Small theater in Los Angeles, known locally as "99 seat theater," has been a creative and professional godsend to me. It has brought me tremendous artistic fulfillment, introduced me to some of my most cherished friends, and helped me get my work seen by other theater and industry professionals.
The terms that govern small theater in Los Angeles are due for a change, and Actors' Equity is in the process of deciding how that change will play out. Their initial proposal is not what I'd hoped for, and has sparked a lot of fear and anger among Equity actors in LA. Yesterday, I attended an Equity Membership Meeting at which I had the opportunity to express my thoughts about the proposed changes. Here's what I said:
My name is Rebecca Metz. I am a working actor and have been a proud Equity member for 16 years.
The notion that actors who make our livings on-camera are, by necessity, “hobbyists” in the theater is absurd. We are every bit as professional, trained, talented, and deserving of meaningful representation in our union as any other Equity members in any other city.
The success of Equity’s renewed focus on Los Angeles depends on a respectful, collaborative relationship between LA Members and our union, and this issue will set the tone for that relationship for years to come.
One reason I love working in small theater is that I love developing new work, and small theaters are largely where that process happens. Anyone who has developed new work knows that the first draft of a new project is never ready for production. It’s not that the writer did anything wrong, it’s just that there’s a big difference between something that works on paper, and something that works in the hands of real, living, breathing actors.
This proposal is a first draft. It is a necessary step on the road to a final product, but it is not ready for production. It’s not that anyone did anything wrong, but it does not work for the real, living, breathing actors it affects.
We don’t only come here today to challenge a one-size fits all plan that prices Equity actors out of the work we love. We come with alternatives that achieve Equity’s stated goals while preserving the creative infrastructure we have worked so hard to build. Some of these alternatives are based on existing SAG/AFTRA contracts that address the same needs and challenges in-on camera work, while preserving basic labor and safety protections for dues-paying members. Others, like the proposal at 99toHAT.com, put small theaters on the path to bigger Equity contracts.
We know that changes to the current 99-seat plan are needed.
We agree that more actors should make more money from the work being done in Los Angeles.
We want change, but not this change. We are asking you to stop the clock, reach out to the leaders of our community, and work with us as partners, rather than as adversaries.
I'll try to add more information to this post in coming days, but for now, please feel free to ask me any questions you may have about 99 seat theater and the proposed changes. I hope and believe there is a way forward that everyone can live with.