Dear Mr. Marowitz:
A group of us actor/"whores" were sitting around the dressing room of our
Waiver theater and discussing your article. We agreed that your ideas
completely ignore the realities not only of theater in Los Angeles, but of
theater in America and the American actor's relationship to that theater.
you to seriously suggest that actors in this country, by banding together,
can change the attitudes of the public and of their employers toward the
theater displays naiveté and ignorance in the extreme. When, for example,
did the Broadway stage ever develop "its own elite artists whose
continuous development in the live theater created a breed of performers
artistically distinct from celluloid 'names'"? Who are those artists? Are
they still a breed apart, working away on good old Broadway? The only ones
we can think of abandoned New York and the theater to work in films and
We American actors do have some rotten traits born out of our experience.
After a time, we resent working for nothing, in this country there are
rarely any rewards for actors other than personal satisfaction (which
doesn't pay rent) and money. In this country, Mr. Marowitz, money means
acceptance. That's a reality we don't appreciate, but we have had to make
our peace with it.
You argue that stage actors who feel they can survive only by recourse to
the other media, do so on the "fallacious assumption" that Los Angeles
need be limited to only one wholly subsidized theater. If that is a
fallacious assumption, you can doubtless fill us in on the sources of
funds you have found with which we can subsidize other theaters. We actors
are painfully aware that every major country in the world (and many minor
ones) subsidize their theaters and artists far more generously than the
United States. That's the atmosphere we American actors have had to
survive in, Mr. Marowitz. So, in order to survive at all, we play the
game. Perhaps you know another way?
We took a poll in our dressing room. How many of us (we are seven) were
doing this play because we believe in the play and love to act? How many
of us were doing it to showcase ourselves for films and television? We
came up with a vote of seven on both counts.
You see, with the exception of one young man, we have all been around (and
around and around), and basically "we don't get no respect." So, we work
for nothing to keep our spirits alive and our instruments in tune hoping
that we can make a few bucks along the way so that we can afford to
practice our art, or our craft, or whatever the hell it is.
We don't kid ourselves that working in television is the be-all and
end-all, the great goal. We have all done it — a lot of it — and we know
it is sometimes trash. But, somehow it is still considered acting and it
beats typing and waiting tables and driving cabs. We American actors have
not made the rules. Even the producers in this town, the people to whom we
used to look for some leadership to-
ward even a semblance of artistic and theatrical integrity, have yielded
their power to the network accountants.
You write, "one looks in vain for political ideas powerfully put or
hazardous experiments couched in innovative theater language." We don't
doubt that you look in vain for that in Los Angeles. You can look in vain
for that in New York, too. Have you noticed which plays succeed in New
York? Would you have us all dedicate ourselves forever to the La Mamas and
the Performance Groups? Many of us would, and for very little
remuneration, if we were not to be ignored in the bargain and thought of
as freaks and idiots to boot. Somewhere, somehow, we expect to get
You "rejoice" when Waiver productions of "Thursday's Girls" and "Nuts"
reach a wider public "naturally," as you put it, "by displaying the
concerted talents of artists whose work has organically succeeded on the
stage," Neither of those plays could be described as "hazardous
experiments" or "couched in innovative theater language." For your
information, Mr. Marowitz, they were both mounted by actors looking for
work in television and film, part of the giant audition in which we
participate unceasingly. The only difference is that these productions
succeeded, and so they have your blessing. Are you perhaps participating
in the double standard which you claim to deplore? Are all we auditioning,
waivering Waiver theater actors who participate in less-than-successful
productions condemned by your 'definition' to whoring forever?
When you can find a way to create an atmosphere in this country of respect
for actors, to define for those who employ us just what an actor is and to
convince them that in the long run, real American actors will serve them
better than models, sex objects, foreign imports and over-the-hill
athletes, then write another article, Mr. Marowitz, and we will all
rejoice in your findings.
Click here to jump back to the top
and read Joseph Stern's letter
On April 5 I attended the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's annual
banquet and watched "The Hasty Heart" receive six awards for
excellence. One of these was for "distinguished ensemble
performance/' Gregory Harrison, accepting on behalf of the nine
actors who had performed the play at the Equity Waiver
Cast-at-the-Circle Theater, spoke of team spirit.
But as they stood silhouetted on the stage, this "team" had been
reduced from nine to five actors. The other four had been replaced
for the new version of "The Hasty Heart" at the Ahmanson.
The men responsible were the show's original producers, Franklyn
Levy, Leslie Moonves and Gregory Harrison (a k a Catalina
Productions); the Ahmanson's artistic director, Robert Fryer, and
the playwright, John Patrick.
These men did not violate the rules of Actors' Equity, because there
are no rules where Waiver theater is concerned. It is a gentlemen's
agreement: The actor will do his work and the union will waive
its jurisdictional rights. If there are any profits, hopefully, the
producers and the actors will share them. What these men violated,
rather, were the rules of fairness and decency. And their conduct
may be the beginning of the end of Waiver theater in Los Angeles,
One of the producers told me that a combination of artistic
differences, the author's right of cast approval and the Ahmanson's
need for names were the reasons for the replacements. I was somewhat
disconcerted. The Ahmanson, so we are told, has a subscription
audience of 80% of its capacity. Granting that it's tough to sell
the remaining 20% of its seats, I failed to see the box-office
allure of the quote "name" replacements.
as one of the actors told me, "I don't think these men are villains
— just businessmen. Hell, everyone knew from the beginning that
Frank and Greg had big plans. I just should've been smart enough to
have had a contract."
This statement touches the heart of this event and the reason that
we who have been involved with theater in Los Angeles have to
reevaluate where we are and where we are going.
Waiver theater, when it began 10 years ago, was about the work. The
byproduct was exposure to the industry. But with the cable and
pay-TV explosion, Waiver becomes an invitation for experienced
producers to come in and mount commercial productions in 99-seat
theaters with professional actors working without pay. It becomes a
kind of crucible for a pay-TV deal with no obligations to the actors
who create the work.
The move of "The Hasty Heart" to the Ahmanson was an accidental
event, made possible only by the cancellation of the Ahmanson's
"Anastasia" after the tragic death of Natalie Wood. I suspect the
eventual intention of Catalina Productions was to reach other
markets. And so it has turned out. CBS has entered into an agreement
with Catalina for a TV film of "The Hasty Heart." I wonder how many
actors at the Ahmanson will be replaced when it begins shooting.
Catalina is also preparing an Equity Waiver production of the 1928
play, "Journey's End." The scenario is the same. A TV series star of
limited stage experience heads a cast of seasoned but not "name"
actors, working without pay. The theater is filled with talk of
cable deals and perhaps a Broadway production. Yet the actors have
no contractual guarantees that they will advance beyond the Waiver
production. Producer Levy has said that, this time, the
nonprofit Cast Theater "will get back a piece of the action."
(According to the theater's managing director, Ted Schmitt, that
piece is 2% of the producer's net profit.) But what will the actors
get back? If either "Journey's End" or "The Hasty Heart" were a new
play, the producers would have to give any replaced members of the
original cast the equivalent of three weeks' salary. But this rule
does not apply to revivals. And at this writing. Levy has not had
the grace to pay the dismissed members of his "Hasty Heart" team
(Editor's note — Producer Franklyn Levy said last week that any
replaced actors in "Journey's End" will be recompensed as if it were
a new play.)
The actor is the co-producer in a Waiver show. He gives up his
salary — money the producer would have to raise in a contract
situation. Therefore he too must get "a piece of the action." He is
not only an actor but an investor. Actors can be discarded, but an
investor is tied to the production forever.
Waiver theater exists in Los Angeles so that actors can work at
their craft when there are not enough paying situations. Waiver
becomes a sham when commercial producers are allowed to subvert the
system for their personal financial gain. We who work, love and
thrive in Waiver theater must police ourselves and beware of those
who wish to take and give nothing in return.