesars Team for Jukebox Musical 'Sharp Dressed Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top and Caesars Entertainment are developing “Sharp Dressed Man,” a jukebox musical set to open next year in Las Vegas featuring the band’s greatest hits. Members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are all serving as executive producers. “Sharp Dressed Man” is described as an “outrageous, [...]

  • Williamstown Theater Festival 2016 season

    Marisa Tomei Starring in Broadway Revival of 'The Rose Tattoo'

    Marisa Tomei will star in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” The Oscar-winning actress will play Serafina, a part previously performed by the likes of Maureen Stapleton and Anna Magnani. It’s also a role that Tomei is familiar with, having starred in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production in 2016. “The Rose Tattoo” [...]

  • White Pearl review

    London Theater Review: 'White Pearl'

    Playwright Anchuli Felicia King dismantles the Asian market in this misfiring satire at London’s Royal Court Theatre. “White Pearl” makes a case that those seeking to make inroads into the Far East, perceiving a new El Dorado, are no better that colonial conquistadors of an earlier age — and entirely unequipped to understand the specifics [...]

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

  • SOCRATES The Public Theater

    Tim Blake Nelson Waxes Philosophical on Writing a Play About Socrates

    Despite Tim Blake Nelson’s knack for playing folksy characters in films such as “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in his soul lurks the heart of a classicist. Nelson, who stars in HBO’s “Watchmen” series this fall, has also penned the play “Socrates,” now running at New York’s Public Theater through June 2. Doug Hughes directs, [...]

  • TodayTix - Brian Fenty

    TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

    TodayTix, a Broadway-born mobile ticketing start-up, is looking to expand into a bigger global media and transaction enterprise with a capital infusion of $73 million led by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. The investment brings TodayTix’s total capital raised to over $100 million, according to CEO and co-founder Brian Fenty. Part of the new funding [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content