NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE.
As long-standing members of the Los Angeles theatre community, including actors, directors, designers, stage managers, producers, playwrights, other artists and supporters of many kinds, we have reached a point where we are calling for an activated, engaged dialogue about what works in our community and what does not. This is an amazing and diverse community, but we continue to use outdated and uncoordinated structures that do not serve us. The time has come to speak with honesty and truth and listen to all voices in a conversation about what bold actions we might take to create a better future.
Currently, most LA theatre artists find themselves with significant obstacles to climbing the ladder of a professional theatre career, and the great work being done by LA theatre artists goes mostly unnoticed both in Los Angeles and in the national theatre conversation. We believe change can help build a theatre community that has greater potential for growth, rewards the effort and successes of professionals, and helps LA take its place in a dynamic national conversation about the evolution of theatre practice in our time.
- We call for all active and engaged members of the theatrical community to reach out to their colleagues and engage in a meaningful broad-based dialogue with the goal of making concrete changes to address our long-standing challenges.
- We call for the members and supporters of our community to educate themselves about how our industry functions both in Los Angeles and across the country to inform this process. Provided with this document is a set of addendums that include specific information and some creative ideas to spur the dialogue as a starting place.
- We call for our organized leaders who have official membership lists or engaged constituents (unions, guilds, leagues, service organizations, networks, etc.) to schedule meetings or town halls of their groups to address the issues of our community. These leaders can then work together (possibly with an impartial planning consultant or mediator) with the goal of making concrete changes to address our long-standing challenges.
- We call for those who can support the dialogue or actions for change through money, space or expertise to engage with the dialogue and offer strategic help to the leaders in the community.
NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE – AND THIS CALL FOR ACTION IS ONLY A FIRST STEP.
The process to develop and strengthen LA theatre is a long one that will take years. We are calling at this time to start taking actions, one at a time, and to begin with the most egregious or fundamental concerns that we also have the most control over as a community. By addressing these, we can position ourselves to address many other opportunities and challenges, such as increasing our audience base, funding support, or national reputation. Several of these first problems relate to the 99-seat theatre arena, as the issues there often dominate the concerns of LA theatre artists. Others, however, do relate to the entire spectrum of theatre activity, and many of the longer term issues for us to address can only be done by engagement at all levels of production.
We suggest starting with the following concerns:
- Different operational models with different intentions and purposes have been awkwardly shoved together. We have taken at least four different types of production – no-budget artist collectives, low-budget companies that are looking for a path to grow, fully formed and staffed non-profit institutions, and well-resourced commercial or vanity productions – and put them all under a one-size-fits-all umbrella. We currently treat all of these activities the same, which causes conflict throughout the community and with our external reputation and relationships with funders, audiences, press, and the national theater scene. This certainly allows a broad spectrum of production to occur, but also leads to many examples of unfairness or lack of parity (like wildly varying levels of compensation to different contributors to the same production). All of these different models of activity are valuable and should be supported, but they need different structures and support, not the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all approach that we’ve had for the last generation. We suggest that everyone engaged with LA theatre, including the press and funders, consider how they might become more effectively engaged with these very different types of activity within the overall heading of ‘theatre’.
- Our structures provide great freedom in the lowest levels of production, but then make growth oppressively difficult and disjointed. Under the Los Angeles 99-Seat Plan, there is great flexibility on how production can manifest – far more flexibility than exists in other cities with codes or agreements for union artists to create in 99 seat spaces. But the structural restraints on ticket price and seating capacity, combined with the large jump in cost of union agreements at the over 99 seat level, can make it very challenging for theatres to grow. This has encouraged our best and brightest artists and producers to invest in being ‘top tier 99 seat theatres’ that can be sustainable and create great art, but where paying artists real wages or having the resources to build the presence of LA theatre in a broader way is beyond reach. It is often said that you can’t ‘make money’ in 99-seat theatre, and it is true that the answer is not to ‘make 99 seat theatres pay more’, but rather to incentivize smaller theatres to want to grow beyond the limitations imposed on them by the 99 Seat Plan, and to provide better structures to allow them to do so in a reasonable fashion.
- The policy of hiring professional artists under formal agreements with ‘stipends’ or ‘fees’ that are less than minimum wage has serious legal implications. Due to recent complaints by individual artists (not associated with this Re-Imagine document) against at least three LA theatres, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has told some theatre producers that they are considering a county-wide investigation of labor practices in LA theatre. Several other labor attorneys are at present considering lawsuits against theatres on behalf of underpaid workers or on behalf of other local theatres that follow all labor laws and are arguably hurt by ‘unfair competition’. In addition, a prominent LA theatre was audited by the IRS recently and penalized for misclassifying artists as ‘independent contractors’ who are actually employees by law. These questions of legality and financial operations need to be addressed and clarified so that all of our theatres can operate in a way that protects them from liability concerns. This is an issue not just for small theatres, but for theatres operating in Los Angeles at all levels. We do not want anyone creating theatre in Los Angeles to have any sort of legal or financial liability, and so we call for the community to address these concerns pro-actively before any sort of lawsuit or government agency comes to fruition.
- Our community needs a comprehensive and collaborative effort to look at how we operate, where we want to go, and how we might change to get there. The world continues to change around us – the economic realities, the political realities, the nature of art and communication in a digital world, etc. – and we do not have a process for keeping up with these changes. In other cities and regions, there are regular, scheduled structures by which the unions, producers, funders, and other supporters revisit how things work every few years. That has never happened in a holistic way in Los Angeles, with all voices at the table.
- A number of prominent leaders (including artists, producers and funders) have suggested pooling some funds to hire a professional consultant and undergoing a comprehensive planning process for LA Theatre. In such a process, representatives from all parts of our community (unions, leagues, funders, venue owners, donors, audience members, etc.) would examine their values and agree on a set of objectives and on specific actions each participant would take to move towards those objectives. This process could also include some much-needed concrete research into how our industry actually functions today.
Standing up together to call for real dialogue about our industry can seem arduous and at times intimidating, because change means embracing new ways of doing things. Thousands of artists and producers in our community have never known anything but the structure we have today. But having an open dialogue about serious change can be an opportunity to make things better for EVERYONE. Any sort of change, however, will only happen by individuals from all corners of our region standing up and speaking out with bravery and honesty and engaging with one another.
If you agree that the LA theatre industry should begin a robust dialogue about change:
- Reach out to your colleagues and friends, share this site and tell them what changes, ideas or concerns you are most passionate about
- If you are affiliated with a union, league, theatre, or other organization, plan to call your leaders there and ask them to read this and bring their members together to discuss real issues and real change
LET’S NOT HAVE THE SAME CONVERSATION FOR THE NEXT THIRTY YEARS.
NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE.
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