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Darkness in December

A joint message to the Los Angeles community from Pro99 and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Equity




The clock is ticking! Beginning December 14th, 2016, despite the Los Angeles community’s urging and a lawsuit served on Actors’ Equity Association by Equity members and producers, Equity will impose new rules and regulations which will change theatre in Los Angeles forever. This change will take away most of the opportunities for Equity actors to work in intimate theatre in Los Angeles and destroy Los Angeles intimate theatre as we know it.


Forty-eight years ago, Equity actors in Los Angeles fought for and were granted the right to form theater companies and perform without pay. These were professional actors. They wanted the same thing that we want now: The right to do the work we have always dreamed of – to be artists in relationship to our community, in theatres that are safe and treat all the artists fairly.


Equity’s new rules and regulations destroy a system and a community that have been in place for almost half a century. The changes will eliminate the prior 99-Seat Plan and a settlement agreement approved by both actors and the union after actors sued the union in 1986 to prevent similar changes. These current changes were brought to an advisory referendum on April 21, 2015 and were defeated by the Los Angeles Equity membership 67% to 33%. Actors said they did not want these new rules and regulations by a margin of 2 to 1. Actors want to preserve their right to follow their dreams, to do the work they want to do. No one is forcing actors to volunteer. It is an actor’s choice. It is an actor’s right. Equity is trying to take away the actor’s right to volunteer.


Equity’s new rules indicate Equity believes making money must take precedence over making art. These new rules purport to create more paid contract work for actors and stage managers in LA’s small theatres. That’s a positive goal, and one we can all agree on in principle. Unfortunately, creating a rule doesn’t create a reality.


99-seat and under theaters all conform to the old guidelines that Equity set for actors’ reimbursements. Many theatres surpass that amount and give their actors more. Equity wants everyone to believe this conflict is about wages. It is not. All of us in this community would be like to be paid more to do the work we do, but that is not why we make theatre. Los Angeles’ intimate theatres are among the few places on earth created to house hope – and so they are priceless and must be protected at all cost. Equity’s New Agreement and new internal codes won’t help theater artists in LA, it will hurt them.  


Art is not and cannot be solely a commercial venture.


Many theatres you know and love will either be forced out of business or have to use non-union actors. Actors you know and love will no longer be appearing in intimate theatres. The theatres that will be forced to change or close include theatres that are large and small – The Odyssey Theatre, The Fountain, The Skylight Theatre, Boston Court, The Victory, The Blank and more than 70 other theatres.


Equity says their new internal rules and codes will afford actors similar opportunities to what they used to have under the old agreement. This is not true. These rules and codes greatly diminish both actors and theatres’ ability to achieve excellence. 


The new codes have budget and rehearsal period restrictions so onerous that the good theatre being done and seen in intimate theatres will disappear after December 14th. Why is it so necessary to put such punitive limits on budgets and rehearsal periods?  What are these restrictions trying to accomplish? 


The only exclusion which continues to give Equity members the opportunities they have had for the last 48-years is “the membership company rule.” Equity members can continue to volunteer in “Equity approved membership companies,” but without protections. This means that Equity members working in these theatres are no longer guaranteed the safety and other protections Equity still guarantees them in the other new rules and codes. Why can’t members working under the Membership Company rule have those protections?

Some Equity approved “membership theatres” you may know include Pacific Resident Theatre, Theatre 40, Theatre West, Rogue Machine, Antaeus, and many more. What is an “Equity approved Membership Company theatre?” What are the qualifications to get Equity’s approval? Why can actors volunteer in these theatres but cannot in other legitimate not-for-profit 99-seat and under theatre organizations? Why can actors continue to volunteer at Rogue Machine and not at The Skylight Theatre? How is this rule fair to actors or theatre organizations?


Equity would like the members in these companies to believe they are safe. Membership theatres are not safe.The membership company rule” is an internal rule and Equity has warned it can be changed at any time. Union members would not have a say in such changes.


The Los Angeles Intimate Theatre community has survived for almost a half century. It has been both a laboratory and a proving ground. Actors, playwrights and other theatre artists who may not have ever gotten an opportunity have found the beginnings of significant careers here.   Equity seems determined to make sure that can’t continue to happen.


More than 120 plays that received world premieres in the intimate theatre community have gone to contract. They’ve been seen on Broadway, Off-Broadway and all over the world. In most cases the local Equity actors who originated roles have benefited. Last year, Spring Awakening went from a 99-seat house to Broadway. Fifteen Los Angeles actors went with it.


Don’t let Equity turn out the lights in December. Don’t let LA theatre go dark.


  • Write Equity leaders and tell them how important intimate theatre in Los Angeles is to you – why you want it preserved.
  • Tell your friends. Tell elected officials. Tell the media.
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  • Join our fight… Get on our mailing list.
  • March with us when we protest.
  • See plays and if you can afford to do so, support your local theatres.