Equity Approves New 99-Seat Rule Over Member Objections

By Daniel Holloway

Actors’ Equity Association imposed Tuesday a $9-per-hour minimum wage for actors on Los Angeles’ mid-size theaters. Equity’s national council voted to move ahead with the plan despite overwhelming opposition from the union’s Los Angeles membership, who rejected the proposal 2,046 to 1,075 in an advisory vote completed earlier this week.

The new rules, which require theaters with 99 seats or fewer would to pay actors $9 per hour for rehearsals and performances, replace a system that saw rehearsals go unpaid and performance wages vary based on ticket prices and seating capacity. Actor-run member companies would be exempt from the new rules as would theaters with fewer than 50 seats—whose exception had not been included in the original proposal submitted by Equity leadership in January—provided their runs do not exceed 16 performances and production budgets do not exceed $20,000.

“We are proud of our members who shared their insightful views and spoke with such passion,” Equity executive director Mary McColl said in a statement. “The National Council’s decision today is responsive to that feedback and we look forward to working together to build a foundation for the growth and sustainability of intimate theater in L.A.”

Opponents of the plan argued that it would force many theaters to close in a region where actors pursuing film and television rely on stage work to get noticed and hone their skills. Celebrity actors such as Tim Robbins, Noah Wyle, and former Screen Actors Guild president Ed Asner had spoken out against the change. Equity leaders have maintained that rules change was prompted by complaints from Los Angeles members that they were not being adequately compensated for their work.

“We’re very disappointed that Equity acted the way they did,” Gary Grossman, producing artistic director of L.A.’s Skylight Theater, told the New York Times after Equity announced the council’s decision. “But we need to figure out who is affected, and see what they changed and what they haven’t.”

There are roughly 200 professional theaters of 99 seats or fewer in the Los Angeles area.

The new Equity rules are slated to go into effect in June 2016.


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