Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Bubble Boy"

I was going to write about a writer I know whose unquestioning belief in the career success that has to date eluded him has, either consciously or unconsciously, insinuated itself into his work, resulting in screaming implausibilities in his storytelling.

But I can’t do that.  I have betrayed too much of his predicament already.

Instead, I shall, once again, betray the only person whose predicament I feel comfortable betraying…

My wonderful self.

So here goes.

I have lived in this Land of Opportunity – no sarcasm intended, except, perhaps, for the capitalization – for forty-one years.  The belief is that I remain the untouched Canadian-born Good Guy that I was when I arrived.  Not long ago, however, I was discomfited to realize that this may not entirely be the case.

Why do I say that? 

Because I recently found myself thinking like an American.

On my last trip to Toronto, I was visiting with my longtime, very good Canadian friends and I brought up the issue of the Los Angeles branch of the actors’ union that had recently voted to continue being paid a tiny stipend for performing in 99-seat local theaters, only to see their parent, national organization over-rule their decision, requiring instead that the Los Angeles stage actors be paid minimum wage (which currently here at least, sits at $9 an hour.)

I imagine myself an independent thinker with a welcomingly open mind.  This intellectual magnanimity does not mean that I do not lean in a certain direction on issues.  However, in this above-mentioned circumstance, I came to realize that I was leaning further in one direction than I had imagined.

Actor Tim Robbins, an active participant in local theater productions, although a recognized “Lefty”, wrote an op-ed article in the newspaper arguing against paying the stage actors minimum wage. 

The local Los Angeles theater world, he explained, is more subsidized charity than a moneymaking situation.  The increased salary demands – minimal as they are – could seriously damage, and possibly even destroy, an (artistically if not financially) flourishing enterprise.  

This unfortunate outcome would not only be a loss to L.A. audiences hungry for live theater, it would also be a loss to Los Angeles actors, especially those who are  currently unemployed, who need a place to work on their craft, while at the same time gaining exposure to film and television personnel who might see them in a play and hire them for well-paying jobs, and the possibility of stardom.

Fueling the argument further, a friend of mine who has had a play produced in a 99-seat theater agrees with Tim Robbins.  It would be devastating, he believes, if producers were forced to pay the actors minimum wage.

Bowing to their wisdom and personal experience, I agree with the position of Tim Robbins and my friend about not paying the actors.  I also find myself righteously indignant that a national union has overruled the desires of its local affiliate, which, to me, feels like big government intruding on issues that are better understood and should therefore be handled at the local level.

Wait, did I just say that?  (This is my first signal that I may possibly be on the wrong track.)

Yes, I did say that.  Big government – big union – they don’t seem to get it.  (As you can see, I am not entirely ready to throw in the towel.)

Consider the following:

We are talking about a unique situation here – the Los Angeles theater scene, which differs significantly from the local theater situation anywhere else in the country. 

Major movie and television producers and talent scouts are unlikely to be sitting in the audience at a mounted production of Our Town in Schenectady.  (Oh, my God!  I spelled that right without even looking it up!)  Yes, those actors absolutely need to be protected. 

But if rising costs cause local theater to disappear, where will the L.A. actors go to be discovered?  Including the ones who arrived here from Schenectady?  (Nailed it again.)  Where also will these actors get an opportunity to hone their abilities?

Here’s another thing.  If the national actors’ union is concerned that the Los Angeles decision will trigger a groundswell of similar actions across the country… I mean, what are they worried about?  It seems highly unlikely that actors elsewhere will follow Los Angeles’s lead, demanding that they too not receive minimum wage.

Leading to my final point.  We are not discussing a living wage at Walmart here.  It’s nine dollars an hour, for a few actors irregularly participating in a handful of local productions.  If the producers say they can’t afford it, and the local actors say, “We don’t want it”, what’s the big deal in simply leaving things the way they are?

The big deal is that it matters. 

And I used to know that.

It’s very simple.

You do a job –

You are supposed to get paid.

(And other participants in local theatrical productions – musicians, the lighting guy, etc. – actually are.

What’s different about the actors?

America is a large and resonating culture.  But it is also a bubble.  It is hard to escape from a bubble primarily because you are unaware you are inside one. 

RICH PERSON’S CHILD:  You mean, poor children don’t have everything?

is my prototypical example.

Thank…whomever for my regular infusions of Vitamin “C” – the “C” standing for Canada.

Where they’ve still got their heads screwed on straight.

I need to get up to that place more often. 

Before I find myself fulminating,

“The gub’mint awta keep dey damn noses outtah aw bid’ness!

In an accent that is entirely foreign to my mouth.

Spouting words that were once alien to my thinking process.

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