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Paul Birchall’s Got It Covered:

The year of despair; WSJ covers local theater’s battle with AEA; Theatre Asylum reboots; upcoming memorial for Gordon Davidson open to the public

2016: The Year of Despair


Well, AEA-members who labor in the trenches of Los Angeles intimate theater must now come to grips with the new reality of opportunities for work being constricted by their own union’s new Agreement, which replaces the 99-Seat Theater Plan. It is no wonder that many of these folks are now either deeply depressed or furious:  With the court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ case against Actors’ Equity Association, the only remaining attempt to preserve the city’s fecund 99-seat theater scene lies in the promise of an appeal, which Plaintiff Gary Grossman has said “remains on the table.”
California went Democratic hugely in the last election – but we are still forced to live under the assumed authoritarian control of a nation dictated by Donald Trump and his minions, who will offer this State no love in the years ahead. Meanwhile, this decision as to which actors will be allowed to perform on small LA stages was unilaterally made in New York, over the loud and pronounced opposition of the actual practitioners on the local scene.  Thus, in both a large and small scale, we are finding ourselves in a uniquely powerless situation, at least politically, out here in the Big Orange. Our frustration and fury is palpable county-wide.

Wall Street Journal Reports Again on the L.A. Theater Scene

LONDON - APRIL 16:  A copy of the U.S. Edition of The Wall Street Journal on a copy of The Guardian, bith of which have been purchased at the same London newsagent on April 16, 2008 in London, England. It is the first day of the U.S Edition of the newspaper being on sale in U.K.  (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

An article about AEA’s new Agreement in L.A. came out in the Wall Street Journal earlier this Tuesday, peppered with quotes from both defenders of the 99-Seat Plan — such as Veronica Brady  (“You can go play Hamlet and have a day job working in television or doing voiceover”) and John Lacey (“You’re probably going to see a lot more one-person shows.”) —  as well as AEA’s Executive Director Mary McColl, who defends the union’s actions, noting, amongst other things, that “At the end of the day, this is work… It’s not an unpaid internship.”

It’s probably best not to linger over the gaping hole in Ms. McColl’s argument – that if there are fewer productions and fewer roles for union actors, there will be less money and artistic validation for them – but the particularly intriguing aspect of the article are the comments, some of which are really quite disturbing to read and proof that opinions are indeed like sphincters:  Everyone has at least one.  

The Wall Street Journal is, of course, a periodical that leans right, but there is still some distress to be gleaned by the East Coast Shadenfreude of conservatives ridiculing liberals like Ed Asner for bucking their Union and elements such as the minimum wage.  We have not heard much of this particular irony yet.  And going over the comments is a little like when you have an ache on the roof of your mouth and you rub your tongue over it again and again just to make sure the pain is still there.

But at least some of the vitriol in the comments section, lauding the karmic revenge against Asner, Ed Harris and other “left-wing progressives who support minimum wage agendas” was answered succinctly by William Salyers:

“There’s an amazing amount of ignorance in many of these comments. There is no Big Money in these theaters. There are no ‘deep pockets’ hoarding cash. There are small venues doing mostly new and experimental work while desperately trying to keep afloat. There is nothing inconsistent about ‘commie’ Asner trying to help these organizations survive while arguing that actual laborers deserve minimum wage.”

Added Robert Camm with back-handed praise: “Even Ed Asner seems to understand the problem.”

But the attempts of Pro99 to differentiate between the support of unions and their fury at AEA got muddied in a comment by William Hobbs:

“Earlier this year, union members voted on eliminating the 99-seat-theater waiver, and roughly two thirds of about 3,000 votes opposed the union’s plan. The vote was advisory, and the union leaders chose to move forward with the change anyway. . . When you join a union, you have to keep in mind that your interests are secondary to the interests of the union bosses.  Tough luck folks.”

And James Babin’s “curse on both your houses” comment offered a rare example of thoughtful moderation:

“This is an unfortunate example of the people most affected by a situation – the members – being adversely affected by uncompromising positions of leaders on both sides. One is the Review Committee who did not modernize the original agreement. Then Actors’ Equity Association dismissed members’ suggestions of a Tier System to allow companies more time to develop and better foster long-term job growth. Leadership disenfranchised their membership by promulgating a proposal rejected by a 2-1 margin. People like Mr. Asner and Mr. Harris were most likely responding to those types of concerns. Lastly, this contract offers no health insurance.

“Los Angeles intimate theatre is a thriving incubator with a track record of critically acclaimed productions. Many have gone on to other venues, creating jobs along the way. It needs to be treated with the same care as any other small business community.”

Quinn Reboots The Asylum

Matthew Quinn with Paul Birchall

Matthew Quinn with Paul Birchall

We can stand a little bit of pleasant news, and I was happy to hear that Matthew Quinn, former Artistic Director of the Asylum Theatre, is back and rebooting his former company, which will be re-launched as a production entity with Bertha Rodriguez’s “Combined Artform” shingle.
The two companies, melded together into Theatre Asylum/Combined Artform, will be headquartered a mere few doors down from the former Asylum Theater complex on Santa Monica Boulevard’s Theatre Row.  
In their press release, the company notes, “Theater Asylum/Combined Artform is a venue management and live performance production company, specializing in working with artists and venues in live performances and festivals.  We offer rental spaces and offer PR and production support.  As producers, we develop our own works as well as co-produce and present top talent from the Hollywood Fringe Festival.”
I suspect that the new company, headquartered at 6448 Santa Monica Boulevard and contactable via its website at, will have its most active days during and after the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which Quinn helps produce.  Quinn’s also known for providing venues for extensions of the more successful and innovative Fringe shows, will likely utilize the space and production skills for such a purpose again.
Quinn appears to position the new iteration of Asylum, which, as part of casting entity Studio C, will be part of an entertainment synergy that includes stage, screen, casting, and producing.  If it just allows Quinn to continue the good work he has done with the Fringe, that is good enough for me.
“Having over 10 years of fringe experience combined in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I hope with Asylum Consulting to help new producers with their productions in the Hollywood Fringe and beyond,” optimistically noted Quinn in an e-mail to Stage Raw.  “Having our office and solo venue on Theatre Row gives Theater Asylum a presence without a large theater complex to run.  We no longer have to find shows to fill our space – but instead find the right space for the shows we want to produce!”

Davidson Memorial Set for January 9

A special memorial celebration honoring the late Center Theatre Group director and founding producer Gordon Davidson will be held at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown on Monday, January 9, right after we have managed to put dreadful 2016 to bed for once and for all.  Davidson, known for his decades of leadership in the Los Angeles theater scene, ran the Ahmanson and Mark Taper for decades, passed away in October.  He was a huge figure locally and nationally, as we reported at the time.  

From our October article, I recalled a few of his career highlights, noting, “ the majority of Angelinos will remember him for his years of glittering prizes, in particular the early ‘90s, when, as Taper Artistic Director, he helped develop and oversaw early productions of Angels in America, Anna Devere Smith’s Twilight, and Robert Schenkkan’s The Kentucky Cycle.”     

The memorial is open to the public, but an RSVP is required and may be made here.  Center Theatre Group publicist Jason Martin noted, “I don’t have a list of participants but it will include the actors, playwrights, directors and staff who worked with Gordon over the years remembering him and the shows they created with him.  The emphasis will be on the passion, love and laughter that Gordon invested in the theater and all of the shows.”