My top 10 Observations of the AEA Special Membership meeting:
I attended the AEA meeting on Monday February 23rd at Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, the meeting to discuss the proposal that will change the current 99 seat plan for theatre in Los Angeles. Over 400 were in attendance. Both sides were deeply passionate about their points of view. Much was said in the three-hour meeting and my observations skim the surface but these are the thoughts and questions that stayed with me.
- Is it an “abomination” to work for free? AEA members demanded to be paid for what they have been trained to do. Voices in favor of the proposed changes spoke of being “used” under the current plan.
- Booing and hissing will get you no-where. One set of voices insisted Intimate theatre would become endangered in LA. Other voices denigrated the idea of theatre’s demise under the new plan. Folks for the proposed changes talked of “I” want to get paid. Folks against spoke of “we” want to create theatre. Righteous indignation, prepared speeches, and rage came from both sides. The harsh emotional division of intolerance saddened me.
- Who heard, “We want change, but not THIS change” I heard no “hysteria”, which had been a buzzword pre-meeting. Most everyone wants some kind of change. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are solutions.
- Is it really all about the money? Is it an actors “right” to earn a living doing solely what we love. Is it any artists “right” to be financially solvent from their art. Why is the argument that it is more noble for an AEA member to have a car ducked taped together than a good working car valid for this proposal. It seemed to be assumed that acting in intimate theatre could become a full salaried position equal to a fast food server.
- Will theatres keep the status quo of not paying actors “because they can” if the current plan continues. Why is the proposal in such a hurry to be passed? People were left standing waiting to ask questions. The board allowed two Pro change members speak out of turn without noting it. Pro 99 members often interrupted out of turn. Will all of the comments for changing the current proposal be heard succinctly? Will the current proposal be modified before it goes to vote or are we voting yes or no as it stands today?
- Membership companies seem to have a large percentage of older actors and AEA members currently in a Membership company will be hurt deeply in the proposal, as they will no longer be paid the performance fee, have rehearsals and breaks regulated, or have any other protections.
- How did lack of diverse casting become solely the fault of Membership companies.
- Will any proposal cover AEA stage managers.
- Can AEA members accrue funds towards pension rather than receiving minimum wage.
- If earning a living as a theatre actor worked so well in Chicago and Seattle, why move to LA. Why is there the expectation that what “works” in other cities, will work in an area as large and as diverse as LA. If there is only one way or one other way, the Union may not hold.
The debate was acrimonious. Arguments continue, and they should continue, and my hope is for modification. A general feeling is that the current proposal is being railroaded into existence, and my personal feeing is that would be a bitter divide in membership if it did because, as it stands, it does not fully serve the needs of a unique artistic community.