Los Angeles basked in the glorious victories of the Olympic Games and
local theatre, particularly, was reflecting the success of the related
Olympic Arts Festival, letters were being mailed from Mary Lou Herz,
administrator of the 99-Seat Waiver Dept. of Actors' Equity Association
to all waiver theatre manager/owners in the county informing of new
policy set forth by the union.
A copy of the letter was printed in Drama-Logue
Issue No. 31 (Aug. 2-8, page 7). In essence, the reason stated for
the letter being sent was because of the union's difficulty in obtaining
Subsidiary Rights Agreements on some waiver productions because the
union is unaware that a show is being produced. At the meeting of
Equity's Western Advisory Board on July 5, 1984, the recommendation of
the 99-Seat Waiver Committee was adopted "that all shows playing in an
Equity-waiver theatre must be 'registered' with Actors' Equity
Association." The letter further states that even if the theatre space
qualifies as waiver, each production mounted in that space must be
registered in order to obtain waiver status.
The Los Angeles County waiver system has been in
effect for over a dozen years now and it caused little surprise to read
that Equity was going to clamp down and enforce a few regulations. Since
changes were brought about in the similar San Francisco/ Bay Area waiver
plan a couple of years ago, some local theatre operators said it was
only a matter of time before the union began putting restraints on the
waiver system here.
Reaction to the letters has been diverse with some
theatre manager/ owners saying the registration requirement is welcome
while others feel it is just the beginning of what are many rules and
restrictions being planned by Equity. One actor who has been in several
waiver productions said, "The [waiver] producers in this town have had a
free ride long enough as far as not paying actors is concerned" and
feels the time is long overdue when actors should be paid "something,
even if it is just gas money."
Quite a few waiver producers have been paying actors
"something" for some time but there is no uniform system. Each producer
offers what he or she feels is fair and feasible. Then there are those
producers who never pay anyone anything. And what about the many waiver
productions where the actors are also the producers?
Los Angeles Theatre Alliance, in existence since 1976
but fairly low in profile lately, presently has about 60 members, the
majority of which are waiver theatres. Equity's most recent count shows
nearly 170 approved waiver spaces although a number of those have been
inactive for some time and will subsequently be deleted from the
"'Conceptually it is my belief that the actor is
the co-producer in a waiver production. He or she defers salary in lieu of
monetary compensation or further profits. Hence, actors should be
compensated whether it is an original or non-original play if they are
replaced. And it is in this spirit that I recommend a 10 per cent
profit participation which is separate and apart from their working
salary.' óJoseph Stern producer
A meeting of some of the Alliance members was held
Tuesday, Aug. 7, as a preliminary discussion about the Equity letters.
Alliance president Tom Ormeny (co-artistic director of the Victory
Theatre) stated after the meeting that nothing concrete had been decided
but indicated a committee of Alliance members would be formed which
hopefully would talk with representatives from Equity. For what purpose?
Primarily, to begin a communication.
One producer who refuses to panic about the Equity
letter and, in fact, feels the registration requirement will be helpful,
is Joseph Stern (Actors For Themselves, Matrix Theatre). Stern had
written a proposal in the spring of 1983 which was submitted at that
same time to the Theatre Allliance. However, he says, his proposal was
never relayed to the members at large.
His proposal was drafted to protect both the actor
and the producer. During the rehearsal period and initial run, the
proposal protected the producers' interest. Once the play was extended
and had potential for further profits, the actors were protected.
In the proposal, Stern states, "Conceptually it is my
belief that the actor is the co-producer in a waiver production. He or
she defers salary in lieu of monetary compensation or further profits.
Hence, actors should be compensated whether it is an original or
non-original play if they are replaced. And it is in this spirit that I
recommend a 10 per cent profit participation which is separate and apart
from their working salary."
The proposal's guidelines included a lobby display
with photos and/or names of all the actors; all actors' names on flyers;
announcement when an understudy or replacement goes on; cleaning of
costumes to be paid by producers. Nothing unreasonable there; in fact,
most of those things are already being done by most producers
although there has been more than one report of costumes not getting
cleaned unless each actor did his or her own at the actor's expense.
Where Stern's proposal met resistance was in the
monetary guidelines. His suggestion was to pay a minimum of $50 to each
cast member as an honorarium for rehearsals and the basic run of play,
defined as eight weeks or 50 performances, whichever came first. When a
production was extended beyond the basic run of play, the cast was to
share 10 per cent of the gross box office receipts. After 26 weeks the
cast would share 15 per cent of the gross.
Further guidelines touched on subsidiary rights,
suggesting 10 per cent of all proceeds to producer (royalties and profit
participation) be shared by those entitled to subsidiary rights (actors
who opened the show and/or played at least 10 performances). This did
not include productions which might move to an Equity contract or be
used for cable, film or television wherein actors would be compensated
in accordance with Equity or other union jurisdiction.
Joe Stern's production for the Olympic Arts Festival
was Nina Shengold's The Homesteaders. After its two-week OAF run,
during which the Equity members were paid in accordance with a union
contract and funding was received from the OAF (this was true of all
local Festival entries), Stem continued the play for an additional two
weeks. The actors, by agreement with Equity and the OAF, received 20 per
cent of the box office gross.
Did paying that 20 per cent create a financial
burden? Stern says it didn't for him. Then, why did he not continue the
run since the production received favorable reviews?
"Because these people [the actors] all work in movies
and television and I would have had to replace two or three people. I'm
not big on replacing actors. And I always thought the bottom would fall
out after July 29 [opening day of the Olympics]. Although we did
tremendous business, one of the best things I've ever done, I had
designed the whole thing to close on the 29th. That's the way I sold it
to the actors."
During the post-Festival run, Stern figures each cast
member averaged $175 a week, not that much below the $200 minimum
provided by the Equity contract for the Festival.
How do those figures differ from what Stern generally
pays actors for his waiver productions? "I pay them each $100 for the
entire run, which usually includes four weeks of rehearsal and eight
weeks of playing. If I extend, I go into a salary."
Would paying the actors 20 per cent of the gross for
future productions be unfeasible? "It's too tough without grants. I got
$27,000 in grants directly or indirectly from the Olympic Arts Festival.
The show cost about $50,000 and about $18,000 went to the actors. And it
would have cost anyone else more [because] I own the theatre. If anyone
had rented the theatre, it would have cost about 10 grand more."
But Stern reiterates what could be lived with is
paying the actors 10 per cent of the gross after the first eight weeks
of a run.