Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Flip Flop Flip - Answer"

wimp – “A person who has an inordinate difficulty making up their mind.”

thoughtful individual – “A person who has an inordinate difficulty making up their mind.”

I favor the second definition. 

Though I understand why others prefer the first.

I had believed that this was behind me.  “Settled law”, as the professionals call it.  But the controversy remains ongoing in the world.  And, to my surprise, it continues to flip around, undecided, in my personal “thinking place” as well.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

A friend who’s had a play produced in a 99-(or smaller, I did not actually count them)-seat Los Angeles theater complained that the governing actor’s union in New York had overruled the three-quarters majority vote by members of the Los Angeles actors union, voiding the “waiver” exempting 99-seat-or-smaller local theaters from compensating their actors.

A brief summary, as the previous paragraph was artlessly opaque:  Three quarters of L.A.’s theater actors voted not to be paid; the union’s parent body in New York overruled them.  The actors had to be paid.

My playwright pal believed that making producers pay actors (minimum wage) would decimate the Los Angeles “small theater” production business, to the detriment of the actors who wished to exercise their thespianical chops, and – this being the show biz capital of the world – hoped to be discovered in these productions and promptly elevated to loftier pursuits.

I listened carefully to his argument.

And I ultimately agreed.

I then visited Toronto, where cherished friends patiently corrected my “tentative” determination.  (Not promoting a position, I was simply reporting “The latest from Tinsel Town.”  Which looked suspiciously similar to “drinking the Hollywood Kool-Aid.”  And, at the moment, admittedly felt that way.)    

My Toronto compadres exposed the inherent “slavery component” to actors toiling without compensation.  (Minus, of course, their being beaten, worked to death and sold to other theater companies without their consent.)  It is inexcusable, they reminded me, to require anyone to provide services without financial remuneration. 

I listened carefully to their argument.

And I ultimately agreed. 

(I hope the “Los Angeles Superior Court” reads this, they stamp “Congenitally Malleable” in official, big red letters on outside of my file and they stop calling me for “Jury Duty” anymore.)  

Okay.  Now I’m done.  I am unequivocally “down” with paying the actors. 

And I thought it was over.

Then, however, I wrote a recent post, wondering how it feels to perform a play in front of thirty-one people (in a 45-seat theater), when only a couple of miles away, the cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was performing eight times a week in front of two thousand seven-hundred-and-three people.  That post was forwarded to a Toronto actor who replied to the “forwarder”, who then forwarded the Toronto actor’s e-mail answer to me.

And it started all over again.  Apparently, I had decided on the “paying the actors” issue.  But I had not permanently decided.

The Toronto actor, in the play in which he was currently participating, reported performing during their run before a maximum of 61 audience members and a “low point” minimum of twelve.

He went on to explain: 

“This production is what’s known as an Equity Collective, which means that proceeds are divided equally among all participants.”

He went on to list the people who shared equally in the proceeds, a number considerably larger than the participants in the “stateroom scene” from A Night At The Opera.  I almost thought he was kidding.

Equal Profit Participants:     

Actors, directors, writers, stage managers, musicians, costumers, choreographers, set designers, assistant stage managers, sound engineers, the “marketing people”, the proprietors of the venue…

I’m thinking, unless those tickets were going for thousands of dollars apiece…

They are paying them in farthings!

But, advocates would undeniably assert,

At least they were paying them.

After attesting to this egalitarian ecumenism, the Toronto actor concludes by saying,

“But I would kill for a chance to work in a 45-seat theatre.” 

Advocating accurately for both positions.

(They might want to keep that guy off of juries as well.)

So there you have it.  On one side, there’s the “fairness” issue.  People have to be compensated for their efforts.  (Exception:  Blog writers.  Who do it simply for “the love of the game.”)

On the other side, L.A. actors, by an enumerated three-to-one margin, want to work without compensation – citing the ancillary advantages of having a play to “flex their muscles” in, and hoping, not at all without reason, to be “discovered” – and fearing the disappearance of such opportunities if participating actors needed to be paid.

How about this for a compromise?  (Which finally came to me while pondering this dilemma.)

You institute the “Pay the actors” rule temporarily, for, say, two years.  You then evaluate the tangible consequences of that policy, determining through that investigation whether to continue paying the actors, or not to.

Is that, what my three year-old daughter Anna used to call,

“… a good kolution”?

Indecisiveness, as you see, is not a permanent condition.

Sometimes – eventually – it actually helps.

That’s why – and I could probably stick this on the end of all of my posts – I prefer the way I think and the way I do things.

Although, the preceding being “tongue-in-cheek”, you can tell I am not totally persuaded.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

While I agree with the benefits of testing the workings of many solutions before making them permanent, if theaters go out of business during the two years, it will be very difficult to get them back. You can do a lot of damage in the short term even if in the long term things can be recovered. (See also the British EU referendum vote - long-term the consequences are unknown and may recover but today, right now, British scientists are being shut out of the next rounds of EU funding, which means great difficulty for PhD students over the next five years.)


Alan said...

it seems to me that if anyone is being paid to participate in a show biz venture, everyone should be paid.
If no one is being paid, and people are doing this for their own personal/career reasons, then that's fine ,too.
I think the Equity Collective model is a good one

By Ken Levine said...

Respectfully, I would weigh more heavily the opinions of participants in Los Angeles than those of people 3,000 miles away and in a different country. In the same way I would value a Brexit opinion from a Londoner rather than mine.

I agree there might be some compromise and LA actors are happy to explore options. The NY union lords will not consider them.

As for your compromise suggestion, the problem is that if it doesn't work in two years most small theatres will either be closed or enough actors will break from the union that the whole thing will be a mess. It's a little like saying, let's keep the barn door open and see if the horse stays in the barn. If the horse gets out we'll then close it.

Remember, no one makes good money in 99 seat theatres. Certainly not playwrights. It's not like Trump is making a fortune and the workers are getting stiffed.

We writers have a big advantage over actors when it comes to advancing our careers. All we need is a computer and printer. Actors need to be hired to practice their craft. And they have to be seen to be noticed. The 99 seat plan provides that.

And if an actor feels it's unfair to not be paid more they can simply refuse to do small theatre. Or move to Toronto.

And finally, this: The National Board of Equity's true objection is not to improve the conditions of its LA membership; it's to control them.