Burn, Baby, Burn, or… Bye, Bye, MY American Pie

As I contemplate my current Actors Equity Association dues statement, I have decided, after sixty-something years of acting and diligently paying my toll come hell or highwater over the years both lean and abundant, I will be requesting a leave from the once-respected union, one of which I used to declare in program bios I was proud to be a member. Today, I'm about as proud of being a member of AEA as Rihanna is to say she used to be Chris Brown's girlfriend.
Of course, part of the reason for this is that I'm teaching acting and directing for lotsa hours at New York Film Academy, as well as privately coaching prominent actors on two different TV series on different networks this season. Above anything else, however, caring for Victor, my partner for 48 years, desperately trying with everything in me to keep him comfortable and living at home as long as possible as he descends into the fog of Alzheimer's, has kept me from traveling to work in theatre and eventually led to giving up my beloved apartment in New York last year. Staying in my fifth-floor walk-up with a view of a brick wall or traveling in shows has always done my nomadic Kerouac-inspired soul unimaginable good, as exploring new cities and enjoying the freedom of hotel living are things I have called home since my glory days as a working kiddie. Still, all that would not be good enough reason to stop handing AEA my meager little dues were it not for what the union has done to my world.
If you live in El Lay and have any interest in the performing arts, you would have to have been in a coma the last two years not to know how Equity has royally fucked the amazingly prolific and courageously innovative intimate theatre community in our city. By demanding small struggling theatres pay any union member who agrees to hone his art for free or with infinitesimal remuneration to have a creative outlet to offset the lack of caring from the mostly artless but omnipresent Hollywood film industry, AEA has decimated the ranks outrageously—but not without a fight. Still, when over two-thirds of LA members voted in a referendum demanding the union not put their new soul-sucking rules into effect, they ignored us all and implemented the ridiculously unworkable plan anyway.
It was difficult enough last year to send off my hard-earned cash to a union that's done nothing for me in years but give me grief—and has totally disregarded the wishes of two-thirds of its LA membership. This time out, I just plain can't seem to do it. As I said, I have been a loyal dues-paying member of AEA since sometime before Johnny B shot Honest Abe, but I can't in all good faith support their unconscionable cause any longer.
In all honesty, there's not much to lose for me. There aren't many roles for geriatric juveniles with an ass the size of Texas around these days unless it's a priest or a mentally-deficient adult—and playing stereotypical fading old duffers who invariably croak at the end isn't much of a challenge either. Granted, this is also true in the film and television industry, but it's especially prevalent onstage, where the only real challenges as an artist for a guy at my stage of life come from bravely off-centered 99-seat theatre companies working to create astounding new art and make a real difference. I have no interest playing Doc in West Side Story or some other role I could call in from home for some dastardly LORT-Z pay rate at a civic light opera in Duarte or somewhere in San Bernardino County. As a 70-yr-old actor living in LA these days, teaching and private coaching are a far better way to pay the bills and pass on what one has learned from the masters before passing on—unless you're an established name actor and even then, I suspect most of them are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.
So, after 63 years fiercely believing in AEA and everything for which the original concept unionizing stood in the first place, sadly, I'm outta here. I may not be able to control where my tax dollars go as handled—mishandled—by our insane and dangerous President Dummald J. Troutmouth and his equally character-challenged minions, but I can stop paying Equity as it screws me personally and systematically destroys the community I love so dearly. It's a sad state of affairs but, truly, it's also oddly freeing.

AEA President Kate Shindle is Starring in Fun Home at CTG and Pro99 Folks Are Not Happy About It

The Tony Award Winning Musical Fun Home is currently playing at the Ahmanson and is currently has a 100% Sweet rating on the LemonMeter.
The production stars current Actor's Equity president Kate Shindle who recently did an interview with the LA Times. It's a good interview highlighting Shindle's Miss America experience and the activism she's done for HIV/AIDS. But you can't interview the president of AEA without mentioning the very contentious 99 Seat Plan battle. To refresh your memory, AEA has dismantled the 99 Seat Agreement which allowed theatres with 99 seats or less to use AEA actors for a small stipend. Now companies need to pay actors minimum wage, which when you're already working on a tiny budget is simply not possible. Many companies have already gone non-union. Which means less opportunities for LA AEA actors.
Here's what the interview has about the 99 Seat debate:

Although Shindle realizes she's speaking from a privileged perch inside one of the city's largest, most esteemed and well-funded theaters, she has fond memories of doing a 99-seat show at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood in 2002 while she was in town for pilot season.

“That show saved my sanity,” she says. “I believe small theater reminds people that they are, in fact, actors, even if they're not getting TV auditions at that particular moment. It gives them a chance to do what they love.”

On the other hand, for a union, the idea that actors should not aspire to a living wage is a bitter pill to swallow, she says. The compromise Equity made, Shindle adds, was to create membership rules that effectively provide wage requirement exemptions for more than 70% of the regularly producing 99-seat theaters in the county.

To these companies, many of which worry that the exemption could be rescinded at any moment, Shindle would like to say: “If anyone even brings up starting to move the membership companies out of that waiver before the end of my first term [in 2018], and if I'm re-elected, before the end of my second term, I'm going to smack them in the head. We have to let this settle … and we have to be sensitive to the fact that we're all artists.”

This interview has been floating around on Facebook with numerous LA based theatre makers not exactly thrilled that Shindle is here and has taken a job away from an LA actor. Considering Shindle and AEA have said that the new rules will allow for more midsize theatres to flourish (I imagine pigs will fly first) and that it will give its members more remunerative work (so far it's giving them less work as companies go non-union) it seems rather trite for Shindle to say "she did a 99 seat show here once." And that if anyone tries to touch the membership rule (which many companies have been denied) that she'll "smack them" seems a rather empty threat. 

Actors' Equity Appoints New Communications Director

Beginning March 6, the role is responsible for developing and supporting all of the union's strategic communications plans.

Actors' Equity Association welcomes Brandon Lorenz as the union's new national communications director effective March 6. Working closely with executive director Mary McColl, Lorenz is responsible for developing and supporting all of the union's strategic communications plans.
Named a “Rising Star” by Campaigns & Elections magazine in 2015, Lorenz arrives at AEA with nearly 15 years of experience in journalism and campaigns. Most recently, he served as communications campaign director at the Human Rights Campaign, where his work included the 2016 election and HRC's North Carolina campaign on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper.
“We are thrilled to have someone with Brandon's track record of success join the team,” said McColl in a press statement. “Brandon joins us at a critical time for the Association as we work to create and implement new communications strategies that have been set by our national council. His national and regional media relationships and his experience working on campaigns up and down the ballot will enhance our ability to organize and ensure that our outreach to members and producers will be successful.”
“I'm thrilled to join Actors' Equity Association,” added Lorenz. “I can't wait to get to work on behalf of all the talented and dedicated members at Equity so that everyone understands that members need to be treated fairly and fairly compensated.”
For more information on AEA visit ActorsEquity.org.

L.A.'s PRO-99 community calls for new referendum as Actors' Equity 99-Seat Theatre Plan comes to an end

Members of L.A.'s “PRO-99” theater community continue to gather signatures to demand a new referendum on Actors' Equity's 99-Seat Theater Plan, which is scheduled to end today.
Despite an overwhelming “No” vote by over 66% of the Los Angeles membership on a referendum put before it last April, the union moved forward to eliminate the existing plan which has been in effect since 1989.
To date, over 1,100 signatures have been gathered from supporters in Los Angles and around the country.
To view a list of signatories, go to http://ilove99.org/2016/07/24/letter-pro99-members-aea/.
The text of the petition is as follows:
Letter to AEA in Support of PRO99's Call for a New Referendum:
We, the undersigned, are dedicated to the survival and growth of Intimate Theatre in Los Angeles. We are actors, stage managers, playwrights, designers, directors, producers and hyphenates of all of the above. We are also audience members, neighborhood restaurants and bars, and local businesses that benefit from the thriving L.A. Intimate Theatre landscape. We are committed to preserving, protecting and promoting theatres of 99-seats or less, not only in Los Angeles but throughout the United States, while defending Actors' Equity Association (AEA) members' rights, privileges and protections when they perform in such venues.
Currently, LA's 99-seat theatres are under unparalleled threat. With arts funding in decline, and at 1/10 of what New York City garners, we are also now faced with an assault from AEA, which seeks to raze the LA intimate theater landscape.
We are PRO99. We are dedicated to ensuring that this does not happen.
A lawsuit by AEA members and producers, on behalf of the Intimate Theatre community, has been filed against Equity.* Pro99 supports this effort and is actively engaging the community in the court of public opinion, and by reaching out to people in all walks of life affected by theatres of 99-seat or less.
Additionally, we support AEA members and Intimate Theatres nationwide that would also benefit from a 99-seat plan that would allow them to incubate and develop new works to eventually go to contract, under vital union protections. We believe these protections and opportunities should be more readily available nationwide, and should certainly be protected, not rolled back, here in Los Angeles.
AEA has put forth a concerted effort to silence us. Our voices are not included in any official union communications, and what communications are issued by AEA are not only one-sided, but filled with misinformation, half-truths, untruths and outright distortions. We will continue to correct the record and put forth our own positive story.
We will also continue to enlist the community in the fight. Plaintiff and Review Committee member Gary Grossman has issued a challenge to AEA President Kate Shindle to make public AEA's plan for 99-seat theatre [due to go into effect December 14, 2016], and we will make a new proposal public . We support Grossman's proposal to have a side by side referendum that will allow LA's union actors to choose between AEA's plan and our own.
Our community is united. We will prevail.
*The lawsuit has been dismissed by a federal judge, but Plaintiff's are currently exploring an appeal.

BREAKING: Judge dismisses suit against AEA

Looks like Judge Hatter has dismissed the lawsuit brought against Equity by Los Angeles actors. For the official court document of the judgement CLICK HERE.
I'm sure there are many companies out there who have already been coming up with plans on how to move forward in anticipation of the case being dismissed. There are already a number of companies who have decided to go non-union for their next season. It will be interesting to see how this will affect our community as well as the already tumultuous relationship with AEA.
More to come as information is released.
***If you'd like to write a response to the news please email the editor Ashley@better-lemons.com

Equity National Member Meeting on Nov. 7 at the Sportsmans Lodge in Studio City

Monday the 7th at 11am, at the Sportsmans Lodge in Studio City -- a National Meeting.
We will vote on two new rules to reform Member input into Equity decisions.
If you're thinking this is not an important meeting -- THINK AGAIN!
For in-depth info, here's Leo Marks' letter about these two referendums, which he initiated:
You might remember that we recently had an Equity Special Membership Meeting scheduled, then suddenly cancelled. It's now finally been rescheduled for Monday, November 7th.
Please don't skip this one! This one is really important. 
If you've been frustrated by top-down, one-sided communication from Equity leadership, this meeting is your chance to finally do something about it.
RSVP here
Then show up at the Special Membership Meeting 
Monday, November 7th at 11am
Sportsmen's Lodge
12825 Ventura Blvd. (at Coldwater Canyon)
Studio City
and vote to reform the rules of how our Union communicates.
It's highly possible that in coming days, Equity will come after membership companies like Antaeus. When that happens, it will be vital that we have a voice in our Union to make our case. These reforms are designed to give us that voice.
The Short Version
Here's what the meeting is about: I've written reforms to Equity's rules that create more fairness and openness in communication, and make one-sided propaganda campaigns a lot harder. 
One reform requires our Union to acknowledge dissenting viewpoints. The other reform creates a way for members to communicate with each other directly. 
At this Special Membership Meeting, a 2/3 majority of those who show up can pass these reforms. If you've been saying you wish you could DO something about the way our Union communicates: YOU CAN. But only if you show up.
This will be close: your attendance really matters. We have one shot at changing the rules.
If you want more openness and less one-sidedness, then RSVP and show up onNovember 7th
We won't get another shot at this.
The meeting will be held, simultaneously, in: 
New York 
2 p.m. EST
Actors' Equity Association
14th Floor Council Rm.
165 West 46th St.
New York, NY 10036
1 p.m. CST
Actors' Equity Association
3rd Floor Conference Rm.
557 West Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60661
Los Angeles 
11 a.m. PST
Sportsmen's Lodge
The Empire Ballroom
12825 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
That's the overview, and might be all you need to know.
Now, if you're hungry for more detail, read on.
The Deep Version
These are 2 amendments to the By-Laws of the AEA Constitution. Stay awake! It gets interesting. The first amendment would update an existing By-Law that is pretty clearly outdated. “Article 7” says that when Equity communicates about a referendum, it has to include differing viewpoints (if any). That's just good basic fairness--but as written, the language applies only to paper mailings, and not to other forms of communication, which in 2016 kind of undermines its own purpose. It's an easy fix: to serve the article's clear intent, we can simply expand it to include other media. So that's what this amendment does.
It's very hard to see any principled argument for opposing this amendment. It simply closes a giant loophole in an existing rule, to make it apply to the forms of communication we actually use today. Like the existing rule, it says that if enough members hold a dissenting view to a referendum, their voice should be heard.
The other amendment would allow members to communicate with each other directly. If you think about it, it's strange that we don't have any real way to reach each other. Facebook is one corrective to that, but Facebook groups reach only a small fraction of members, while AEA leadership can reach all 50,000 members at will. It can only strengthen us collectively to be able to share our concerns and ideas at times, through an email to fellow members.
Of course, it's important to prevent abuse, so we've built in some very clear limits: 
·      You need 250 signatures to access this tool. 
·      For the sake of privacy, all emails would be sent by a third party service, so as a sender you don't get access to anyone's email address. 
·      The sender would pay for any associated costs. You can't use it to promote your show or for political endorsements. 
·      And most importantly: any member can choose to opt out of receiving these emails at any time.
(Essentially, this is the same tool we currently offer to Council candidates who want to reach the membership, with a few extra safeguards built in).
You might hear people say “But I don't want my inbox flooded.” Remember: anyone can opt out at any time. No one will be forced to receive unwanted emails, and no one's private information will be shared. We simply need a way to communicate with each other—as opposed to passively receiving messages, which is the flawed current system.
These are straightforward, common-sense ways to make sure members' concerns are heard, not ignored or denied. Though I think Pro99ers are natural supporters, because they've seen how easily the current system can be abused, these reforms are totally independent of any particular issue. They're about basic fairness and openness. 
Support for these reforms comes from an extremely wide range of members, from a dozen cities in all three regions (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Seattle, Ashland, Houston, Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine). 
If you've ever been bothered by the way our Union communicates: RSVP and come to the 11/7 meeting!
And please forward this to Equity members you know who care about basic fairness and open communication!!