Tuesday, July 29, 2014

LeftistScreed

Contributed by Sean Williams

So! That was fun!

I’d like to begin with some givens. These, I believe, are truths, and if you can’t get behind me on the following then we might not have anywhere to go in this ongoing conversation. And yes, for the most part, I consider hot-headed social media posting “conversation”.

     1.    People with power will do what they can to take advantage of those with less power.
     2.    People with power often don’t recognize they’re the ones with power.
     3.    People without power can and should get power through collective bargaining.
     4.    Things are tough all over.

Because the blogs I curated have been used as proof that the IT Awards is cultivating a “hotbed of anti-union activism”, let me begin by saying I firmly believe in the power of collective bargaining, and I believe it is a useful tool to prevent an unfair advantage for those in power. Unions are a moral good, and more than that - Actors Equity serves its members better than most because it’s one industry where the distinction between “labor” and “a call to service” is pretty fuzzy. People don’t generally mine coal because of a passion to have coal mined. Acting is quite different.

When one of our bloggers, an actor, said she wished she had an extra week of performances in order to finish the work she’d been hired to do, or that producers could charge more for tickets in order to keep up with the cost of business, she wasn’t attacking the union. And when another blogger, also an actor, said she wished she could record her performances for posterity and grant-applications, she was also not attacking the union.

So why did people think we were attacking the union?

Because we were.

As one poster diplomatically put it, “The OOB Community is arguing to be on a mini-contract without having to pay the actors for it.” Okay, maybe not an outright attack on the union, but it is an attack on the system currently in place. The union has said, if you want the extra weeks, or the higher ticket prices or video rights, then pay for it.

Well? Why don’t we?

Okay. Deep breaths. I am not going to write out all the math here because it’s a blog and I want you to read it and studies show that we’re all too dumb to read a bunch of math. Or… okay, not studies, but ME. I totally stop reading when there’s too much math.

Let me use a fictional showcase code production to explain why, and I’m going to use the universal “me” to represent “random producer”. I’ve got twelve actors and eight of them are union, plus a SM –

(WAIT! WAIT! Don’t poo-poo this yet! If you’ve got two actors then sure, the numbers aren’t as dire. Which is why off-Broadway is loaded with two-character, ancient comedy crap. I’m using twelve actors because it’s not outrageous, but it does illustrate the problem. I’ve produced at least six shows with casts roughly this size. Two-actor shows aren’t really the problem.)

So. Eight union actors, four non-union actors and a union Stage Manager. Basic showcase code, my budget for actors is $1,800. Seasonal showcase, it’s more like $6,000. Mini-contract, the new number is $32,856. And these numbers are only if I’m willing to set up a caste system, where non-union actors aren’t paid. I’m not willing to do that.

Producers want a better option. Without it… well, you see what we do. We grouse about not videotaping, we wish we had longer runs and then we just DON’T use the mini-contract. If producers got what they wanted at double or triple the cost… well, okay, I was gonna say, “they’d do it” but maybe they wouldn’t, I don’t speak for everyone. But switching to a mini-contract from seasonal showcase is five times the money. Tickets aren’t gonna go from $18 to $90 and donations won’t quintuple.

Here’s the problem. This exact argument is used by conservatives to deride the minimum wage. They say that the industry won’t handle paying people, and we’re saying the same thing. The OOB community simply won’t exist if the mini-contract is our only option. 

But there is another way of looking at it.

The problem is that producers look at their expenses and say, “our rent is often 4-5 thousand dollars a week, and all of the federal grant money is being taken up by The Met and the middle class has been decimated so there’s less money for stuff like ‘theater’ in people’s regular budgets, we have no choice but to ask artists to take less pay…”

We do have a choice. Refuse to pay that rent.

See, we have a system right now where our costs are too high. So we ask our community to crowdfund, and a whole bunch of lower-middle-to-middle-middle-class people give $30 or $40 to a kickstarter. Then we ask the same people to buy an $18 ticket. Then we take almost all of that money and give it to a theater manager who takes almost all of that money and gives it to a landlord.

And that landlord is never – I mean NEVER EVER gonna come see your twelve person, avant-garde, atonal musical about 1930s Kiev.

So, we’re funneling money out of the working class and putting it in the pockets of the 1%. It’s not that we’re anti-union, it’s that our entire community is a money-laundering scheme for the wealthy. Almost everything in politics is the powerful left and the powerful right trying to keep us at each other’s throats, and the “fight” between the actor’s union and “Indie Theater” producers fills them with glee.

Let me state, in no uncertain terms, that I think it is a moral failing on the part of the indie theater producers that we ever ask a single artist to work without compensating them fairly. I also believe, with all my heart, that it is a moral failing on the part of the City of New York that they should allow our community to function as if it were a purely capitalist endeavor.

We are not management. We are all labor. And we’re all working in the company store. We answer phones all day at the front desk of Citibank and then at night we take our salaries and invest in art and take more of our salaries and buy tickets and those dollars get moved up the line into the hands of the wealthy who use it to buy more shares of Citibank.

There are organizations like Actor’s Equity and League of Independent Theater and the New York Innovative Theater Foundation and a dozen others, all of whom are fighting for a chance to continue making theater in New York. We should all be working together. Producers should be fighting to triple the showcase code payments and Equity should be fighting for huge rent subsidies for arts organizations.

Let me go back to my original set of truths.

People in power are taking advantage, and people in power seldom know they’re the ones with the power. So, when producers walk around feeling powerless, we need to recognize that we at least hold the reins of any one production, and actors may walk around feeling powerless, but they do have a union protecting them.

Most importantly, we have a right to collective bargaining. There are about forty five Broadway productions in any year, and maybe a hundred and twenty off-Broadway productions (numbers are sketchy). There are more than NINE HUNDRED showcase code productions every year. And according to extremely old data (compiled by the good folks here at NYIT), we spend well more than THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS. We have a voice, if we choose to use it.

We don’t have to all be on the same side… but we could be. Because if you’re producing a show right now, you’re probably acting in the next one. And you wrote the last one, and you’re directing the one next year. In order to see this as an argument between “labor” and “management”, you have to be completely removed from the culture and the community. When every single person is a hyphenate, it’s impossible for there to be an “us” and “them”. We’re all in this together, we’re powerful if we choose to be, and we should make New York Theater a thing that can thrive.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Heated Showcase Conversation part 3

 This is a continuation of comments and discussion on the posts from last week.

-----------------------------------------------------

•    Isaac Butler
Well, Sean Williams, you were right about my blood pressure this morning.
Full of IT: Tear Down This Wall!

NOTE: I have made this post public in the hopes of getting a broader discussion and my blood pressure is much lower, thanks to some real engagement from Patrice Miller and Sid Solomon. Thanks, everyone, for being so great.

THAT SAID! I hope people will read this piece, and read it to the end. The second half has some good (and unpopular) suggestions, focused mainly on people who call themselves producers doing the actual work of producing.

•    Chris Thorn
Read to the end. Are these mostly actor's calling for code reform? They seem to not like actors sometimes.

•    Patrice Miller
I love actors. I am not one. I want to pay them money. The Showcase code wasn't made to pay actors a living wage.

•    Isaac Butler
It doesn't prevent it, though. You could choose to pay actors more money, like Gideon Productions and a few other producers do, and save money elsewhere, like on space. Which is where your piece eventually ends up. Which is again, why I hope people will read it all the way through!

The problem is in the meantime, it blames the showcase code for things that are not the showcase code's fault and claims that the showcase code created off-off broadway. It didn't. It responded to a need that existed. The reason why the code defines OOBR in specifics is because terms in contracts must be defined in order for them to be acceptable legal documents.

If the issue were that the showcase code somehow inhibits the paying of labor, producers are free to use either other codes like the minicontract or the seasonal showcase code. No one is locked into it. People use it because it allows them access to union labor for free.

•    Sid Solomon
I've been paid more than $1000 for two different showcase code productions. Nothing prevents producers from paying more than minimum.

•    Chris Thorn
No, but it is meant to provide some protection for them. I don't think it's a perfect thing or even a particularly good thing. What I'm responding to is that many of the pieces I read end up making me feel like union actors are the biggest problem facing indie theatre and i don't think that's true. But I understand that it's complicated. I'm sure you love actors and I'm glad you love indie theater.

•    Patrice Miller
I think this is where I needed more time to cook this thing. I don't think the Showcase code created any part of theater. But what I find interesting and relevant here is the last round of negotiations with Equity that specifically addressed this code, held between union reps, Equity members who presumably work on OOB, and producers like folks from LIT, yielded this code.

The original code had nothing to do with OOB because that wasn't even a thing at that point. But the current code does specifically define what OOB is for an Equity actor. And the numbers are very restrictive -- they are not impossible, and some companies do a great job on it, like Gideon, etc. The restrictions though are not in-step with the increasing costs of producing in NYC, and unlike the fluidity of negotiations around commercial OB and Broadway contracts, there's no telling when they will be revised. They simply don't account for basic issues of city economics such as inflation, cost of living/goods, etc. That's problematic.

Also, I think there is a problem of education here. I think younger companies/theater makers are told - either by Equity when they call or some other authority such as say, a theater they are looking to work with - to use the code when they don't necessarily have to. There is a lack of financial education and accountability throughout theater, and it seems to be pretty bad in the OOB world because we're always poor and don't have big funders helping us (most of the time). Insisting the Showcase Code is OOB is part of the problem. Insisting that a work has to go up before you have the funds to pay people is also part of the problem.

So, basically, everyone's a jerk.

•    Sid Solomon
Also, I really hope "Or have them use their Non-Equity names." was a joke.

•    Patrice Miller
People do it. I'm not really advocating it. But people do it. And part of that is because Equity actors are willing to work under non-Equity conditions/agreements. If an actor wants to do that, it's their choice. (They also then surrender the protection of a union).

Again, not advocating. I advocate for fundraising a shit ton and paying people more than what averages to be something like $4/hour.

•    Sid Solomon
It's their choice to join the union. No one makes that choice for them. There's a special circle in hell reserved for union members who undercut the bargaining power of their compatriots by doing non-union work.

•    Isaac Butler
Patrice Miller, These are both great responses. And I really appreciate them. More in a bit!

•    Patrice Miller
Like I said, Sid Solomon, I am not advocating this. I also point out that many producers don't want to fundraise. That doesn't mean I advocate them not paying people.

I do think that the question what it means to be a professional actor and make professional theater in relationship to Equity (and possibly other unions) is an important one. Many actors join Equity before they come to New York, and come here so that they can continue to work professionally. But it's dismal here. Many actors work on OOB because it's work. Big pond, shit done of small fish, and some crabs to boot.

As a director and someone who works in producing by default at this point (my day job also involves producing, but in a different arena as it were), it's really not my place to say what an actor should or shouldn't do in regards to their union status. I respect the agency of actors, and only want the best conditions for them. I sympathize with the fact that outside of this conversation (the one around the showcase code and OOB), Equity is not nearly as powerful as Local 1 or 802 - and actors feel this when issues around strikes or negotiations with the Leagues come up.

•    Patrice Miller

Note: One of my favorite actors to work with is Justin R. G. Holcomb, who is one of the biggest Equity sticklers I know. I only work with stage managers who know the codes and help me a conduct a room based on them. That is part of being professional.

•    Isaac Butler
Guys and gals would you mind if I made the post public to invite a broader convo via twitter?

•    Patrice Miller
Oh yeah! Let's do it. As a heads up, I may be in and out of the conversation because I have to go work. Doing production work, appropriately enough. But yeah! More ! More ! And thank you Isaac Butler and Sid Solomon for this conversation. It's nice to exchange ideas and clarify thoughts.

•    Isaac Butler
So Patrice Miller I think what's going on here is in the first half of the piece you're trying to kind of voice the disgruntled anti-union part of the community and then discuss the proper way to deal with those issues, which is to get better at the job of producing. And I kind of mistook that voicing for endorsement.

So actually you and I are, I think, broadly in agreement here and this tracks with what I was writing yesterday:

If I Ran the Zoo

One of the things i said at the end there is that a needed reform would be AEA making membership more difficult to attain (and, perhaps keep). And I think this speaks directly to your point. One of the problems is that there are way way more equity members than there are union jobs in a given year, and this causes huge problems. I don't see a solution beyond making the union more exclusive, but I also feel terrible about that idea simultaneously.

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas
Excellent points, Patrice. And I have to say I appreciate the comment regarding respecting an actors agency/ability to make appropriate choices for themselves. I got very hot under the collar yesterday because I felt some of the dialogue negated that.

•    Isaac Butler
Union members agree to constrain individual choice and freedom in return for workplace protections and, in every other industry, better salary. It's part of the deal.

•    Patrice Miller

Isaac Butler: I had a feeling you and I were going to be sharing some perspective or at least a vantage point on this. I haven't gotten to read your piece, but will do so on my commute.

And yes, I realize my tone is not very clear in this piece. I should have asked Sean Williams for more time, but that guy is fucking charming over email, so I just said YESPLEASETHANKYOU.

My suspicion, which I think I was trying not to reveal in this piece, but was pushing through anyway, is that a lot of us like to complain. About being poor. About not being recognized. About a lot. And this code has become a valid complaining point in many of our circles. Some of us have really internalized this "if its not a showcase code, its not OOB" or "this is OOB" thing, and some of us just don't want to do the work of finding another solution. And most of us probably have a bit of both going on.

I think the union membership thing is really interesting. The point system really acted as a great filter, it seems. As a craftsperson, I really lament the loss of a crafts system in NY theater (which has been crumbling for decades, I get it). That really gives folks a time to figure out if theater life is for them, and can grow generations of artists working together. But with rising health costs, etc, more members = more dues.Capitalism is a really hard system to run the arts (as we know them) in.

Jennifer Gordon Thomas: Thank you. Agency and consent are pretty big issues for me. The union thing is hard for me to make a call on because I am not an actor. I can't speak for actors.

But as I mentioned in that piece, I am related to one. And she constantly reminds me of what that life is - a perspective I am ever grateful for.

•    Isaac Butler
Patrice Miller I feel you on this. From my POV, I guess I think the showcase code has already been adjusted once recently to raise both ticket prices and the budget cap, and what they're saying is "if you want to spend more than this, you have to move to a system where you're paying people more." That seems totally reasonable to me. Reading some of the stuff about the showcase code this week and engaging with people about these issues on social media, it feels like not everyone writing these pieces has taken the time to read the minicontract and seasonal showcase codes and understand what the options actually are.

The major expense in OOBR producing is real estate, not labor. Yet producers constantly go after labor for more concessions. Similarly, the major cause of the increase in the cost of doing business on broadway is marketing costs, not increased labor costs, yet producers constantly go after labor for concessions.

The reason is actually not that the unions are unreasonable. It's that they are willing to negotiate and interested in dialogue compared to these other entities. I just wish we focused more of our energy in trying to get landlords (or the city gov't) to the table to help with *that* issue instead of asking for further concessions from a group that's already conceded to being paid nothing.

•    Patrice Miller
I totally agree with you here, Isaac. And for the record - all of my dealings with Equity have been absolutely LOVELY.

The real estate issue is so important - but I honestly think most folks just don't know how to read it, talk about it, etc. Except by saying "It's expensive". I thought that some of the tax code work was a really interesting step towards dealing with this in NYC -- I think it was David David M. Pincus' issue a couple of years back? That tangentially seemed to touch on real estate by acknowledging the holistic problem of rising costs in NYC (and no real incentive in the tax codes to continue producing on a smaller scale than Bway). I have long believed that theaters should be zoned differently and that landlords of theater should have to play by a truly different set of rules when it comes to rent. The only way something like that works is by building in tax incentives. It boggles my mind that NYC hasn't done something like this on a broader scale than some historic designations of Bway houses, etc.

•    Michael Kimmel
Curious, as I just read the piece- Is the goal to get actors a living wage in the OOB setting? That the code be changed? I'm unclear of the ask...

•    Patrice Miller
There isn't much of an ask, aside from asking producers to look at their practices and ask if what they are doing is professional, where those practices stem from, and what holds us back from better wages in the non-commercial theater world.

That may happen through a code change, but that was tried years ago and the current Showcase Code doesn't serve the needs of the productions who use it. So, should they really be using it? Should Equity be dictating different standards or should producers be supplying them?

•    Michael Kimmel
Here is my question, and I seem to be coming late to this, so forgive me if it's been covered already- Doesn't this assume the actors participation? If a company, or producer engages in behavior that mistreats or undervalues, isn't it the individual who agrees the conditions? Why not just not take the job?

•    David M. Pincus
Independent theater sustainability is a political issue. I have been working closely for years with League of Independent Theater advocating for public policy changes that will support our sector in pragmatic dollar and sense ways. The efforts of John Clancy, Chris Harcum, Robin Rothstein, Guy Yedwab,Katie Palmer, Robert Gonyo, Brad Burgess and many others in this regard is legendary as far as I'm concerned. If your companies don't have a free membership with LIT yet, please do. This is where the work in the trenches is taking place now.

•    Isaac Butler
David M. Pincus does LIT still advocate basing the NY showcase code on the LA 99-seat code?

•    David M. Pincus
I am not on their showcase committee so I cannot speak to their current objectives (that definitely was something they were very much interested in pursuing). But I am sure one of my peeps mentioned above can answer that!

•    Chris Harcum
Isaac. I am currently the point person on Codes. I am only one speaking publicly about what the League of Independent Theater is doing on this. We have no comment. I am open to hearing all possible solutions and ideas but we have no comment. Thank you.

•    Isaac Butler 

Alright. Then let me comment:
Your website used to say explicitly that you supported the LA 99-Seat plan as a starting point. Respectfully, I really, really hope that's no longer on the site because it is no longer true. The 99-seat Plan is in many ways worse than the showcase code, it eliminates many of the showcase code's protections in exchange for peanuts for wages (as low as $11/week for performance weeks only). I look forward to seeing what you eventually settle on, no matter what. Thanks!

(note I accidentally said per week above. it's actually per performance. That's still not great, but really not as bad as I made it out to be. Thanks to Chris Harcum for correcting)

http://www.actorsequity.org/docs/codes/99_seat_plan_06.pdf

•    Chris Harcum 

This is not an answer to your question or a statement about what we are doing but on the issue of stipends you've misread that document. On page 11 of this it says, "(C) The Producer shall be responsible for the following minimum PER PERFORMANCE stipends, which shall be paid weekly to each 4-A Union member." That begins with $7 per performance and goes up to $25 per performance against 20% of the gross divided among the cast. I am receptive to any list of things you do or don't want a new code to have on it. Feel free to message me. Thanks.

•    Isaac Butler
Yep you're right, i said per week and i meant per performance. Which is still not great.

•    Chris Harcum
We are in a new era with LIT. Our beliefs on what we want to do with a new code are on our website. Due to my schedule, I can't spend more time being vague about this with you. We are doing our best to make something happen. We will disappoint a percentage of people no matter what. Again, my inbox is open to suggestions. If you have numbers you think would work that are better than the current code or the LA 99 seat plan, please send them to me. This briefly explains our beliefs. http://litny.org/wp/8-2/

Codes & Contracts
litny.org
The League of Independent Theater recognizes and celebrates the good work of Act... See More

•    Carolyn Raship
$11/performance is abysmal. Particularly in LA, where driving to and from a venue likely costs much more than that.

•    Isaac Butler
Second correction, you can actually pay actors as low as $7/perf. $11/perf is actually the HIGHEST rate you have to pay for the first four weeks of a run.

I think this is why i keep coming back to pegging wages to budgets.

•    Patrice Miller
Oh man, shared gross is one of my favorite things to think about. It's pretty faulty. Shared income though (net presumably), oh that I love the concept of. That little rep company of my dreams sometimes flirts with net and equity share models. Just seems like the best way to use neoliberal capitalism for the arts. (Note: I am not an advocate of neoliberalism).

What had me excited about the tax-code work was that it was looking at all the ways we can be attacking this problem of underfunding. Taxes, real estate zoning, new models of funding including multiple income streams, better relationships with unions and other organizations, are kind of all part of the solutions. I also think that OB and OOB should have more fluid relationships in terms of developing work, partnering for seasons, sharing spaces, etc, but that's almost like advocating a ceasefire in turf wars.

•    Justin R. G. Holcomb
Okay, I'll put my foot in it. What always bothers me when I hear discussions of the Showcase are the opposing complaints that actors cost too much and it's hard to get the productions respected as professional theatre.

The Showcase code was originally conceived to Showcase actors, not companies, not producers. It was built to create an inexpensive platform to get less experienced actors out there earning their chops. It has progressed, but there is a limit to the progression. I don't believe it will ever be a truly "professional" agreement.

What is wonderful is that it has given rise to some brilliant production companies: Gideon, Flux, Boomerang, Untitled, etc. Now, it is those companies decisions whether or not they want to maintain their ranks at the top of the OOB tiers or level-up. It would take major growing pains and a helluva lot of work, but it's not impossible. That's exactly why there are Off-Broadway: per-performance, mini, transition, and LOA codes. And you can point to lower budget companies that are making a strong go of it: Origin, Pan Asian, Ma-Yi, Rattlestick, The Mint, Keene. It takes sacrifice - All of their artistic directors are artistic directors full-time, probably making less than 40K a year. But their companies elevated status and razor sharp mission statements get them more grants and more donations.

Off-Off Broadway is a beautiful thing, perfectly suited for those who wish to have the security of a day job and do marvelous work in the evening and on weekends (and I truly think a lot of the work is marvelous). But, if you want your theatre to be regarded as professional, you have to run a professional theatre.

I do I get my facebook to let me make paragraphs?

•    Isaac Butler
Shift + enter/return

•    Sid Solomon
I'm finishing up a run with New York Classical Theatre right now; a company in its 15th year which has leveled up to a Transition Agreement. My weekly salary is modest (it'll probably be a net loss for me when combined with my lessened hours at my day job), but we're doing 50+ performance run, and I get 12 (12!) health weeks. That's 6 months of insurance with a single contract.

This all goes towards saying that Justin is right, it can be done.

•    Justin R. G. Holcomb

And with the already loyal Subscription bases that a lot of the IT companies have, they have a big advantage over companies trying to start at the Off-Broadway level.

•    Sean Williams
Justin, I just... THANK YOU FOR THAT.

•    Kelly O'Donnell
This is hypothetical but what if Equity suddenly eliminated the showcase code because they are tired of hearing people complain about it. Would a lot of actors revoke their union membership so they can continue to work for the company's they love? Would there be a special place in hell for those actors? It's interesting to think about...maybe the title, were it a play, would be "Equity Shrugged."

•    Patrice Miller
Oh snap, Kelly O'Donnell, you just made my heart skip a beat.

•    Sean Williams
Gideon Productions, for the record, is doing intense soul-searching about leveling up. Once you've done what we've done, it becomes perverse not to at least think about it. But it's hard to find a commercial production at the next level that has, say, 31 actors in it (the full cast of the Honeycomb Trilogy) and the off-Broadway audience is hard to reach if you're interested in non-traditional theatrical storytelling, so we're blanching at the idea. There's also film and TV that are waiting for writers like Mac and directors like Jordana, and we have to decide if maybe we've done what we could here.

We're happy to pay people and we put our artistis first. That's why we work at The Secret, they let us afford to pay everyone a reasonable chunk. But we are facing the reality that there might be a ceiling on our appeal to the old, moneyed theater crowd and that our fans might want to watch our shows from their couches.

•    Sid Solomon
Kelly, maybe the lines at EPAs would just get shorter...

•    Sean Williams
Isaac and I were talking shit the other day and when he said actor wages should be tied to budgets, I think I heard "tied to rental prices" and I peed a little with excitement. If Equity just said, "Hey, do your thing, shows and prices however you want, but every actor gets paid 10% of whatever you're paying for rent weekly."

Suddenly, every crappy neighborhood in New York would be full of theater and the wealthy neighborhoods could open up a couple of new Verizon stores in the old basement venues, instead of sucking $5k a week out of an already struggling community.

•    Sid Solomon

People should join Equity because they'd like to make a living, have health insurance, and maybe even a pension by doing this work. Nobody joins Equity by virtue of being in a Showcase production, so there's nobody whose life ambition has always been to work in OOB but their AEA membership just got in the way.

You know why Local 1 is so much more powerful than AEA? It's not because Nick Wyman is weak. It's because there aren't non-union stagehands running around so desperate to work that they'll take no pay, no benefits, and no work rules just to be able to work crew on a show.

And yet every time I'm at the Equity building, I hear dumbshit members ragging on the how weak AEA is because "they won't let me take this non-union tour that'll pay me $500 a week. Ugh."

Isaac has framed this issue properly. In New York (unlike in most locales), union actors will work for next to nothing in exchange for being able to work, when working for nothing is pretty much exactly what we signed up NOT to do when we joined. We've given up a lot and OOB exists as it does because of it . At some point, it's gotta be OK that actors are expensive, right?

•    Sean Williams

The point that's getting lost - to me - is that actors *should* be expensive and real estate should NOT. And if real estate is too expensive to pay actors, then a) find different real estate or b) don't do the show. The OOB world could lose 20% of its productions and we'd still have plenty to go see.

OR PRODUCE NON-UNION!!!! There actually are a lot of actors who are happy just to do the work. They drop out of the union, or they don't join when they get the chance - purely because they want to do stuff like this. Those people are out there, go work with 'em.

•    Mozzle Stead
20% I say lose 30 or 40% and their kickstarter campaigns as well. Especially those kickstarter campaigns that mention set expenses and rental expenses, but never mention exactly what the actors are getting out of it.

•    Sean Williams
I love it when people say, "every dollar raised above our expenses will go to the actors." The landlords in Florida thank you for prioritizing their needs, in exchange they will NEVER BUY A TICKET TO YOUR SHOW OR DONATE TO YOUR COMPANY.

•    Patrice Miller
For the record, the little campaign I have up right now is to.pay actors who are developing work with me. Not to buy period furniture or print programs. It's to pay people for the work they are doing.

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas

In fact, many of the actors you've worked with over the years are non union, Sean.

•    Nat Cassidy
At this point, I'd be happy if Equity just allowed some sort of a waiver that union actors in any particular production could sign that would allow certain changes on any given restrictions. Like, this show wants to record the performance and all the union actors are okay with it, so that rule does not apply. Or, this production was given free space to run for another 4 months and all the union actors are okay with it, so go to town. And then if they got enough of the same waivers, they could look at permanently changing the code.

•    Sid Solomon
There's a lot of potential for coercion there, Nat.

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas
Nat our discussion last night about more people being likely to see your work (via film) from their couch than coming to your play...and ejoying that feeling (as opposed to begging/cajoling) was spot on. See you in the pictures.

•    Nat Cassidy
You think so, Sid? I don't think it'd be any different than it is now. Except then AEA members wouldn't have to feel betrayed by their union when it's something they want to do, too.

Oh, wait - do you mean to coerce the union to change, or to coerce the actors to do something they might not want to do? I responding as if you meant the latter.

•    Sid Solomon
What if a producer offers to cast me but only if I and the rest of the cast waive certain work rules?

What if 1 actor in a cast of 10 doesn't want the work recorded? Would that actor need to worry about retribution from the producer? Would the be worried they'd never be hired again by that company?

•    Nat Cassidy
I would say go to the union like you would if that happened now. The waiver would only be effective if it had full consent.

And I've been in plenty of casts already where that recording issue has come up. The only change with a waiver system in place would be we wouldn't feel like assholes for "breaking a rule." But I've also been in casts where people wanted to record but not everybody, and it sucks, but I don't think anything can prevent that. You just don't get to do it if not everybody wants to, in either scenario.

•    Sean Williams

Hey JGT, every Play I've been in has had at least one non union member. But I came from the LA Valley musicals scene where it was way harder to work in the 80s and 90s if you were union.

•    Sid Solomon
Well, you shouldn't feel like assholes for breaking rules because you shouldn't be breaking rules. (And unless "rules" is a euphemism, it doesn't need quotation marks.)

We collectively bargain so that we are all protected collectively. I've been the deputy on 90% of my projects and I've been shocked at how often rules have been bent, ignored, or scoffed at by producers, intentionally or not. Why should one cast or group of actors be able to undercut the bargaining power of all the rest of us because they've decided they'll work under different conditions.

•    Nat Cassidy
But how would an experimental waiver program like that effect collective bargaining? Isn't it just collective bargaining within the union? But on a trial basis?

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas
oh it wasn't a criticism, Sean. I'm glad you hire non union actors with Gideon. You have a big, wide talent pool with A LOT of non union talent who are as chops-laden and professional as they come. They just don't want to go out of town to do A Christmas Carol or whatever.

•    Sid Solomon
It just puts all the rules up for renegotiation.

On a show by show basis.

It's true, I keep my card just for the Christmas Carol opportunities...

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas
Oh I didn't mean it like that, Sid. I meant ME, PERSONALLY, as in me, I don't want to go out of town...for various reasons.

•    Sid Solomon
I was being serious.

JK/LOL/AEA

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas
For the record, I am very pro union. I think regulation is neccessary. I'd like to have the benefits of a union...I just haven't gone that way (yet) for stage work. I am a bona fide, liberal, pro labor, pro union, hippie, Norma Rae motherfucker.

•    Nat Cassidy
Exactly. But it's not like I'm advocating people scab or take non-union work. I'm saying if a certain regulation doesn't apply or is making a production (a Showcase production, which more often than not doesn't involve monied producers and faceless corporate entities, but people who are usually personally involved with more than one aspect of the show) difficult, and ALL the union members would like to advocate for its dispensation, there should be a more open channel to do so. Like if the world premiere OOB production of my friend's play [X] is amazing and we think we can get maybe a few more people to buy a ticket to this thing that will be gone forever if we videotape scene [Y] and put it online, why shouldn't we be able to do that? Because someone in 1995, before social media and DSLRs, said we shouldn't?

I sent a more specific example to Sean Williams, too, but I don't want to repeat it here in case he ever gets around to checking his email.

•    Sean Williams
I'm pro union. Totally. In almost everything. But... Um, what's the unemployment rate for Equity? We pay everyone so we don't really care, we don't even check and I've never felt hamstrung as a producer by the union, but I definitely didn't want to join when I was acting. SAG is a different thing, you could always get great money as background when parts were lean.

•    August Schulenburg

Given that the median earnings in 2012-13 for Equity members were $7,100, and that only 13.7% of members have AEA work any given week, I think all of us--AEA, actors (union and non) big houses, Indie producers and ensemble hybrids like myself--can move forward with a fair amount of humility and openness to good-faith experimentation. Because if the system is working for someone, that someone doesn't seem to be the majority of actors, AEA or otherwise.

•    Kelly O'Donnell 

Nat, please stop it with all this common sense.

•    Isaac Butler
I don't think equity has any obligation to try "good faith experimentation" that involves its members doing more work for free. And I am not confident that everyone who wants to experiment with the code is acting in good faith. In every other industry over the last twenty years, experimentation and creativity and innovation on the business level have been code language for gutting labor protections, I know that's not how you mean it Gus.

The video thing is tricky. Everyone seems to want it to change, and I think it should probably be revised, particularly since graduate schools and grants demand video these days. But there must be some middle ground where it's a set amount of time from a show that can be filmed and only in particular situations.

And Nat the reason why exceptions are hard to procure even when everyone agrees is because equity doesn't know under what circumstances that agreement was reached. Producers can offer actors incentives to disobey the rules (or support dispensations) and then not come through afterwards. Which has happened many times.

•    Mozzle Stead
"a fair amount of humility"? who does Mr. Schulenburg think we are?!

•    Sean Williams
I just don't know how anyone can back up Equity, given Gus's numbers. Isaac, you know where I am on this, but my God... Any organization that collects dues year round but delivers an 86% unemployment rate... I can't believe the entire group doesn't rise up in revolt. The fact that we're all talking about whether or not Indy producers will take advantage of actors... I'm sorry y'all. That seems misguided.

•    Sid Solomon
I come from a mixed family: my father is management and my mother is union. I think being pro-union is about as specific as saying pro-America. I think unions are important, but they can also be shitty and protect the wrong people and create stagnation and apathy. Lots of union members working in New York theater should have lost their jobs a long time ago, but it's impossible to fire them. This is not the case for actors, because 99% of us get laid off from every job we get.

Since when is it a union's job to get you a job? It's YOUR job to get you a job, and the union's to protect you while you have it.

To blame AEA for the fact that there's a supply/demand imbalance when it comes to actors is absurd.

•    Nat Cassidy
Isaac - Sure, but if producers are already doing that (which they are), all that means is I get to feel like the union to which I pay dues really doesn't care either. I remember when I was in I AM LEGEND as one of the monsters, we had a union rep on set every day asking if there was anything we needed or thought could be fairer. We even managed, just as glorified extras, to renegotiate our contract tier and get more money in the end. Yes, it was an insanely high budget project, the likes of which will never apply to OOB, but that feeling of the union caring about my perspective or even staying abreast of how rules are effecting the little people? I don't get that with AEA.

I don't think it's my union's duty to get me work – but I certainly don't want my union status to be a liability when jobs are so scarce. And the union's inflexibility can be looked at as a liability sometimes. But I don't want to lose a job to a nonunion actor unless it's the sort of job a union actor wouldn't want, you know?

•    Kelly O'Donnell
This is the current union model for videotaping OOB shows from my perspective: Indie Theatre Producers = guilty until proven innocent, and after many years of proving innocence, we still won't negotiate or compromise because you are all capable of doing bad things.

•    Nat Cassidy
Totally. Or, "THE PRODUCERS DON'T OWN YOUR IMAGE, YOU OWN YOUR IMAGE, WHICH WE WILL PROVE BY NOT LETTING YOU USE YOUR IMAGE IN A WAY YOU MIGHT WANT TO USE IT."

•    Sean Williams
I'm not saying the union should get it's members work. I'm saying it's absurd to collect dues from members who aren't working. And that we're turning to these people as protectors of actors and assuming producers will take advantage.

•    Kari Bentley-Quinn

I'm torn. I'm pro-labor, obviously, but I am anti obstinately digging your heels in the ground and not keeping pace with inflation and/or the fact that broadcasting plays is one of the things that will keep actors working. I am positive there is a way to make sure AEA actors get paid appropriately for showcases AND do simple things like increase ticket price limits and make concessions for videotaping. $18 is absolutely absurd, I'm sorry. An IMAX movie ticket can cost more than that.

How is anyone supposed to pay actors when you're capped at a ticket price that cannot even REMOTELY help to pay real estate? And sure, we can be all "down with the landlords", and that's fair, but in the meantime, I hope that AEA and Indie producers can find a way to work together. It would benefit absolutely everyone at the end of the day.

•    Sid Solomon
I'm happy to pay my (quite meager) dues to Equity - even when I'm unemployed - because they've negotiated benefits for me during the lean times. Whether that's mandatory EPAs that help me get seen, the UNBELIEVABLY GOOD health insurance I earn through working union jobs, not to mention the ability to work on Showcase Code productions that don't jeopardize my unemployment status. And can somebody inform me of a situation in which videotaping an OOB production would lead to putting more money in an actors pocket?

•    Patrice Miller

But aren't producers taking advantage by paying so low? I mean, you're not, Sean Williams. Sometimes, I am. Sometimes my dearest friends are ... Isn't that where this conversation started? Thinking of ways to best take care of each other, essentially, and not passing the blame between union and producer?

At this level, producers and the union need to work together because of the amount of Equity actors working on OOB. But you know guys, above us, just a little above us, there are some assholes who treat Equity like shit. They do take advantage of their actors (or try to), and they do steamroll Equity because it is so dependent on big producers to pay many of their members, that they're often stuck inbetween rocks and hard places. Local 1 and 802 are unions with muscle.

Honestly, if we just paid each other/others more money, if we were more fiscally responsible, and we worked for holistic change, then issues like video taping could be leveraged.

And why are we still talking about the showcase code? If we're so sick of it, then let's start using different agreements. Actors, make that a demand. And if a producer or director doesn't take you seriously, then why are you working with them?

It's like all of us are caught in abuse cycles.

•    Sid Solomon
I'm right there with you Patrice, but OOB producers are just as likely to take advantage of AEA actors as anyone else.

•    Patrice Miller

@Sid Solomon: the only way something like videoing directly leads to more money for an actor is a) a film agreement where actors get a certain amount of money based on clicks/downloads/etc (assuming public broadcasting) or maybe b) that videoing is used in lieu of a backers audition/etc and actors are given a right of first refusal ...

•    Duncan Pflaster
I was once granted a special dispensation to videotape a play for very special circumstances, but it was so painful trying to get it to happen.

I also made a "commercial" once for an Equity play of mine, which didn't present anything in the context of the play, and which I thought at the time was allowed, due to the information in the code about "broadcast" advertisements, and how to put information in those.
Possibly against the rules, but no one from Equity said anything about it at the time, and it certainly got us more attention.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS5ApMRERGU

"Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants"
Trailer video for Duncan Pflaster's 2008 play "Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants" http://duncanpflastercom.fatcow.com/Pages/trevor.php

•    Patrice Miller
@Sid: Sorry if it was unclear, I think all producers are able to take advantage of AEA actors. I think that's what low wages is in many ways.

It's inherent in the power system of traditional theater.

•    Sid Solomon
Are low wages caused by abuse from above? Or is it caused by desperation from below? Actors get paid more when they demand more pay. Producers will stop offering Metrocards as compensation when actors stop accepting Metrocards as compensation.

•    Nat Cassidy
People might be hard pressed to give you an example of videotaping being helpful since people aren't really allowed to do it. But it doesn't have to come down to money to be helpful. It can help the show do better, which will raise the possibilities of "the right" people coming to see it, You get a nice Times review? That's gonna help your career. And the Times is more likely to come to something with buzz. And, no, video is not a guarantee to create buzz, but it sure doesn't hurt. Things like that.

Before I was union, I was Hamlet in a production that got filmed by the local PBS, and they got our permission to film multiple nights, preset cameras for close ups, the whole shebang. It actually looked fantastic compared to how you might think filmed theatre would look. And that video got me in doors before I had enough film work to make a reel.

Hell, I'm a writer/producer on top of being an Equity member. Videotaping a show I'm in so that I can see what I did and get better? Priceless. Having a video of the production that could conceivably help sell the show to other theatres? Sounds great to me!

None of these things sound unreasonable, and none of these instances am I asking to take advantage of anyone who doesn't want their likeness used.

•    Sean Williams
Look, we pay everyone because of our commitment to social justice. But we can't apply for most grants because we have no vodeotapes. So... there you go.

•    Sid Solomon
Every time I hear a union actor complain that the union demands too much from producers, I know that my next paycheck just got a little smaller.

•    Nat Cassidy
Every time I hear a union actor tell me my complaints are invalid I wonder why I'm in that union to begin with. And if enough people feel like me, there goes your collective bargaining.

(That might've sounded more personal than intended - in which case, I preemptively apologize. But I do love the fact that two Xanthe Elbrick headshots are debating.)

•    Patrice Miller
WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THE SHOWCASE CODE STOP USING IT IF YOU DONT LIKE IT.

•    Sid Solomon

Isn't there incentive created, then, for companies that want to procure these grants to produce under agreements rather than codes? Isn't that what I should be hoping for? More shows where I get weekly pay and benefits?

•    Patrice Miller

Also, as someone who writes a lot of grants and talks to funders all the time, I feel safe in saying that that is not what holds back a lot of independent theater grant apps.

•    Sid Solomon
If enough people feel like you, Nat, then you should bargain. We have elected representatives. Things can change. Advocate for that. I'm not invalidating you. I'm disagreeing with you.

•    Nat Cassidy
THAT'S NOT WHAT MY NEUROSES ARE TELLING ME SID

But that was also my point about waivers for certain rules. We've been debating the Showcase code (ask Patrice) for well over a decade now and seen people run on it, but still very little has changed and I don't get the sense that it's because the changes being debated are unpopular.

•    Sid Solomon
I think the greatest thing about the Showcase Code is that an actor can walk away from it at any time, for whatever reason, with no repercussions. It's not a job. It doesn't count as work. These are provisions that should make producers more inclined to use an agreement rather than a code. And as an actor who likes to go to the doctor, I'd rather have 40% of the current showcases exist if it meant they all became agreement productions.

•    Sean Williams
And I think I should apologize, I assumed that Equity was, like, a 40% unemployment rate or something. Gus's numbers make my blood boil. This union is collecting dues from people who can't find work, and they're doing it in the name of protection. That's a racket I saw a lot of back in East LA.

I'm passionately pro-union, I'm an old-school lefty and I've always considered the arts to be a blue-collar profession. We have a standing policy that we invest in people before we invest in properties, and in the name of well-meaning and good-standing producers all over Indy Theater - almost all of whom began as actors and still function as them, it infuriates me that the default position would be that this organization is protecting actors from *us*.

•    Nat Cassidy
I definitely agree with you about the ability to walk away from it.Sean Williams, why you ignoring my email?). That's why it's particularly frustrating for me that common issues that wouldn't affect things like budget or nonpayment are still an issue, too. Like videotaping. I've worked plenty of union approved indie films for no payment other than a copy of the footage. But I can't do that for theatre, even though the technology is there and I'm not asking to be paid any more than I would before.

•    Sid Solomon
I still don't understand why AEA shouldn't collect $118/year from all of its members, working or not working.

And as a pro-union lefty, I'd think that you'd understand that as nice and awesome and genuine as you are (we've never met, but you seen great), that YOU'RE MANAGEMENT! Of COURSE we need to be protected from you? Who else should we be afraid of?

•    Sean Williams
You're making a mistake thinking of us in terms of management and labor. It's a mistake that keeps the unions and the landlords happy, because we might be the only industry where all of us - ALL OF US - are gonna do shit no matter how hard it is. The widgets are gonna get made, if we have to pay for the widget and then buy it from ourselves. And you're making shit - even in a union job - and I'm making shit - even with a NYTimes Critic's Pick and a stack of IT Noms. The unions are getting theirs and the landlords are getting theirs, and they love that you and I are fighting.

•    Andrew Bellware
Oh man. Am I going to step in this thread? Sigh. Yes I am.
A point of technicality is that the showcase code is not negotiated, using it or not doesn't really affect the collective bargaining power of the Union (because nobody's bargaining).
The OP actually addresses this issue from the Producer's perspective, calling for the negotiation of Special Contracts rather than using the default Showcase Code.

•    Kelly O'Donnell

Sid, here is how it could contribute to an actor getting more money: allowing producers to create a commercial or promo video for their company can help increase awareness and grow an audience for that company. This can potentially lead to more ticket buyers, and maybe more grants and donations long-term. This potential increase in sales and gifts could enable a company to afford a higher budget and to pay actors a little more. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but Equity's flat-out refusal to compromise makes this potential an impossibility and it limits growth. So while it may not immediately give compensation to the union actor in the video, it is potentially beneficial for union actors in a much broader way. But, you know, none of this matters because we producers are all capable of selfish acts so we shouldn't be given an inch.

•    Sid Solomon
Have you been to AEA lately? Last I checked it's not staffed by Scrooge McDuck and Rich Uncle Pennybags. I've never gotten any indication that they're not doing what they can to look out for my best interest.

I'm not unsympathetic to the idea, Kelly. But again, it does create some incentive to produce under an agreement rather than a code.

Seriously though, "The union is getting theirs"? Who or what is getting rich at AEA?

•    Nat Cassidy
I'm happy to pay my dues even if I'm not employed ... but - another ferinstance. I know someone who was in a Showcase that got a ton of buzz and award nominations. And then half a year later, a remount looked possible. She was the only Equity actor. She would've still gotten paid. They would have still abided by all the rules. The only thing was they wanted to put it up in a nontraditional space which would have meant one performance a week. But if they wanted to do more than a handful of performances (which you've gotta do if you want to make money back so you can afford to pay your actors and everything), they would have gone over the weeks allotted by the code. Not the number of performances, but just the weeks. And she was fine with that. Absolutely fine with it. But the union refused, and made it incredibly difficult to even DISCUSS the possibilities, and so she lost the gig to a nonunion actor. She lost paid work, on a show that was getting her seen by industry members who could have furthered her career, to a nonunion actor, because the union did not make her best interest a remote priority.

•    Sid Solomon
Yup. That's a shame and it sucks. A very narrow example, but definitely shitty.
s

•    Nat Cassidy
I feel you about codes versus agreements, but supply and demand is not in our favor and I also want more of a say in what I should and shouldn't work on. SAG treats its union members like adults and artists and people who are trying to create their own work. AEA treats its union members like beggars who can only depend on others for work.

•    Kelly O'Donnell
By the way, I don't think the showcase code is all that bad. In many ways it is very generous for a union. I'd just like to find a way to have more flexibility with ticket prices that works for the union and the producers. But the video rules are so Stone Age in my opinion.

•    Nat Cassidy
Another ferinstance: the Equity Showcase Fringe Festival Sideletter dictates that you have to pay each Equity actor $350 to be in your Fringe show. Even though a non-Fringe showcase you only have to pay a travel stipend, which would run you about $100 or so. So, if I'm producing a Fringe festival show, a show which will very conceivably get press and go up in a good venue and entice industry members to come and see it, why would I go with a union actor? Even if I was planning on already paying people what I would pay to produce that show for MORE performances and in a shittier venue? And as a union member, why is my union making me less desirable to be hired?

•    Sid Solomon

And again, to that I'd say, you signed up in the first place, right? I lived in Minneapolis for a long time and stayed an EMC because for my development artistically and professionally I wanted to be able to work at the best non-union houses and also at Equity houses that would be more likely to hire me as a non-Eq. I had a chance to join the union when I was 23 and I declined. I joined when I was 26 and ready to make a commitment to work for pay and help my fellow members get better treatment. No one forces you in.

•    Sean Williams

I talked to a handful of people and said, "Tell me where we are, and where you want to go." Everyone wrote back, "we have to change the code." Actors, directors, producers, writers. So... Let's agree that it's not a good system and talk about changing it.

By the same token, nobody is forcing Equity members to do shitty work for producers who want to take advantage of them. Unless, you think they are and need protection from it. You can't be grownups and also no grownups.

•    Sid Solomon

We're obviously not all in agreement that the code is not a good system.

•    Nat Cassidy
True, no one forces you in, but does that mean once I'm in I have to be okay if it does something unfairly? The union is far from infallible. That's why I keep bringing up SAG - there's a model that works and that they could learn from. I'm a proud union member just like I'm a proud American. I could move to another country if I wanted to, but I don't want to - I want to work on making my country better. "No one forces you to join" is the union equivalent of "love it or leave it."

•    Sid Solomon 

I don't get your point Sean. I don't think anybody goes into a production looking to get taken advantage of. But one of the things I pay my $118 and 2% for is that if AEA approves a Showcase, I have some guarantee that I'm not gonna get fucked over, and if I do, I have recourse.

Like I said, Nat, there are ways to advocate as a member. Do you go to meetings? Do you vote? It's a fairly democratic process, and they're always desperate to increase participation.

•    Nat Cassidy
Ugh. But that sounds like WORK.

(I do. I honestly haven't in about two years or so, but I've been a member for 10. It'd been the same arguments for a whiiiiile. But these debates are getting me ready to go back and try again.)

•    Sid Solomon
Participation is awesome!

•    Nat Cassidy
ANOTHER THING EQUITY FUCKED UP: my first meeting they had a raffle and I won a tote bag with mugs and pens and books. That has not happened since.

•    Isaac Butler
I am positive this is not what you mean Sean Williams but the implication of that comment is there shouldn't be union protections at all so that people can be adults.

•    Patrice Miller
Andrew Bellware: Thanks for reading. Exactly. Stop using the thing you hate. If we are indeed adults, then we get to negotiate and stuff. (Like I said up somewhere, I really have never had a problem with Equity).

•    Nat Cassidy
How's your blood pressure now, Isaac?

•    Kelly O'Donnell
I can't wait to exploit Nat Cassidy in a future show I'm directing.

•    Nat Cassidy
IT CAN'T BE DONE WHEN I HAVE NO STANDARDS I WIIIINNN

•    Patrice Miller
Not to be that guy, folks, but if you're all hed up about fair wages and working conditions -- why hasn't my rockethub campaign gone up? I am literally living what I preach here. I am not exploiting actors, I am fundraising for them, and I am not working on a restrictive code.

Tux & Tom's Season of Miniatures
www.rockethub.com
Tux and Tom Productions present a summer of miniatures: 3 in-progress, new works showcasing in NYC.

•    Andrew Bellware
"Stop using the thing you hate" is the last thing I said to my girlfriend before she broke up with me.

•    Patrice Miller

Well played, sir.

•    Isaac Butler 

This has turned into the most entertaining, informative wonderful thread. Thank you all , really. And thank you Sean Williams for curating the series that got this all going

•    Nat Cassidy
Oh, Patrice, were we not clear in the beginning that this was all about a dying medium no one cared about anymore? It's like Plato talking about apple people or some shit - we're just killing time until True Detective Season 2.

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas

I learned a lot in this thread. And I am really pleased that it didn't start or end in passive aggressive snark. Patrice, you're one smart cookie.

•    Patrice Miller
Thank you very much, Jennifer. Now I want cookies ...

•    Sean Williams
Isaac, you're not far off. But what I'm saying is you can't say, "If you don't want protections, then don't join, you're free to make your own decisions" at the same time you say, "but we have to be protected from being pushed into making bad decisions." It's as if deciding to join the union is a sober decision with *no* coercion behind it, but saying 'yes' to allowing a production to run one more week is actors need to be saved from.

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas
oh my god this is what i've been trying to articulate since yesterday. and why i got so bloody mad. only i'm perimenopausal so i just get angry and lose the ability to speak. (just wait gentlemen - your wives will do this one day). It's like Games People Play: there's only going to be one winner and it's not us. And I KNOW Isaac and I know that's not what he intended starting the dialogue yesterday, but that's how it came off.

•    Nat Cassidy
Right! And I think that balance between protecting members but also allowing members to try new things can be found - I think SAG makes a valiant stab at it.

•    Sean Williams
(yeah, i'm totally a member of SAG and like them very much...)

•    Isaac Butler
There are power dynamics being overlooked in the equivalence you're drawing I think but my phone is dying and in currently ignoring my parents so to be continued

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas

Patrice you should totally have cookies.

•    Sean Williams
I mean... we can continue this *not here*...

•    Justin R. G. Holcomb
SAG allows members to work for nothing and have their work recorded because it's the SCREEN actors guild. Equity doesn't allow any production to be filmed unless it's for archival purposes (there are some glaring Broadway exceptions) because it's a theatrical union, the performances are meant for stage, they should be seen live, that's what makes them special.

It seems every one wants the Showcase code to be a cheap Mini or transition agreement. It's not, it never will be. If you want an extended run or a bigger operating budget, the Union and it's members require pension and health and a weekly salary. The limits of the Showcase code are where that line is drawn. The Pecadillo Theater Company often extends their runs by switching to an Off-Broadway contract during their run. I think that's kind of shifty, but they do it to fairly good success.

And talk about how great SAG is all you want, but how often does a non-paying film take up 8 weeks of your life.

•    Kelly O'Donnell
Except that video is also a useful tool for artists to promote their work and for producers to get people to come to the theatre. People are often more prone to watch a quick video than read an article or review. Sure, theatre is special because it's live but video is not only used for acting. Equity is doing their actors and the theatre community a disservice for not even being willing to compromise for decades.

•    Isaac Butler
Some more thoughts!:
(1) The issue isnt' that actors have to be protected from themselves, Sean Williams and Jennifer Gordon Thomas. The issue is (A) that producers have a lot more coercive power (just as the original cast of Urinetown) and (B) That there will always be someone willing to do more for less, so if you don't establish clear standards and rules, working conditions and norms will deteriorate, triggering a race to the bottom. Which, not-coincidentally, is what has happened in every industry in which union protections have been softened or outsourcing has become a regular practice. Unions (like basically all movements or collective entities) restrict individual choice in order to ensure the standards and practices that protect their members. (Also, these restrictions are decided upon by the members themselves).

(2) This is in part why we can't have experimentation, even if we wanted it. It's very very hard to amend or update any of the plans, codes or agreements that Equity uses because it's not a dictatorship.

(3) All of that said, again, I think that there should be some kind of adjustments to the taping rules. I don't think they should allow taping of the full production in front of an audience, but they should be adjusted to allow something, simply because so many entities (grad school, funders, fellowships etc) require video now and so their own members would *directly* benefit. As opposed to being able to perform more performances or allow producers to charge more money without any additional compensation, which only benefits performers if you buy into some questionable assumptions.

(4) There's this myth that equity provides no bridge from a showcase code production to something else. This is totally untrue. They provide several, from the seasonal showcase code (for companies) to the minicontract. It may be that producers have trouble making the leap into using those codes. In that case then it may just be that you're not ready to make the leap yet. I do not understand why people think it is Equity's job to make using their members labor for free easier. Equity is not a producer's organization.

That said, I sympathize with the heartbreak of having a show that's successful that dies before it is really ready to go. That happened with Joshua Conkel and me on MilkMilkLemonade. But the problem in that case wasn't equity. We actually had like 8 shows remaining before we used up our allotment. The problem was that we couldn't extend the show. The space was already rented out (I offered to buy out the next rentals with my own money, but this was a nonstarter) and no one would pick the show up even though it was the best reviewed show in new york and a hit with lines down the block. It was terrible.

So I'm saying I know this is a very emotional subject, and I sympathize with people from a variety of viewpoints on this. it's so, so hard to make theater in new york, regardless of whether you're an actor, a director, a producer, a writer, whatever. it's really, really hard. And you just want someone to do you a fucking solid already and make it a little bit easier. But Equity has already done the scene that solid by creating the showcase code in the first place. I don't think the showcase code is perfect, I've twice now publicly said some of the ways I think it should change. But I think people really have this belief that the code is what is hampering their success, and I think this is basically a myth that we've all bought into.

•    Sean Williams
I don't mean to nitpick, but you keep saying "labor for free". That's not happening anywhere. Not just me, but everyone, are paying their Equity actors and nobody is asking that we pay less. When we want more performances, we're not asking for an endless run. When we want to film, we're not asking for TV rights. This week on the IT blog, a lot of people were asking for adjustments based on new media options, new marketing options and new financial realities.

And, I have no doubt Equity will follow suit. Those here speaking in support of the Union are not actually speaking *for* the Union, and in my dealings with them, they have always been extremely flexible. These changes are going to happen because Equity wants their actors to work, and they want to support producers.

Issac, when you say it's not Equity's responsibility to ensure that producers can make plays, all I can say is that I'm grateful Equity doesn't see it that way. They want to make sure their actors are protected, but they also recognize that the Showcase Code is good for keeping skills sharp, keeping plays happening in New York's back yard so people can act *and* keep their dayjobs/apartments, and that the art being created is important.

We don't believe the code is hampering our success. We're all succeeding. We believe the code isn't helping our community as much as it *could*, and we believe we're all in this together, and that what is good for "The Producer" (very often the playwright, very often an actor, very often a member of Equity, very often part of a company and will be an actor in the next show and not a producer...) is good for The Actor, and vice versa.

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas
I don't know about you guys, but I want what I want when I want it. I want more, and I want all the things. And I will fight you. Don't make me fight you.

•    August Schulenburg
Part of the challenge are binaries that assumes labor and producers are always separate adversarial entities, and that the creation of live and recorded performances are distinctly separate acts. Neither binary is true, and they're becoming less true as time goes on. In the indie theatre and ensemble worlds, there are alternative models to the adversarial narrative of labor vs producer; additionally, more and more artists are creating work that moves fluidly through multiple media, both live and digital. In both cases, actors are often taking the lead in advancing these trends, creating more opportunities for employment, and often on their own terms. I don't believe either trend needs to be seen as oppositional to traditional AEA employment, especially at a time when those traditional opportunities are so scarce.

•    Jennifer Gordon Thomas  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyuKTyZlUtw

Reggie Watts 05/08/2009 'Binary Existence'
For more work from Reggie Watts visithttp://www.youtube.com/user/ReggieWattsJas...See More

•    Isaac Butler
Sean you're right I shouldn't've said free I should've said a daily transportation stipend.

More later on the rest!

•    Nat Cassidy
In re the SAG stuff, I've honestly felt more taken advantage of doing some film work than stage work. Longer hours, more grueling conditions, grosser effects, etc. But I've never begrudged the film, and if a non-paying film was going to take up 8 weeks of my life, I wouldn't take it unless it was something I believed in or I thought would be advantageous to my career. Nor would I take a non-paying play that took up 12 hours of one day and covered me in fake blood in the middle of the woods. The thing is, because SAG by virtue of it being a more technological medium, that union is much more on the vanguard of what it's actually like to create something. I've never gotten the same feeling from AEA. Maybe that's just me, though.

But what I'm personally advocating for is not making the Showcase Code more like a mini or anything like that. I'm not even advocating for more pay in any way. I just want the code to reflect the realities on the ground. I want it to literally SHOWCASE its union members as effectively as possible, so that it can compete with the world around it. And things like not being able to videotape, or not being able to easily and efficiently amend certain restrictions hobbles that.

•    Mozzle Stead
Does anybody else get wet when August Schulenburg writes a comment. It's like he's flirting with your brain, those beautiful beautiful words arranged so. Can I ask a question that may seem dumb ass, or it may be so creatively brilliant that it will shake your world? While Equity does not let video taping, would they stand against one of their performances being also a SAG Signatory performance, so that video taping that performance would fall under SAG regulations and hence the actors are additionally compensated for that performance under a different contract?

•    Kelly O'Donnell

I have a hard time with this statement, Isaac: "I don't think they should allow taping of the full production in front of an audience." Why wouldn't anyone want this? It is a preservation of history. Theatre is so ephemeral and using technology to preserve that history in some capacity seems so important to me.

•    Isaac Butler
Because I'm sympathetic to the concerns that underlie the taping ban in the first place I just thing a broad ban is this day and age is a really bad way to go about addressing them.

•    Questy McQuestington

(Stephen Heskett, this is the thread you're looking for.)

•    Sid Solomon
What happens to the tape when you're done with it, Kelly?

•    Kelly O'Donnell
The 99 Seat plan in LA allows for the taping of a 1/2 hour of the performance as well as allowing producers to use 3 minutes of rehearsal footage in advertising. Even more importantly, it says that the producer will make its best efforts to preserve the artistic integrity of the performance during taping. In other words, they trust the producer to be a grownup and film responsibly. Why can't they do that with the NY showcase code?

•    Isaac Butler
That seems reasonable to me too. I just see the purpose behind not allowing the whole thing to be taped.

•    Sid Solomon
Less reason to try to incentivize agreement productions in LA than NY, maybe?

•    Kelly O'Donnell
Sid, when we are done with the footage we keep it. We use the footage for archival purposes to preserve history, as well as for future promotional videos for our company. We also use the footage to apply for grants so we can raise more money so we have a better chance of paying people, including union actors in the future. We do all this with the consent of the actors and any actor can opt out.

Also, we can provide a copy of any footage to the actors at their request.

I see no difference between filming a 1/2 hour of the show and filming the entire thing.

•    Sid Solomon
If you remount the show using non-Equity actors (or different Equity actors) can you use a recording of the full production to have another actor recreate my performance?

•    Nat Cassidy
Why is the solution a ban and not just signing a release with terms agreed upon?

•    Kelly O'Donnell
Absolutely not. The actor's performance would be treated like copyright. And any producer who breaks that agreement would be punished by either being banned from future contracts, or some type of one or two year ban.

•    Sid Solomon
How do you prove that, though?

•    Kelly O'Donnell
Well, that's probably for another FB conversation because of the obvious grey area.

•    Nat Cassidy
How do we prevent people from stealing choices if they've seen the show in person? Or recreating moments from still photographs? Or being an understudy?
ts

•    Isaac Butler
Those are actually very serious concerns that people at the various guilds and unions and publishing houses consider constantly.

•    Kelly O'Donnell
I totally agree and respect those concerns. I feel the same way as a director. But, I don't think there should be a ban in place because there is a grey area or because there is the potential for abuse. But, I would love to one day have a discussion about intellectual and creative property in a play and who "owns" what.

•    Isaac Butler
Oh yeah well as an IP skeptic I have a feeling you and I would see eye to eye on a lot of that.

•    Nat Cassidy
But, again, why a ban? Why not a release? And we're still talking about showcase productions, correct? So it's not like I have to worry about losing a job that pays money if they remounted again, right? If the production itself goes forward commercially, I have a right of refusal, don't I? Isn't that one of the stipulations of the showcase code?

•    Sid Solomon

'Tis. But I still think, as Patrice kept saying, if you don't like the code, use an agreement. Codes are barebones because we prefer you use something else. Isn't that where AEA's priorities should lie? Trying to make as many production as possible the kind where actors get salary and benefits?

•    Nat Cassidy
Yes, but if they refuse to make concessions that embrace the technological realities of the day, more and more non-union actors will get more and more opportunities and being a union actor is going to mean a lot less power. Look at the voiceover scene now.

And also, I might add, where's the concern for your non-AEA peers? The more productions that are less willing to work with Equity, the more people are going to actually get hurt. Look at SLEEP NO MORE and the like. Shouldn't we also have some concern for the people who in our same field but just haven't lucked into getting a union contract yet?

My shorter point: if we try to phase out using codes, the result will not be more agreements, the result will be more non-union productions and scabs. We're talking about productions that already have the minimum amount of money, in a city (and country) are already getting more expensive.

•    Sid Solomon
I have more faith in both the quality of the AEA talent pool, and the greater benefits of Equity membership than you do, I think.

I don't worry about the proliferation of non-union shows costing me jobs because 1. Showcases aren't jobs anyway, and 2. High quality actors are still gonna wanna do regional, Off Broadway, and Broadway work, which you can't do as a non-union actor.

Also, it's easier to tell the difference between quality on stage than it is in a VoiceOver booth.

•    Nat Cassidy
I don't assume someone's a better performer than someone else because they have an asterisk by their name, that's for sure. Can't you get your card working at American Girl these days? Or Jekyll & Hyde? Or have just purchased it before the SAG AFTRA merger? (And not that someone who does that is necessarily less talented, but union status has never been a stamp of approval. It's a membership, not a meritocracy.)

But I'll be the first to say I appreciate the discount Equity got me on my Zipcar membership.

•    Sid Solomon

I like my health insurance, personally.

•    Nat Cassidy

Also, that point above doesn't make much sense to me - a commercial producer will just PUT you in the union if you're not already. I mean, that's how you get in in the first place. It's not like the stone masons. And if more non-union actors are in the showcase productions that a casting director can conceivably attend, well, that just sucks for us.

•    Sid Solomon

And no, an asterisk doesn't denote quality, but over time, if you want (and more importantly if you CAN) make money doing stage work, that asterisk is gonna show up.

•    Nat Cassidy
That's a great thing that you like your union health insurance. Most people aren't so lucky. But I don't think allowing showcase productions to videotape is really going to threaten that.

•    Sid Solomon

You make it sound like it 'a a magical power that a producer has and that it exists in a vacuum. Most of us become Equity because a producer (commercial or not) deemed us to be worth paying the money and benefits that the role we auditioned for required. That's earned, not bestowed.

More people might if there weren't so many showcases that don't give benefits!!!

•    Nat Cassidy

Also, most VO casting directors I think would vehemently disagree with you. As would most sound designers. The microphone is a very sensitive thing - it senses a lot.

I wish that were the case (and please disagree with me, any producers on this thread), but I still don't think less code productions will mean more agreement productions.

•    Sid Solomon
It's the clients who often can't tell the difference, not the artists or CDs. It's a problem in non-Eq touring musicals as well. Just making a point .

I just think the showcase code has maybe driven down the baseline for what a producer thinks is the minimum amount of money required to make a show using the best possible actors too far. And to be asked to have that baseline driven down further (even in the form of media concessions, higher ticket prices, and longer runs) runs counter to what us professional actors should want, which is to be fairly compensated for our work.

Producing theater should cost money.

•    Isaac Butler
Ding ding ding!

•    Sid Solomon
Isaac, imagine what would happen to union actor pay at small Equity theaters in Minneapolis if AEA actors were suddenly allowed to work for stipends. Try getting someone to form a theater on an SPT agreement if they can just pay everyone $200 for a run.

•    Sid Solomon
OOB is serving the same function at the high quality non-Eq houses in the Twin Cities, except they're allowed to use union talent. No wonder we can't get paid!

•    Nat Cassidy

Perhaps a point we disagree on, then, is I don't find it a lowering of the baseline for me to want to have more control over my image and likeness and to be able to have my performance documented and potentially used (by me) to secure more work. The internet's not going away. Great, cheap methods of filming are not going away. Social media are not going away. Casting directors expecting actors to have filmed examples of their style and performances are not going away (do you read the breakdowns? Even theatrical breakdowns will ask agents to submit reels now). You can say, "Oh, then you should go do film work and also get a reel," but I don't want my union to drive me to another medium.

•    Isaac Butler

Yes.

It'd be a nightmare!

•    Nat Cassidy
Have you looked at the cost of living and rent comparisons between Minneapolis and NYC?

Producing theatre already costs money. A lot of money. That most people don't have. Especially if they live in NYC.

The equivalent to me is if SAG went, "No more union actors on extreme low budget films. No more new media agreements." Do you honestly think that would mean HIGHER BUDGETED independent films? No. It'll mean less union actors get to work. More nonunion actors will be seen. And then given more opportunities.

I mean, why doesn't your argument of "No one forces you to join AEA" also apply to "No one forces you to join a show?" If you don't want to do a show for $200, don't do it! Keep holding out for only the kind of work you think pays fairly - there's nothing wrong with that.

Regardless - Sean Williams, you should post this whole comment thread as like the capper to your week of blog cultivation. That way they know who to blame for any coronaries.

•    Questy McQuestington

Hey, gang. Long-time listener, first-time caller here.Sid's “producing theater should cost money” gets at something important, I think: regardless of whether a production *makes* money, it should *cost* a certain amount. As a fairly low-rung indie producer, I think every show I’ve ever produced has been a net loss in purely financial terms, and it’s easy to think that if that’s the case then it must be de facto impossible to abuse the goodwill of the actors, who we sort of think of as co-collaborators in this labor of love etc etc. But a) producers extract some kind of value from a production whether or not it makes money; what exactly it is is a bit difficult to pin down, and varies among individual producers, but SOMETHING obviously incentivizes us to do something so time- and labor-intensive without making money; and b) the “value”s that producers and actors extract from a show are of different orders. Maybe as producers it would be useful to think not in terms of what AEA should be doing for us (which, as many folks have pointed out, has nothing to do with its mission), but more in terms of what we’re willing to spend to reap that ineffable value. It can make the actor-producer relationship seem a little chillier, which kind of sucks, but as much as Holcomb is a total pain in my ass when it comes to code nitpicking, we still buy each other drinks.

(Note: None of the above should be construed as an argument for producers forming a cartel...)

•    Patrice Miller
Oh those cartels exist. They're called Leagues and i think they are thrilled that we are fighting with/about.Equity because it weakens Equity.a.bit, and keeps us from keeping them accountable to the whole ecosystem.

Them being the Producers' Leagues. Why hold them accountable for bullying Equity into waivers for a show like spiderman when we can talk about an outdated code that no one is makong us use ... Sorry guys, at some point we gotta pick our battles. i know i am potentially tangenting/derailing this.

•    Sid Solomon
Nat, I know the difference between cost of living in Minneapolis and New York (since I've lived and worked on both), which is why it's so infuriating that I can get paid less to work in New York than in Minneapolis.

And yes, producing costs money that neither you nor I have. That's why the effort should be made to raise it, rather than require that actors make less of it.

And true, no one forced me to take $200 to do a show (and it's been years since I have), but the existence of the code forces down wages plain and simple. I'm not totally against that given the circumstances and realities of New York, but again, unless it puts more money directly in my pocket, why should I be interested in many any further concessions?

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum
Patrice, nobody is making us use the Showcase Code, true. But. I'm an AEA actor, and a producer, and I act in a lot of the stuff I produce. That's actually kind of the point of Flux -- "creative home" is at the heart of our mission statement, and we believe in it very earnestly. In Jane the Plain, for instance, 4 out of the 6 actors on that stage were AEA members, and all of them were Flux Creative Partners. So yeah, we could produce outside the Code, but then none of us would get to be in the shows. So abandoning the code isn't an option for us, and it isn't an option for me personally even if I left Flux.

What I would love to do, AS AN ARTIST and as someone who would like to actually Showcase his work, is to have a longer run with more performance dates. I would like to have a less-rushed rehearsal process. I would like to be able to tape the show so I can make a reel of my work to show to agents, or post right here to get you all to come to see it. And of course I'd like to get paid more. Hey look at that, these are all the things that OOB producers want, too. This isn't about "concessions" for labor to management, this is, as Sean Williams said, about collaborators who want to make art together, who are often on both sides of the stage.

Also, someone mentioned getting your AEA card from Jekyll & Hyde. That's a good example to bring up, because in fact you can no longer get your AEA card from Jekyll. The owner of that place is horrible, horrible. AEA had to take him to court three times because his bond ran out, because he had been pocketing dues contributions instead of passing them on to Equity. So eventually AEA just walked away, telling the actors they could quit and the venue could go completely non-union, or sign a letter saying they'd consent to work in a mixed shop. They signed, of course, and I came on shortly afterwards to a promise that things would remain as they had always been (and maybe even the producer would come around, and I'd get my card!).

Over the next two years, though, I watched as every single protection was stripped away one by one. Half-hour break? gone. Meals? gone. Preparation time reduced from 30 to 15 minutes. Annual cost-of-living raises, gone, and every year the hourly rate for new hires dropped another dollar. That place used to be a cool place to train, get your card, and get paid (a little); by the time I left it had become a minimum-wage factory floor. I wasn't even properly let go; they simply closed the restaurant with a weekend's notice, and by that point I didn't care enough to ask that they schedule me some shifts at the new venue. My last check even bounced.

So yeah, AEA sucks sometimes, but the only thing worse than AEA is no AEA.

My playwrighting teacher Connie Congdon once told me "I wouldn't criticize something I thought had no merit." The Code has merit, and these calls are for REFORM, not a scrapping of it.

The only times I've felt abused as an actor was when I was non-union, working in a non-union OOB show (and, eventually, at Jekyll). I have felt protected and cared for in every Showcase show I've worked, both as a non-union and as a union actor. So I want to work WITH the union to craft something that lets me produce, and perform, and stay protected.

That's why I joined, after all. That, and the shiny asterisk.

•    Nat Cassidy
But I'm also a producer - I already know what it's like to try to raise money for a show in NYC. You get paid less to work in NYC because it's already almost impossible to afford rents here. So your solution is less union theatre over all. Which I very much disagree with.

And also, how are you sure that the existence of the Showcase code has driven your wages down?

•    August Schulenburg
Sid, do you have research that the code forces down wages, and if so, could you please share it? From how I read AEA last report, it's a little more complicated. For example, from the report itself: "Looking to contracts unique to specific regions, in the East the Off-Broadway contract has continued the resurgence that began several seasons ago when it became an option for extending the lives of shows in smaller venues that were previously being produced under the Production contract. Off-Broadway work weeks were up 6.6% over last season and are up nearly 80% over five years." Now, you could say this is the off-Broadway contract undercutting the Production contract, or you could say it's the flexibility of the Off-Broadway contract thathe average earnings per work week for Production, LORT and Stock contracts are all higher for the Eastern and Western regions than in the Central Region. In fact, despite a decrease in Broadway earnings in that year, the Eastern region earnings still rose while Central and Western dropped. In the past decade, earnings have rise 29% in the Eastern region, the highest of the three. It's also worth noting that thje city you cited as an example, Minneapolis, was the only city of the top cities for Equity membership density to actually drop in members, while New York grew the fastest. While I'm not saying any of this research refutes your argument that the showcase code depresses wages, it doesn't support it.

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum
@sid -- I just don't understand where you're imagining this argument is about giving actors LESS money. As a producer (and an actor!) we would like to give our actors MORE, but we are prevented by the budget limits of the Code.

As it is, Flux could continue to produce shows as we have been, more or less forever. Every actor will get paid a few hundred bucks, until eventually every 99-seat theater in the city is replaced with a starbucks, or they raise their rents so high that our entire maximum budget is spent just putting a roof over the actors' heads. At which point I guess we start doing theater on street corners with a hat, or we all move to LA and make movies.

We would like to pay actors more. At $12/show (average paid price, after comps and discounts) * 16 shows * some average number of seats that we can reasonably get with a few postcards, a lot of facebook shout-outs, and as many eblasts as our audience will tolerate, with a maximum total spend of $25K, we literally cannot pay any more than we do, and as it is we can't pay people nearly enough. We would like to pay them more but we literally cannot.

As it is, by all rights we should NOT be able to produce shows at the level that we produce them; we are fortunate to rely on many, many in-kind donations and free help, and of course an annual appeal and fundraiser.

•    Isaac Butler
Factual ? Because i'm curious in hearing your story on this one: how big is Flux's annual budget? Have you considered switching to the seasonal showcase code? I don't know the ins and outs of your company that well so I'd love to know if you've considered it and if you decided against it why.

(Also as correlation isn't causation it's really hard to prove a lot of this stuff but there is considerable research in other industries about these issues .. The book intern nation discusses a lot of it. What we really need is an economist to do a study! What's Emily glassberg sands up to these days?)

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum
I can't get into too many details about it, but a close reading of the Seasonal Code will reveal that it's not as simple as an increase in ticket prices and budget and a similar increase in actor pay. Otherwise everyone would do it!

An important aspect about actor pay in the Seasonal Code is that it goes into a big pile, and that's divided by the number of AEA actors in a show. Then, the number of AEA actors determines, in part, how big the pile is in your NEXT show.

You can see the problem here with a company that produces varied work with a variety of different actors, like Flux. If we did a show that had one AEA member next, for instance, that person would get a rather huge pile of money (since our last show had 4/6 actors as AEA) and we wouldn't be able to pay everyone else the same.

Now, with our current company and show plans, those numbers may be a little more conducive than they have been the last time we looked at it (when none of the actors in the company were AEA). But the Seasonal Showcase is a one-way trip, AEA REALLY doesn't like it if you try to go back.

So it's complicated.

•    Sid Solomon
Isaiah, you're prevented from giving them more and having longer runs by the code. Why not use an agreement?

•    August Schulenburg

Sid, do you have research that the code forces down wages, and if so, could you please share it? From how I read AEA's last report, it's a little more complicated. For example, from the report itself: "Looking to contracts unique to specific regions, in the East the Off-Broadway contract has continued the resurgence that began several seasons ago when it became an option for extending the lives of shows in smaller venues that were previously being produced under the Production contract. Off-Broadway work weeks were up 6.6% over last season and are up nearly 80% over five years."

Now, you could say this is the off-Broadway contract undercutting the Production contract, or you could say it's the flexibility of the Off-Broadway contract that allowed a lot of AEA actors the opportunity to keep working. And in spite of a decrease in Broadway earnings (which the report does not attribute to the Off-Broadway contract, but other variables) in that year, the Eastern region average weekly earnings still rose while Central and Western dropped; the report attributes the rise “as a result of increased earnings on some of the other contracts.” Nowhere do I see any evidence cited by AEA that the Showcase code is having a deleterious effect on wages in the NYC; in fact, the research seems to suggest the Eastern region is the most wage-resilient of the three.

On a related note, New York City grew the fastest in Equity membership population while Minneapolis/St. Paul was the only major city that declined in Equity membership population. So if the Showcase code does force down wages, I do think it would be valuable to present some research that presents that picture, since AEA’s own research doesn’t seem do so.

•    Isaac Butler

Yeah totally I know how the code works I was just interested informationally in how your company navigates this. Thanks!

The going back thing is definitely a big hurdle. Sigh.

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum
It's another option on the table, Sid. But I think the point is that we would like a broader solution that doesn't need to be individually negotiated. Sure, Flux might manage to hammer out a Flux-specific agreement with AEA, but what about the next company that comes along?

On a personal level, I didn't even know this was an option at ALL until fairly recently. Maybe that makes me a bad producer, but I think it's just a function of the ubiquity of the Showcase Code, and AEA's apparent, short-sighted disinterest in engaging in the indie theater community.

•    Sid Solomon
August, I do not have research to back it up, and it's totally fair that you're asking for it. I would posit that when taking about the difference between a Production Contract and an Off-Broadway Contrat, you're talking about the difference between a living wage plus benefits and a living wage with benefits. Such is not the case with comparing a Showcase to an Agreement. The fact that there is ANY work on a production that union actors can do where they don't make a salary and benefits is perturbing to me.

•    Isaac Butler

There's a book called intern nation that discussed the effects of free/ low cost labor in general I'd be surprised if theatre were magically an exception however I bet it is super complicated

•    Sid Solomon
I would argue that the ubiquity of the code is evidence of wages being driven down. A way exists that producers can produce without paying a salary. Why would they use anything else?

•    Isaac Butler
One other thing: Isaiah your comment highlights a key disconnect here. I totally believe that flux would like to lift the budget cap so it can pay its actors more. I bet many if not most indie theatre scene companies and producers similarly want to do right by their people. They aren't the only folks using the code however.

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum
Why would they use anything else? Because there is nothing else for them to use!

The only reason I can sit here and write this with any authority as a producer is that Flux has been producing shows (using the Showcase Code) for 8 years now. I can't imagine someone just showing up to NYC with a suitcase and a dream to produce mid-level indie theater, and hammering out a great individual production agreement with AEA. AEA wouldn't talk to them, and probably they shouldn't waste their time doing that anyway.

@Isaac -- I have yet to work with a producer using the code that treated me badly. I HAVE worked with producers who've treated me unprofessionally in a variety of ways, and they don't use any Code, and they don't use AEA actors, because they don't care. Maybe I've been lucky, but it seems to me that with the ready availability of non-union talent a producer can totally make a show happen outside the confines of AEA already. We can all readily name a number of producers who do this -- they all charge plenty more than $18, but none of them are paying their actors.

The ones who care about their performers, deal with the Code, and wish there was something better.

•    Sid Solomon
Are there not agreements for small theaters? Mini? Transition?

•    August Schulenburg
Issac, I'm sure you're right: I doubt theatre is immune, either, but NYC seems like such a unique market that I just don't know. Honestly, if clear evidence did emerge that the Showcase code was having a deleterious effect on other contracts and hurting artists, it would be difficult to me to continue working with it.

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum
All of them huge jumps up from Showcase work. It's not exactly trivial to go from a few hundred bucks stipend to a few hundred a week.

•    Sid Solomon

And that's sort of my point, Isaiah. Maybe using AEA actors is supposed to cost more.

Now I'm not dumb and I live in the real world, and I've worked for wonderful OOB companies (and have heard terrific things about flux, of course), and I want theater to be able to me made and done. I just think sometimes we need to focus on just how easy AEA has made it use its members for basically nothing, and how that might be negatively impacting the field.

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum
Well, maybe it should, but the point is, it can't. I see what we spend, and what we take in, and yeah, we could totally live in a place where we could pay everyone a few hundred a week, and raking in the money to do that -- we WANT to do that, it's kind of a huge internal goal for us -- but it's the GETTING there that just doesn't seem achievable. How do you double your audience?

•    Sid Solomon
In the macro sense, how is this different from arguing against a minimum wage? "Our business will collapse if we have to pay more than $7/hour." At some point you have to say "Well then you can't afford to run a business."

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum

When you change the minimum wage -- which I want to do, for the exact reasons you describe -- you don't do it by quadrupling it.

•    Sid Solomon
You do if it's currently $2.50 an hour.

(I'm using $2.50 as a figure because it's a quarter of $10, not because that's what you make on a Showcase production. A showcase might pay less...)

•    Isaiah Tanenbaum

Yes, even if it's $2.50. You raise it a little, and then the next year you raise it a little more, until you have a living wage.

Also, and I think this is the key difference, when you change the minimum wage you are raising the floor for EVERYONE in your economy. The theory is -- and it's been borne out each time the minimum wage has been raised -- that the guy suddenly making more will spend that at some other guy's store, and he'll be able to pay his workers the new, higher wage, and they'll go to the next guy's store, etc.

Now I know the old joke that Sean Williams likes to say is that we just spend our lives passing each other the same $18 back and forth, but the truth is that most of what I would pay, as a producer, to an actor would go to that actor's rent, and that landlord isn't coming to shows and putting that money back in, so where does the infusion come from?

The only way we can get him there is to slowly, slowly raise income, which means you are also increasing your spending on things like marketing (and grants, for that matter, which is an expense in terms of time and which, I might add, now want video for everything). This all takes time, time we would not have if we suddenly jumped to paying everyone health and a living wage. A GOAL WE WANT TO GET TO.

Anyway, this has been fun but as it happens I have to get ready to go to a going-away party for a lovely member of Flux who is leaving town for two years to teach set design.

Assuming this is still going in the morning, I'll get back to it then.

•    Jonathan Spector
It seems totally legitimate for Equity to define only work that actually pays as "work." So I would argue the proper frame for any question regarding showcases or waivers is: What is the best way for a union to serve it's 90% or so of members for whom there is no work at any given moment?

•    Kelly O'Donnell
To be fair, I don't think the showcase code prevents us from paying actors more. There are other factors that prevent us from paying actors more like the cost of theater rental which can eat up half of our budget. Other things that make it difficult is that there is a lot of competition in New York and we don't sell enough tickets as we'd like. We would probably have the same budget if the showcase code didn't exist.

I agree that the Seasonal Showcase is one logical next step to be able to charge more and extend your run. For us, it's a tricky jump because we want to pay non-union actors the same as union actors. I believe that if we decided to (or happen to) do a show with all non-union actors, we would pay them what we have always paid union actors. I disagree that Equity actors "are supposed to cost more" because having a membership card in your wallet doesn't necessarily mean you can offer better skills than someone who doesn't, in my opinion.

Did I mention I wish we could videotape shows?

•    Sid Solomon
I'm not one to denigrate that talent, training, or worth of a non-union actor simply because of their union status. So can we please stop talking about Equity membership as if it occurs because a card mysteriously appeared in a wallet? Does a person become a doctor because they have a diploma on a wall? Does a police officer's badge get delivered by the cop fairy? How about IATSE, SDC, or ATPAM members? I busted my ass to get good enough and put myself in a position to get offered the 35 week union contract that granted me membership. At that time I made a conscious choice to join the ranks of professional actors and stage managers who collectively bargain and refuse to undercut each other in order that we may all get paid a little better. The card in my wallet represents that work and that commitment. It's not hard to treat that with a little respect.

•    Kelly O'Donnell
That's great, Sid. I apologize if you feel disrespected. My point is simply that having an Equity card doesn't necessarily mean one's skills are better than a non-union actor's. I never said getting an equity card was a "mystery" did I?

•    Sean Williams
It's tough when, as a non-union member, you're essentially carrying a show and one union member who has one scene is the only one getting paid. It makes it feel like there are no small parts, only small actors.

•    Sid Solomon
Non-union actors have agency as well, and can negotiate their salaries as they see fit. I made my living for 4 years working as an EMC, and accepted jobs that allowed me to pay my rent. No actor is required to take any job, and no company is required to pay non-Eq actors less than AEA members.

No Kelly, you didn't say it was a mystery. And I don't think you were being particularly dismissive or disrespectful. But the way some people talk about union members ("it's just a card") negates the meaning of what it means to organize and why it's important, and why, by and large in this country, the best professional stage actors (and certainly the ones making a living at it) are members of Actors Equity.