Actors’ Equity Don’t Give a Shit!

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Previously on Annoying Actor Friend…

Last weekend, as part of a publicity stunt to promote the launching of #SOBLESSED on paperback, I published a significant section from the chapter “On the Road” as a blog. DRUNK HISTORY: The National Tour focused heavily on the SETA contract and the death of the Full Production Contract tour…

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Shortly after the blog made it onto Facebook, I received a “follow” from the Actors’ Equity Twitter account. It could have been a coincidence, but I thought they wanted to talk with me about my very pointed concerns. THEY CARE! THEY REALLY CARE!

Then this happened…

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What perplexes me about the Actors’ Equity Twitter account is that I HAD JUST POSTED A BLOG referring to our union as a “Bottom” who bent over to service the League of Producers, resulting in six categories of SETA contracts. Did they just not give a shit or had they not even seen it?

I like to think that my Drunk History is the most public calling out of our union’s weak bull shit that has come about in recent memory. Yet, it seemed like their only response was to invite me out for a Gingerbread Latte and stroll through the Bryant Park Holiday Market (which I wouldn’t be opposed to). My only choice was to believe that Actors’ Equity had not read my blog after all.

Then this happened…

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Alright then! We know where our union stands. Actors’ Equity Association Don’t Give a Shit! You think honey-badgers don’t give a shit? You thought SMASH didn’t give a shit? They’ve both been dethroned by our very own union.

That statement came from the online representation of the people who negotiate the salaries that pay for our Thanksgiving dinner – and they were like, “LOL! Look at the little people sharing their funny blog! Happy Turkey Day.” #BLOWME. It would have been one thing if my post went ignored, it’s a completely different thing that it was patronized. Actors’ Equity didn’t just belittle me. They belittled every single person who read my blog, related to it, and shared it with others. We were all let down today. At least when SMASH didn’t give a shit, we could drink about it. When AEA don’t give a shit, we can’t afford to drink about it.

I didn’t post the “Old Annoying Actor Friend” touring rant because I wanted to sell some books (but YAY #ShamelessSelfPromotion!). I posted it because the state of national touring is a concern of mine and I was hoping that it started a dialogue – No. Fuck that. I wanted us to get fired up – and not just about this subject. About whatever concern is troubling you. It’s time to band together.

This is our union. I’m not going to pretend I understand how strikes happen, but it seems to me that stagehands, musicians, and the CHILDREN that Newsies was based on have a better grasp on how it can be used to their advantage. Heck, the characters in The Pajama Game went on strike over a 7 1/2 cent hourly raise, yet we continue to sit idly by while our union negotiates DOWN.

The Production Contract tour isn’t completely dead. It’s still alive… kind of. It’s like Buffy after she moved to the UPN (or anyone Lily Rabe has brought back to life on American Horror Story: Coven). It’s not quite the same as it was, but that doesn’t mean we should allow it to continue living a half existence – or worse, let it devolve further.

Every single person with a purple AEA card in their wallet (gold if you’re me, because I’m always late on my dues) has a responsibility. What’s the worst thing that could happen if our representatives walked into touring negotiations and were like, “Um. How about NO!” Are we worried the next SETA Category 6 tour will go out non-union instead? Is that really such a loss if it positively affects us in the future?

We need to get our voice out there in an effort to make our union better before it gets worse. If we sit around accepting our fate, attending auditions for jobs with salaries far below our qualifications, and not saying a damn thing about it, then we’re at the mercy of a union that appears to be laughing off all of our concerns.

10 comments

  1. UnionWannaBe.

    I am not an AEA member, but would like to be. Although I’m new to professional theater I’m not a kid and have been regularly performing for most of my life. I have also been a member of another union and support organized labor. So far the only thing I’ve experienced dealing with AEA is as a gate keeper, keeping the rabble away. We all know the classic catch 22, you can’t get in the Union without a union job, but you can’t get a union job without being in the Union.

    I don’t understand why AEA makes it so difficult to join. I know the goal is to have an experienced membership, but an actor, experienced or not, who catches the break of having the right look at the right time can join. On the other hand I have spoken with people who have been EMCs for years and not earned enough points to join. In my short time here I’ve gotten the feeling that AEA is more interested in keeping membership exclusive than in representing all actors.

    If there were ever a strike, I don’t know how many non union actors would honor a picked line. The union and, by extension, its members haven’t shown any indication that they support the rest of us. Of course there are many individuals who are supportive, but as a group the Union seems to be doing everything it can to keep us away.

    Embrace nonunion actors, bring us into the fold we will increase the Union’s capitol. Everyone will benefit. That is, if the AEA is actually interested in improving working conditions for actors.

  2. Joey (@JoeyGillis)

    As someone who is not a union member but has worked in activism, I can tell you this: You need to get more than your union members to stand with you. You have to get the people who aren’t with you already. Obviously that means audiences, which, according to your original article, AEA tried to get to stand with them in 2002.

    But there’s another group that you have to somehow get to stand with you – non-union actors. Because you’re right- if AEA holds a hard line and won’t negotiate these awful contracts, the producers will mount a non-union tour and have lines out the door at the open call. Of course, the trouble is, how do you get non-union actors to stand with Equity? I’m sure you can remember being non-eq. Non union actors often feel disenfranchised by the union- they have to fight to get seen at the auditions, they’re not allowed in in the equity building and have to wait out in the cold. Hell they’re not even allowed to pee there. So how does Equity get non-Equity actors on their side? Should they just let all actors join, pay dues (they could probably use the money) and have greater bargaining power over contracts? I mean after all, as @chitheatergirl said, “Audiences don’t know when tours are non-union, and if they did, I doubt they’d care.” If that’s truly the case, does the exclusivity of Equity really have any weight anymore anyway?

    You all can scream from the Equity building as loud as you want but what will you do when they stop coming to the building with work?

  3. unionmember

    Honestly, folks who insist on the production contract in full or nothing have no grasp on reality. Many of us who work in small theater or small tours would be grateful to have SETA wages. And we have seen too much work go non-union to save nickels and dimes. I would LOVE to work a full production contract. But I would also be delighted to tour on SETA rates and be making more than most contracts allow. Production costs have gone thru the roof and while producers are still, yes, taking too big a cut, I’d rather have a job that pays bills and get my health weeks and pension covered.

    I have sat on those committees and tried to solve the puzzle. And instead of getting pissed at AEA, why don’t you (for example) post about how health insurance companies are ripping everyone a new one, how venues have raised their rents and guarantees to absurd ranges, how so many companies are hiring kids straight out of school who have no idea what it means to be a professional and then screaming about repercussions. YES, AEA has much to change too, but things are moving (albeit slowly) in a constructive direction, so be part of an educated solution, please! Take that anger and get involved and change things.

    • jdavidanderson

      I understand your statements here but I feel it should be made clear that AAF is not one of the “…folks who insist on the production contract in full or nothing…” It should also be noted that the majority of the AEA community makes their living in regional theaters, and in many cases there are regional theaters paying a better wage than that which is being paid on national tours. No actor should have to be “grateful” for SETA wages. I do, however, believe we can be grateful for a community that is prepared to fight for FAIR wages. Additionally, I would also like to make the point that addressing social issues regarding insurance, guarantees, and hiring processes are issues that I would like to see Equity present to its members in an engaging format.

      Annoying Actor Friend is actively encouraging union members to “be part of an educated solution.”

  4. MusiciansUnionMember

    Why is it so hard to get in the AEA? Where will the productions get their non-union actors if the union actually promoted membership? Negotiating power comes from representing the workers the producers need to make money. Why is it assumed the tours would go out non-union? It’s not a hard assumption to make. There are plenty of non-union actors to choose from. Reduce those available numbers. BeenAroundTheBlock – don’t go around the block again. Let someone who can address the problem take your place. Are theses special agreement contracts so different from non-union contracts?

  5. BeenAroundtheBlock

    Well, the tours would go out non-union, and it would negatively affect us in the future, because there would be no union tours at all. The fact is, you have no idea what happens in negotiations. Get on a committee and find out.

    • jdavidanderson

      I understand your sentiments but I do not believe that they are entirely accurate. I do not believe that one can with complete accuracy predict the outcome of a course of action that has not yet occurred. To make the blanket statement that “…there would be no union tours at all…” only serves to perpetuate the general feeling of expendability in the professional acting community.

      And while the majority of our union’s members have been negligent and have not been a part of meetings and negotiations, I also feel compelled to ask you if you have been on the road performing in a SETA contract production as of late.

      The message behind AAF is one of responsibility and empowerment. It is a call to action. Action from the union and action from it’s membership. AEA has been leaning back and it is now time to LEAN IN. From the tone of President Wyman’s last letter to the membership it seems that perhaps even he is acknowledging that it is time for our union to wield its power more firmly.

      I look forward to joining you in a meeting and on a committee. I hope to make my voice and the voice of people who share these sentiments heard clearly. Perhaps this blog will motivate members to turn up in numbers previously unseen. And what more could a union and its members ask for?

      Happy Thanksgiving, AAF.

  6. ChiTheaterGirl (@chitheatergirl)

    Audiences don’t know when tours are non-union, and if they did, I doubt they’d care. So, if producers can hire sub-par, non-union actors for a lot less money than production contract union actors and still charge the same ticket prices, is Equity supposed to remain insistent about the production contract on tour? The producers have all the power in this situation, so I’m unclear what you expect the union to do.

    I am in no way an Equity apologist because I have many problems with them, but if it’s a question of losing jobs or losing pay, I think pay should be the first thing to go.

    • jdavidanderson

      It would seem that your line of thinking is right in line with that of our current union president.

      “For saving the resulting 48 Equity jobs — more jobs than the average touring show and jobs paying far more than the average Equity job — the union received considerable grief – not so much from the cast as from other members — for having “allowed” the B.E. producers to reduce the actors’ salaries. The truth is that AEA doesn’t allow producers to reduce member salaries, AEA allows producers not to eliminate member jobs. Would you rather have 80 jobs at $2000 a week or 400 jobs at $1000 a week?”

      ( http://www.actorsequity.org/AboutEquity/president_archive16.asp )

      Personally, I feel that each and every one of us who have chosen to try to make our living on the stage knew exactly what we were getting into. We knew about the survival jobs, the rejection, and all of the overwhelming uncertainty. It was the life we chose for love of the theatre. We also chose it knowing that there was a CHANCE to truly make a living on stage. Not just to scrape by while actively employed on a union contract. Not to make just enough to pay off that BFA and find the next sublet.

      Perhaps I am in the minority but I would prefer fewer but better-paying jobs, so that those who are fortunate enough to book them can have the lifestyle we all thought was attainable.

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