The Problem with Actors’ Equity Association

I’ve made my feelings known on many occasions that I believe that it’s quite possible that the time of the Union has passed. They have been and are still valuable, their conception and existence have done so much for civilized society since the dawn of the Industrial Age, but over the last twenty or thirty years they seem to again and again hinder the progress of free enterprise and in many instances are direct obstacles to improvements to the industries they supposedly support, including education, manufacturing and the performing arts.

Artistic Director of Berkeley-based Impact Theatre, Melissa Hillman, has written an article on this very subject on her Bitter Gertrude blog concerning Actors Equity Association – one of the most archaic of the entertainment unions in my opinion – and I find it refreshing, insightful and most of all, honest. Clearly she’s dealing with problems specific to her region, but they are common to our problems here in LA as well. Here’s a nice segment from her rant:

So what’s my solution?

Tie AEA agreements to INCOME, not to TIME or to SEATS or to anything else. That would make the relationship between AEA and nonprofit theatres realistic, and would result in more AEA actors being hired, which is good for both the theatre companies and the AEA actors. AEA contracts could be tied to a company’s income in the prior fiscal year. If it’s under X, you work under this contract, if it’s over X but under Y, you work under that contract, and so on. Income is REAL. Imagining that money undergoes mitosis and automatically grows over time is not. Imagining that a theatre space with more seats will automatically make a nonprofit theatre more money is not. Use the real income, not the imaginary income. Work out salaries that are fair when compared to the company’s income bracket. You wouldn’t need to reduce the salaries that already exist—just allow companies a more realistic set of criteria for qualifying for contracts.

Bring the Bay Area in line with the rest of the damn country and allow waivers for companies whose financials qualify, regardless of how long they’ve been producing.

Empower your membership to decide for themselves what jobs they will take. The companies who would be using a waiver are currently not using any AEA actors at all. The companies you’ve shut out of the MBAT who can’t grow to BAT are not using any AEA actors at all. Is that better for your membership, really?

And finally, stop imagining that small, nonprofit theatre companies are all sitting atop hoards of gold, arrogantly refusing to give your actors a dime while wiping their asses with hundred-dollar bills. Most of us are barely paying ourselves. Some of us don’t pay ourselves at all. And, apart from a few bad apples, almost all of us are aching to pay AEA actors– who are our friends, people we have worked with for years, people we LOVE– a living wage. Personally, I want to be able to pay ALL actors, AEA or not, a living wage.

It’s a provocative read, LemonHeads. Check it out if you can. And no, I’m not digging it because there’s a “bitter” connection. Sheesh.

Oh, and I’m adding you to our blogroll, Gertrude. Congrats. Welcome to the club.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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