Paul Birchall’s Got It Covered

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What Now?

AEA intends to implement its “promulgated” agreement on December 14. Town Hall tomorrow, August 22, at LATC.


By Paul Birchall


Photo:  Illthud Dude by Creative Commons license 2.0

Photo: Illthud Dude by Creative Commons license 2.0


Los Angeles theater lovers can expect even more drama this week than usual, as this Monday LA STAGE Alliance will host their long-awaited “LA Theater Town Hall” on the Actors Equity-Pro99 case.


The panel, slated to take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles Theater Center (514. S. Spring Street, downtown LA), will be moderated by LA Stage Alliance Executive Director (and Stage Raw founding publisher) Steven Leigh Morris, and will include representatives from the plaintiffs of the Pro99 Seat side, as well as folks who support the AEA position – though the management of AEA itself has declined to participate.  RSVP at


The press release notes, “Community members will be leading this town hall (including Tom Buderwitz, Gary Grossman, Armina LaManna, Rebecca Metz, Larry Poindexter, Michael Shepperd and Vanessa Stewart) and will be presenting attendees with an alternative proposal to Equity’s plan for consideration by the rest of the community.” 


LA STAGE Alliance is neither endorsing nor opposing this presentation, but is offering this forum as a platform for discussing it. 


Before the event, it behooves us to look at some of the recent developments in the AEA-Pro99 feud, just so we can get our miserable ducks into the appropriate rows.  Back in July, after the back-channel talks between the union and the plaintiffs broke down, AEA was served with a lawsuit (Asner, et al versus Equity) seeking an injunction against the union’s new Agreement, among other remedies.  AEA quickly submitted a Motion to Dismiss, which attempted to frame the suit as being merely an internal matter.  


The Pro-99 plaintiffs replied last week with a 34 page response, claiming, among other things, that AEA has violated its duty of fair representation by acting arbitrarily and in bad faith toward actors.  Kevin Delin’s thoughtful article for Footlights suggests that “the lawsuit will focus on the methodology that Equity used to change the system and whether that method followed the out-of-court 1989 Settlement Agreement that provided the basis for the 99-Seat Theater Plan, in operation until last year.


Meanwhile, a few days ago, inestimable Stage Raw theater critic (and former attorney) Myron Meisel wrote one of the most cogent and insightful summaries and analyses of the entire debacle, focusing particularly on AEA’s motives.  The article is a must read for any layman trying to discern Equity’s strategy, which at first seems merely tone deaf in terms of its membership’s needs, but then actually turns out to have an intent more malign.  


Among many other compelling observations found in the article, Meisel notes that the desire to establish a so-called “minimum wage” for small theaters is “merely a straw argument to figleaf its intention to scorch the earth so no professional theater will exist in Los Angeles except for those that can afford to offer contract pay.” 


And then, just last Friday on August 19th, Equity launched a slick new website offering its point of view of the desire for minimum wage for 99 seat theaters.  On their private Facebook page, members of the Pro99 seat movement have already been most piquant in their ridicule of the site (in the site’s early iteration, it utilized a stock photo of Singapore as a stand-in for a shot of Los Angeles), but a cursory read of the union’s calculatedly folksy prose style suggests an attempt to define participants in the Pro99 scene as sleazy producers milking fortunes off the backs of actors, while speciously claiming that the changes proposed are so incremental as to make those who oppose it seem evil and greedy. 


The website’s disingenuous and assumed geniality are terrifying – it reminds us of the morale corroding World War II propaganda broadcasts by Lord Ha Ha or Tokyo Lily.  But there’s a malice in there as well:  By utilizing false equivalences and a mysteriously arrived at set of statistics, Union’s statements, such as “Only 26 companies are affected by the elimination of the availability of the 99-Seat Theatre Plan. That is about 14% of the organizations that our records show ever used the old 99-seat plan!” are almost baffling, given the scale of new restrictions and changes the new Agreement will impose. 


At the Town Hall coming up, I think I am most interested to hear how Pro99 will respond to the new Equity Website, in particular its sweeping claims that the minimum wage demand will not affect the bottom line of any of the local theater companies, or that the notion of being “allowed” to work three weeks at some under-50-seat stage is somehow equivalent to the fecund cultural scene that is at risk here.  I am also highly intrigued by the “alternative proposal” the plaintiffs mention.   One thing is for sure, though: We will be dining out on the conversation that takes place at this meeting for some time to come.