Paying artists doesn’t close theatre doors...

On the contrary, statistically speaking, theatres paying actors and stage managers more have sustained growth. Maybe they’re doing something right!

Paying artists doesn’t close theatre doors...

On the contrary, statistically speaking, theatres paying actors and stage managers more have sustained growth. Maybe they’re doing something right!

NOTE: This was written prior to the start of the 2016 Off-Broadway negotiations. It’s a look at the evolution of my philosophy. Enjoy!

 

Here’s a little more in-depth look into some of the work I’ve been so passionate about as I served on Council, work that I very much want to continue to do for you:

I am about to lead the negotiating team for two contracts in NY:  ANTC (Association of Non-profit Theatre Companies) and Off-Broadway. The ladder of agreements in this arena allows theatres to grow and thrive, and there is no better proof than the ANTC bargaining group.

ANTC was founded by nine Letter of Agreement (LOA), referenced to Off-Broadway, theatres with budgets ranging from about $0.5M to $1M. They operated on full Equity agreements with P&H contributions that were all individually negotiated based on the Off-Broadway contract. The Off-Broadway agreement is used by both commercial and not-for-profit theatres, and ANTC wanted to collectively bargain a purely not-for-profit model tailored to theatres their size,  with a clear path for growth. Equity and ANTC worked together to negotiate one of the most successful not-for-profit contracts we have, eventually creating tiers that would allow theatres to graduate to the full Off-Broadway agreement over time.

Fast forward 14 years, and now two ANTC theatres have graduated to the full Off-Broadway contract, with four more poised to do the same in the foreseeable future. And as the ANTC theatres grew upward, Equity created another contract, the Transition Agreement, to fill in this vacuum and help move theatres from Seasonal Showcase onto contract. The Transition agreement is essentially a minimum wage agreement with P&H, which increases over three years with more allowed rehearsal hours each year (and thus a higher wage). After that, companies move onto the LOA-OB until they stabilize at that level, and then perhaps move to ANTC.

Over the years, dozens of theatres have made the leap from Showcase to a full contract (including P&H), including the iconic MTC and Roundabout, New York Theatre Workshop, and Second Stage, and all of the ANTC theatres. In every case, they came to Equity to make that leap.

Talking with legendary Executive Producing Director of MTC, Barry Grove, it was always his and Lynne Meadow’s intention to pay actors as soon as they could possibly do so, which for them was essentially right from the beginning. Keep in mind, back in the 70s, MTC was in a hole of a space way over on the East side, doing essentially guerrilla theatre on a shoestring, and yet they paid their artists, and they approached Equity to move to a contract within their first three years. I just witnessed National Asian American Theatre Company, whose mission is to produce classics with all-Asian casts, move to the Transition agreement. This is a TINY company that is not exactly mainstream, with a small but loyal base, and they made the leap. There are DOZENS of small, medium and large contract companies in NYC that all ascended the contract ladder from nothing. Paying artists doesn’t close theatre doors. On the contrary, statistically speaking, paying actors results in increased growth.

But that growth comes with a responsibility to those who helped achieve it. I’ve worked in this arena for 15 years, nurturing and guiding companies to grow and thrive.  I am thrilled at how far many of these companies have come, but they’ve become mature institutions while being subsidized by actors who can’t afford to live in NYC on these salaries. Every time a working actor empties a savings account, pays a bill with a credit card, or puts off an IRA contribution they are essentially subsidizing their employer. Credit cards and missed retirement contributions cost exponentially more over time, leeching away the actor’s money every month through interest payments and lost dividends. Actors who devote their lives to this work continue subsidizing into their retirement while they live on less retirement savings and lower pensions.

As a theatre grows, its first obligation should be to pay artists a living wage, not mount a capital project.  It is unacceptable for actors to walk through a $40M lobby to earn less than they pay their babysitter (ANOTHER donation to the theatre!!). It’s time to reverse this paradigm and put actors before lobbies. This is what I will continue to fight for if you re-elect me to Council.