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February 4, 2004

Western Region Says "Happy Birthday Equity"

Tom LaBonge, Los Angeles Councilmember and Patrick Quinn


George Ives and John Holly


Jane A. Johnston and Bob Pisano, Executive Director of SAG


George Ives and Marques Murrey


Kathlyn Miles, Ned Schmidtke, Craig A. Meyer, Robin Gammell


Michele Lee, Patrick Quinn, Joan Van Ark


John P. Connolly, President of AFTRA


Richard Ostlund and Michele Lee


Tom McCoy, Producer, La Mirada Theatre, Cathy Rigby


See All The Photos

Read the Speeches

See All The Photos

Read the Speeches
Melissa Gilbert
Eddie Weston
George Ives
Gil Cates
Gordon Davidson
Joanne Worley
Joan Van Ark
Joe Ruskin
John Connolly
Michele Lee

Barbara Beckley

Stars, Board and Committee Members, Theatre Dignitaries, Union Officials, Producers, and Friends Celebrate at Gala Open House in Los Angeles, Commemorating AEA’s 90th Anniversary

A gala star-studded event celebrating Equity's 90th Anniversary was held in the Western Region following the January 9, 2004 membership meeting. The festivities were held in the James Cagney SAG Boardroom to accommodate the many Western Regional Board members, staff, celebrities, theatre and labor union leaders and guests who attended.

Equity President Patrick Quinn flew in for the event and boasted that "Equity is the heart, soul and conscience of the theatre. Ours is an extraordinary history," he said, outlining some major events of Equity's 90 years. "We have made monumental strides in our 90 years. And we did it by standing together as a union, in solidarity with other unions. The strength we have is in the knowledge we support each other. Because of that, we have an extraordinary future."

SAG President Melissa Gilbert was ill with pneumonia and unable to attend, but sent the following message, read by Pamm Fair, Deputy National Executive Director. "On behalf of the 120,000 members of Screen Actors Guild I congratulate Actors' Equity Association on its 90th Anniversary. As our first performers' union, you have a long, proud and successful history. As we embark on our 70th year at SAG, we recognize what an extraordinary partner AEA has been for decades, and more so each day. You are our advocate and ally and all actors are better off as a result of your tireless efforts to organize, negotiate and enforce contracts. "AEA and SAG are united in our health care reform efforts, affirmative action and a myriad of legislative initiatives, and most recently, our inter-union lobbying campaign to establish child labor laws in New York. Equity members should be proud of the extraordinary contributions and leadership AEA provides on behalf of all professional actors and to the labor movement.

AFTRA National President John Connolly spoke of his pride in holding an Equity card, "the mark of excellence, the vanguard of dignity and fair play for stage artists from Broadway to Los Angeles and everywhere in between." He spoke, too, of his sadness over the "highway robbery of the American theatre audience taking place on the road, as producers… push substandard non-union tours on an unsuspecting public… There's a direct line of march joining those brave young chorus kids parading up Broadway in 1913 and the line of march that Equity pursues today. Your leadership has recognized that working people—and artists among them—have to organize to achieve what's fair and what can sustain life, and nobody has been more dedicated to that proposition and to developing the American Theatre than AEA."

Tributes from Members
Michelle Lee recalled getting her Equity card in 1961. "I cannot tell you how important it has been to have the solidarity and the pride in what we have and the support that we need to survive," she said, adding she was delighted to be a part of the 90th anniversary celebration.

Joan Van Ark called it "a homecoming, a true reunion" to be invited to the event. "I will never forget that rite of passage—that day in my life when I first got my Equity card," she said. "It was at the tender age of 19, when I became a member of Sir Tyrone Guthrie's inaugural acting company, joining the likes of Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Zoe Caldwell. And ever since that day in Minneapolis—all the way to the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, to Broadway, to the Tiffany, Taper and Ahmanson Theatres in Los Angeles, to the Bleecker Street Theatre in the Village—Actors' Equity has provided me with 'soul food' and 'lodging' for the most important assignments of this Actor's life. And for that, I thank you and love you with all my heart."

Joanne Worley remembered that when she joined the union "the initiation fee was almost the whole first week's paycheck, a concept I didn't quite understand at the time, but I certainly get it now. I have even turned down shows where they said to me: 'Oh Dahling, just withdraw from Equity for a while to do our little show.' And I say back, 'I don't think it works that way.' And they replied, 'Of course you can, dahling. Everybody does it.' Well, I talked to my friends about it and of course, everybody doesn't do it. So now whenever some non-union producer asks me, I tell him to forget it."

Tributes from Producers
Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director of the Mark Taper Forum, was delighted to be a part of the celebration. "I can honestly say, without any fear of correction or contradiction, that I couldn't have done it without you, the Actors. You have been the lifeblood, the source, the energy, the passion, the humanity of what has appeared on the Taper stage, and even before that at UCLA. I am most fortunate to have been here to partake of the growth of theatre in this town and to have the experience of watching theatres that existed along Melrose as showcase theatres, club theatres, kick-back theatres and what have you, to see those theatres become Equity waiver theatres, and those waiver theatres gave rise to the growth that made it possible to create a theatre at the Music Center and do meaningful work, work that I care about and that I find audiences care about. Theatre is two boards and a passion. Over the years I've supplied the boards and you've blessed me with the passion. Thank you very much."

Gil Cates, Producing Director of the Geffen Playhouse said, "It's hard to believe that any organization can exist for 90 years, and particularly to have the vitality and excitement that Equity still has." Then he had an announcement: "The news from the Geffen Playhouse is that we're building a second theatre, this one with 120 seats, next to our 500-seat house, and we'll do a season of plays there as well as on our main stage, so there's going to be more work for everybody. It thrills me to be able to say because of Equity's assistance we're going to build a new space and hire more actors."

Barbara Beckley, Artistic Director of the Colony Theatre, spoke of becoming a producer. "From the very beginning I wanted to pay my actors fairly and to give them the security of health and pension benefits, but it was some years before I was able to take my company from Equity waiver to a full Equity contract. And once we started reading the rulebook, once we started running our rehearsals and performances and everything about our productions according to the rules, something happened that I just didn't expect: the art got better. And I love the reasons why: we started treating our actors like professionals, and the actors responded with a depth of focus and a professional demeanor that brought out and showcased so much more of their talent. Having lived in both worlds, Equity Waiver and Equity Contract, when you do the work according to the rulebook under contract, the art gets better."

Other Tributes
Other tributes came from former Western Regional Directors Eddie Weston and George Ives. "Equity is very important to an actor because when you're not working, your Equity card is the only thing that tells you you are an actor," said Mr. Ives. Mr. Weston added, "It's truly a remarkable organization in the social concerns that it has for its members, for the industry and for life itself."

Toasting the Past and Future
Veteran Councillor Joseph Ruskin offered a rousing toast recalling Equity's early days and looking ahead to its future:
"The people who I'd like to remember are the people who in 1913 had finally been stranded on the road one time too many, so when they got home they decided to band together as a group and form a union to struggle against the inequities of the job. Then in 1919 Eddie Cantor and Ed Wynn and all the working actors on Broadway marched down Broadway and got the first union contract that made it all legitimate for us. I remember reading about the kinds of things that did occur, the fact that we finally forced the end of segregation in theatres in Washington, DC. We did that…

"I think there's a great deal to remember about what happened when television came along and SAG and AFTRA stepped in and took jurisdiction so that Actors would be properly protected, while Equity continued to deal with Summer Stock. Summer Stock was one place where we all got a chance once a year to take a breath and become strong again within ourselves and fill our pockets with a little bit of money, so in the fall we could go back and try it all again.

"I'd like to raise my glass to things that happened out here in LA. I raise my glass to Edwin Lester and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, without which the Music Center theatres would have been hard pressed to come into existence. He gave us not only wonderful plays, but also wonderful musicals that he opened either in San Francisco or here in Los Angeles before they went on to New York that are now a treasured part of the canon of musical theatre in the United States.

"And I'd like to raise my glass to Gordon Davidson from the Taper, and to Gil Cates from the Geffen, to Sheldon Epps out in Pasadena, and to Jack O'Brien down in San Diego, and to the people in Laguna, La Jolla, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Las Vegas, all places where Actors are able to be Actors, to live as Actors, to feel strong and good about themselves. Let me not forget South Coast Rep. To all these people I raise my glass.

"And I would like to raise my glass to the producers who came to Equity to get contracts and then suddenly realized, "Wait, we're not at that place yet; we're not ready yet." Then they asked, "Can we please back away just until we get ourselves in order." And Equity said, "Okay, if you'll do the same thing with all the other unions." And so they did that, and then when they could they came back and said, "We're ready now." And yes, now you can see what great and enduring institutions they have become. To these producers I raise my glass.

"I think we need to raise a glass also to what's coming ahead. It's an unsure and frightening future, but look, Gil Cates is adding a second theatre to his complex, and Gordon Davidson is opening a new theatre in Culver City, and Sheldon Epps is amidst all of his changes, the plans are there. The future may be uncertain, but we can tell by examining the past that we'll come through. We've gone through fires, San Diego has come through that. We've gone through earthquakes, San Francisco has come through that. Floods, Houston has come through that. Money problems, Seattle has come through that. All the problems of the world, and we all have come through on top. That's where we're going to function in the future, and that’s where all those kids who are so good, where they're going to work. To the kids, to the Theatre and to us, my glass is raised."

See All The Photos

Read the Speeches
Melissa Gilbert
Eddie Weston
George Ives
Gil Cates
Gordon Davidson
Joanne Worley
Joan Van Ark
Joe Ruskin
John Connolly
Michelle Lee

Barbara Beckley

 


Photos

Michele Lee, Patrick Quinn, Joan Van Ark



Amy Stiller, Rip Taylor, John Holly



Gil Cates (Geffen Theatre), and Hal Espinoza (AMF Local 47)



Michele Lee



Jane A. Johnston and Bob Pisano, Executive Director SAG



Ren Hanami, Gordon Davidson, John Holly



Don Took, Charley Repole, Laura Waterbury



Timothy Smith, Tim Dang, and Trent Steelman of East West Players



Gil Cates



Ned Schmidtke and Craig A. Meyer



George Ives



S. Marc Jordan



John P. Connolly, President of AFTRA



Tom McCoy, Producer, La Mirada Theatre, Cathy Rigby



Richard Ostlund and Michele Lee



John Holly, Tom LaBonge, Patrick Quinn



Patrick Quinn, Joan Van Ark, Doug Carfrae



Eddie Weston



George Ives, John Holly



Kim Zanti of Theatricum Botanicum



Babe Root, Ellen Geer, Willow Geer



Joe Ruskin



Joanne Worley



Barbara Beckley, Producing Director, The Colony Theatre



  SPEECHES
Melissa Gilbert
Eddie Weston
George Ives
Gil Cates
Gordon Davidson
Joanne Worley
Joan Van Ark
Joe Ruskin
John Connolly
Michele Lee

Barbara Beckley
 


Melissa Gilbert’s Remarks at AEA’s 90th Anniversary Celebration

Read by Pamm Fair, Deputy National Executive Director Screen Actors Guild

Introduction by Pamm: Melissa spent a glorious two weeks in Hawaii with her husband and their four sons over the holidays...and came back with pneumonia. As a 25-year member of Actors’ Equity, she regrets not being able to be here with all of you in person, but has asked me to read this message on her behalf.

I am so sorry I cannot be with you today. I am at home perfecting my Camille role and hope to be back in full swing next week.

On behalf of the 120,000 members of Screen Actors Guild, I congratulate Actors’ Equity Association on its 90th Anniversary. As our first performers’ union, you have a long, proud and successful history. As we embark on our 70th year at SAG, we recognize what an extraordinary partner AEA has been for decades, and more so each day. You are our advocate and ally and all actors are better off as a result of your tireless efforts to organize, negotiate and enforce contracts.

AEA and SAG are united in our health care reform efforts, affirmative action and a myriad of legislative initiatives, and most recently our inter-union lobbying campaign to establish child labor laws in New York. Equity members should be proud of the extraordinary contributions and leadership AEA provides on behalf of all professional actors and to the labor movement.

Screen Actors Guild remains committed to stand side-by-side with Equity in its growing battle to keep theatre productions under union contracts. SAG members have received our message loud and clear—as members of the 4A’s, SAG members may not participate in these renegade productions, and doing so may result in and has resulted in, serious disciplinary actions. And we mean business. Our greatest weapon as unions is to withhold the services of our best and brightest resources—our members.

Please join me today in toasting Actors’ Equity on this milestone anniversary. I offer my congratulations to Alan Eisenberg and John Holly for their years of dedication, and I send my love to my friend Patrick Quinn and salute his leadership.

Melissa Gilbert
President
Screen Actors Guild



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  Eddie Weston’s Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

I really want to echo everything George Ives has said about Equity. There is only one little bit of one-upmanship I want to indulge: I did join Equity prior to George (although I know some of you think there wasn’t any Equity before George). I joined in 1942 in a production called “Best Foot Forward” and I’m still here putting my best foot forward.

I’ve got a few items here for show-and-tell. Here’s the pin we produced for Equity’s 50th Anniversary in 1963. This is the pin from the 75th Anniversary in 1988. And this next is the thing of which I am most proud in my life, my honorary lifetime membership in Actors' Equity Association. And I’m also the only American with an honorary lifetime membership in British Equity.

I’m very grateful to be invited here today. I’m also a member of SAG and AFTRA, and from my point of view Equity is the one organization of which I am most proud. It’s truly a remarkable organization in the social concerns that it has for its members, for the industry, and for life itself. Maddening at times, yes, but an organization that ultimately makes the right decisions. We owe our support to Equity in these tough times, to Equity, which has supported us through it all.

Thank you.

Eddie Weston
Former Western Regional Director
Actors' Equity Association



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George Ives’ Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

I joined Equity in 1943 to do a play bound for Broadway that was written by Walter Kerr who was still a professor at Georgetown University before he became the critic for the Times, and the stage manager was E.G. Marshall back when he was still trying to make a living stage managing. The Broadway minimum then was $40 per week, $20 for rehearsals, and boy that seemed like heaven! If you could get it. It’s probably not much different today in relation to what that money could buy.

I’ve loved Equity ever since I became a member. Equity is very important to an Actor because when you’re not working your Equity card is the only thing that tells you you ARE an Actor. It can be awful to have people come up to you at a party and ask what you do for a living. “Well, I’m an Actor.” “Oh, an actor. I see.” “I’m a member of Actors' Equity.” “Oh, well then you really are an Actor!”

My life has been involved with Equity for so long. I lived and worked in New York in those early years. I spent ten years on Council in New York and then I came out here to Los Angeles because everything was changing. At some point Eddie Weston asked me to help him in the office. “Sure,” I said, “for a short time.” So I went to help him and it was almost 19 years before I got business cards made because I wasn’t going to stay. This was something I was doing between jobs. And then I stayed another ten years after that. I worked at Equity almost 30 years, and now I’m retired and looking for work. If you hear of anything please let me know!

Always respect Equity. I remember when we closed the National Theatre in Washington DC in protest of its policy of segregation. I remember Equity’s stand on the blacklist. Equity has truly been a responsible union to its members’ needs and wishes. I’m a member of SAG and AFTRA as well, but Equity was first and will always be first in my heart.

Thank you.

George Ives
Former Western Regional Director
Actors' Equity Association



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Gil Cates Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

Ninety years is really extraordinary! It’s hard to believe that any organization can exist for 90 years, and particularly to have the vitality and excitement that Equity still has, obviously it’s because of all of you. Congratulations!

The news from the Geffen Playhouse is that we’re building a second theatre, this one with 120 seats, next to our 500-seat house; and we’ll do a season of plays there as well as on our main stage, so there’s going to be more work for everybody!

There’s something I want to say to our Business Rep, Joe Garber. Working in a non-profit theatre and making those adjustments between what you want to pay and what you can afford to pay, I’ve found that Equity, through Joe Garber, can be the most thoughtful and the most encouraging partner in the business. Really, Equity has been the greatest asset we could have hoped for, and without Joe’s efforts on our behalf, the Geffen Playhouse could never have gotten off the ground, and it thrills me to be able to say because of Equity’s assistance we’re going to build a new space and hire more actors. The credit goes to you, Joe, for your support and basically for your affection.

Happy Birthday Equity!

Gil Cates
Producing Director
Geffen Playhouse



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Gordon Davidson Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

What a thrill to be here. Your 90th birthday! Wonderful. I can honestly say, without any fear of correction or contradiction, that I couldn’t have done it without you, the Actors. You have been the lifeblood, the source, the energy, the passion, the humanity of what has appeared on the Taper stage, and even before that at UCLA.

A remarkable experiment that I think gave rise to the possibility of live theatre in Los Angeles, was initiated by John Houseman and Robert Ryan in the 1960s, who got together and said, “Let’s do some real theatre in the interstices between seasons.” They lured me out here from New York and I came to California with my suitcase in hand thinking, “I’ll do what I do and then snap back to New York.” But you know, I never did go back to New York except to visit. I unpacked that suitcase and lo and behold, life opened up in new and unexpected ways, and again I say, you made it possible for me to be here at all.

I am most fortunate to have been here to partake of the growth of theatre in this town and to have the experience of watching theatres that existed along Melrose as showcase theatres, club theatres, kick-back theatres and what have you, to see those theatres become Equity waiver theatres, and those Equity waiver theatres gave rise to the growth that made it possible to create a theatre at the Music Center and do meaningful work, work that I care about and that I find audiences care about. I found writers and actors and directors who wanted to say something about the world we live in. That was an exciting time in the late 60s and early 70s. The country was in foment and change, and we were part of that change, Actors’ Equity and the Mark Taper Forum together.

My New York friends thought that the country tilted toward the West and that all the kooks in the world slid into California. That may be true, but something else has been here too, the power and the passion that you and the people you represent and stand for in the union are affecting the dignity and creating a sense of pride in the work; it has made me very happy to be here in the midst of it all. This is my 37th season. I’ll do my 38th and then I’ll come and audition alongside all of you. I appeared on “Will & Grace”, you know. Talk about imaginative casting, they cast me as a theatre director! But I had fun.

I think there are still great possibilities here. I think Los Angeles is the city of the art of the possible. That doesn’t mean that we make everything happen, but we believe in the nobility of trying. I’m grateful to have been here for this time and to have worked with so many of you here in this room who I now can count as my friends. You know the cliché that is not a cliché: Theatre is two boards and a passion. Over the years I’ve supplied the boards and you’ve blessed me with the passion. Thank you very much!

Gordon Davidson
Artistic Director
Mark Taper Forum



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Joanne Worley Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

I started in show business, in the theatre here in Hollywood. I was doing burlesque sketches with Joey Fay and Jack Albertson. I played the Talking Woman in the famous Pass-The-Poison sketch that is all done in pantomime. I was making $5 a week, obviously not Union. (She steps off the dais and adjusts herself to the light.) This light is for shorter people.

So as luck would have it, one night Billy Barnes came to see the second act of our show where I did nothing but the pantomimed sketch. During the bows the lights went to black on everyone in the cast except for one nasty little green light that stayed lit over me. Of course I took the opportunity to make everybody laugh. Afterwards Billy Barnes came backstage and asked me “Do you talk?” and I said, “DO I EVER!” Then he asked, “Do you sing?” and I warbled “Yes, I do!” Of course, I had never sung a note onstage in my life. But I auditioned for his show and that’s where I got my Equity card.

I remember the initiation fee was almost the whole first week’s paycheck, a concept I didn’t quite understand at the time, but I certainly get it now. I have even turned down shows where they said to me: “Oh Dahling, just withdraw from Equity for a while to do our little show.” And I said back “I don’t think it works that way.” And they replied, “Of course you can, dahling. Everybody does it.” Well, I talked to my friends about it and of course, no, everybody doesn’t do it. So now whenever some sleaze-ball non-union producer asks me, I tell him to forget it. Listen, I’m all for the grocery workers too, so Happy Birthday Equity!

Joanne Worley
Actress



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Joan Van Ark’s Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

I have never been to a High School reunion, but this day feels like a homecoming, like a true reunion. Goodness, I’m getting very verklempt! My first job ever when I came out here from New York was the Theatre for Now at the Taper for Gordon Davidson; and my first agent who was with Peter Wit at that time, was David Gordon. I’m very honored and proud that David is my guest today.

I truly want to keep this short and sweet, so:

I will never forget that rite of passage—that day in my life when I first got my Equity card. It was at the tender age of 19—when I became a member of Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s inaugural acting company, joining the likes of Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Zoe Caldwell.

And ever since that day in Minneapolis—all the way to the Arena Stage in Washington DC—to Broadway—to the Tiffany, Taper and Ahmanson Theatres in Los Angeles—to the Bleeker Street Theatre in the Village just three months ago—Actors' Equity has provided me truly with “soul food” and “lodging” for the most important assignments of this Actor’s life. And for that, I thank you and love you with all my heart.

Joan Van Ark
Actress



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Joseph Ruskin’s Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

In 90 years a whole lot has happened and there are some things I’d like us to try to remember; and some things that lie ahead of us to which I’d like to say “Bon chance!” “Good luck!”.

The people who I’d like to remember are the people who in 1913 had finally been stranded on the road one time too many, so when they got home they decided to band together as a group and form a union to struggle against the inequities of the job. Then in 1919 Eddie Cantor and Ed Wynn and all the working actors on Broadway marched down Broadway and got the first union contract that made it all legitimate for us. A lot of things happened after that during which time The Actors’ Fund took care of us all. The Actors’ Fund started before 1913 (in 1882), stayed with us and is still here.

I remember reading about the kinds of things that did occur, the fact that we finally forced the end of segregation in theatres in Washington DC. We did that. We were led by a Council of Actors and Singers and Dancers and Stage Managers who did not buckle under the pressure of the blacklist, but defended the Actors, Singers, Dancers and Stage Managers, not only of this union, but all workers in the American Theatre.

I think that there are those things that are important to us like the WPA and the Federal Theatre Project that brought to the world’s attention some of the greatest performers and writers in the history of the art form. I think there’s a great deal to remember about what happened when television came along and SAG and AFTRA stepped in and took jurisdiction so that Actors would be properly protected, while Equity continued to deal with Summer Stock. Summer Stock was one place where we all got a chance once a year to take a breath and become strong again within ourselves and fill our pockets with a little bit of money, so in the fall we could go back and try it all again.

That’s the kind of thing I want to raise my glass to. I’d like to raise my glass to things that happened out here in LA. I raise my glass to Edwin Lester and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, without which the Music Center theatres would have been hard pressed to come into existence, because without his subscription those theatres could not function. And he gave us not only wonderful plays, but also wonderful musicals that he opened either in San Francisco or here in Los Angeles before they went on to New York that are now a treasured part of the canon of musical theatre in the United States.

Here’s an example of the kind of man Edwin Lester was: as Equity began to become more involved with being more diverse, when we began talking to producers here in the city about the need for more diversity in their casting, Mr. Lester’s response was: “Yes, of course, but I’m not going to be casting just one! I’ve got to think about balancing my stage!” It was marvelous. That’s the kind of man he was and to him I raise my glass.

And I’d like to raise my glass to Gordon Davidson from the Taper, and to Gil Cates from the Geffen, to Sheldon Epps out in Pasadena, and to Jack O’Brien down in San Diego, and to the people in Laguna, La Jolla, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Las Vegas, all places where actors are able to be Actors, to live as Actors, to feel strong and good about themselves. Let me not forget South Coast Rep. To all these people I raise my glass.

And I would like to raise my glass to the producers who came to Equity to get contracts and then suddenly realized “Wait, we’re not at that place yet; we’re not ready yet.” Then they came to Eddie Weston and what was the Western Advisory Committee back then, and asked, “Can we please back away just until we get ourselves in order.” And Equity said, “Okay, if you’ll do the same thing with all the other unions.” And so they did that, and then when they could they came back to Eddie and all the others and said, “We’re ready now.” And yes, now you can see what great and enduring institutions they have become. To these producers I raise my glass. Hear, hear!

I think we need to raise a glass also to what’s coming ahead. It’s an unsure and frightening future, but look, Gil Cates is adding a second theatre to his complex, and Gordon Davidson is opening a new theatre in Culver City, and Sheldon Epps is amidst all of his changes, the plans are there. The future may be uncertain, but we can tell by examining the past that we’ll come through. We’ve gone through fires, San Diego has come through that. We’ve gone through earthquakes, San Francisco has come through that. Floods, Houston has come through that. Money problems, Seattle has come through that. All the problems of the world, and we all have come through on top. That’s where we’re going to function in the future, and that’s where all those kids who are so good, where they’re going to work. To the kids, to the Theatre and to us, my glass is raised!

Joe Ruskin
Actor, AEA Councillor



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John Connolly’s Remarks at AEA’s 90th Anniversary Celebration

The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, poem unlimited: Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men and women and this (holds up his Equity card) is the only card.

For 90 years this card has constituted the glass of fashion and the mould of form in the American theatre ... the Equity card: the mark of excellence ... the vanguard of dignity and fair play for stage artists from Broadway to Los Angeles and everywhere in between. For 30 of those 90 years I’ve been proud to call Actors’ Equity my artistic parent as I’ve forged a career and raised a family from a hard scrabble decade as a proud Regional Theatre rat, to a next ten years on and off Broadway and onto yet another decade here on the stages of LA, and in front of the cameras and microphones of Hollywood.

First and foremost it was the contracts and strength of Actors’ Equity, the brotherhood and sisterhood which provided me the firm foundation that allowed me to be a full time working artist in a culture that loves us lots and values us little.

True testament to that sad fact is the current highway robbery of the American theatre audience taking place on The Road as producers—including unscrupulous subsidiaries of our Broadway producers—push substandard non-union tours on an unsuspecting public.

In this regard I got an interesting e-mail from one of my AFTRA members recently. He was a little perturbed because he thought that I was expending a little too much time supporting the United Food and Commercial Workers grocery strikers in their fight to save their health care and dignity, and that I wasn’t doing enough about the non-Equity Road Tours ... Well, I am happy to say that I have been collaborating with President Patrick Quinn and AEA staff to integrate AFTRA Locals into the Road Campaign. I was thrilled to be playing in Times Square one more time as I spoke at the rally attending the premiere of The Jobless Chronicles, the Equity-created mini-musical that merrily tells the truth about the rip off of both audiences and young non-union performers by the wretched robbing road gang. I hope that many of AFTRA’s 30 Locals can work with you to make sure that the Chronicles message is heard far and wide by artists and the public alike. It’s a great achievement; an initiative Actors' Equity Association has taken that is matched by none of your brother and sister unions, yet. But it’s instructive and inspiring and I thank you for this campaign, which integrates artistry with solidarity in a unique and wonderful way.

There’s a direct line of march joining those brave young chorus kids parading up Broadway in 1913 and the line of march that Equity pursues today. Your leadership has recognized that working people—and artists among them—have to organize to achieve what’s fair and what can sustain life, and nobody has been more dedicated to that proposition and to developing the American Theatre than AEA. Congratulations.

There are a couple of images that struck me over the years and stayed in the back of my mind that I want to share with you:

The first is Pride as a working performer and member of Equity. The next time you see the motion picture “42nd Street” I want you to take note of the scene right after the montage as the all the kids up and down Broadway shout out “Smith & Williams are doin’ a new show!” Because the next scene takes place in the manager/producer’s office—the leading lady of the new show to be produced is sitting there pen in hand (the leading lady who is later replaced, of course, by Ruby Keeler in a classic disaster turned triumph of the Broadway Theatre), the leading lady is affixing her signature to an Actors' Equity Association Standard Production Contract! There it is across the screen as big a day. The first time I saw that and every time since, my heart leapt, “that’s MY Union,” it sings.

Commitment: Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia is the oldest continually operating Theatre in the English language (since the early 1700s)—where I got my Equity card in a musical version of the first play ever produced in America: The Contrast by Royall Tyler. In the late 19th century when the Walnut made her transition from gas light to electricity, it required a first-ever master electrician. So an IATSE Stagehand took the job, and as theatre people are wont to do, stayed with that job for decade after decade, and when he died—on stage loading out a show (our people do tend to die with their boots on)—he willed his Skull to the Walnut. Not quite the same as willing one’s body to medical science perhaps, but to this day it rests in the prop room in the catacombs far below the stage and is used in every production of Hamlet as Yorick ... Brother, that’s commitment to The Theatre.

Now, I know a lot of folks here in this room and I know a lot of folks at Equity. Joe Ruskin taught me damn near everything I know about trade unions and I thank him for it. Doug Carfrae’s apartment in New York is right under mine. Laura Waterbury was my rep when I played the all-singing, no-dancing Sir Winston Churchill at the Pasadena Playhouse. And I have relationships with other leading figures at Equity, and in the interests of telling the truth, I want you to know that the entire leadership of the performers trade unions in the United States is dominated by Irish Catholics from Philadelphia.

Mark Zimmerman, your national First Vice President, was my roommate in Philadelphia. I made him an honorary Catholic and he’s almost an Irishman. Ilene Henry, the President of the Screen Actors Guild in New York, is also an Irish Catholic girl from Philadelphia. You ought to see her in her high school uniform. Patrick Quinn and I grew up in the theatre together as Philadelphia Catholic kids with that kid-enthusiasm. We’d say, “My Mom’s got a rug!” “My Mom’s got a barn!” “Let’s put on a show!” But although we grew up together in the theatre, we never quite worked together, even though my Col. Pickering did follow his Frank Butler in the Art Park Theatre in New York. We did manage to work in the same theatre at the same time once, as John Hancock and the irrepressible Richard Henry Lee in 1776!, but that’s the extent of our stage collaborations.

I’m telling you all this to make sure you all understand that the rumors of a Philadelphia Irish Catholic conspiracy to run all the performers unions just ain’t so. Although, if Melissa Gilbert decides to step down as President of SAG, we could elect Bill Cosby as SAG President. Then there’d be three Philly “Irish Catholic” Temple U grads as presidents of the three big performers unions, hmmmm ... maybe those conspiracy theories are right! Happy Birthday Actors' Equity.

John P. Connolly
President
AFTRA AFL-CIO



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Michele Lee Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

I’m so happy to be in front of an audience! Let me tip my hat to Gordon Davidson who has changed the look of theatre here in Los Angeles, and has done such a great job!

When I was 16 years old my father, who was a Hollywood make-up artist, brought me a copy of Variety, or maybe it was the Hollywood Reporter, and he pointed to an ad that said: “Actors must sing; Singers must dance; Dancers must act.” And he said to me, “Michele, if this is really what you want to do, then you have to understand what rejection is, you have to be able to go into a room, pry open a door, or kick a door in, only to have it slammed in your face, to know that this is what you really want to do. Your mother is taking you to this audition.”

So I went to the Ivar Theatre with my mother and I walked in and fell in love at first sight with this man, Jonathan, the director, who was catapulting himself on one arm up onto the stage, off again, on, off. He was wearing short shorts, a tight T-shirt and cowboy boots. He’d catapult himself up onto the stage and tell the actors what to do, or demonstrate a dance step. Then he’d catapult himself down again, and in that instant I knew I was in love. I did not know from gay. I was 16. When they called my name I jumped up on stage and sang “You Make Me Feel So Young” in the key of G (one and a half choruses and a tag); and Zev Bufman and the producers who were there stood up after this kid sang and applauded me. Well, I thought, no big deal. My parents always do that. When I got home Zev Bufman called my father and offered me the role, so my father had to eat his make-up sponge and my mother had to explain “gay.”

Anyway, this show was non-Equity, and I made $15 a week. I was getting fed up until finally I thought, “Who do I have to screw to get my Equity card?” It certainly wasn’t my director! And then David Merrick saw the show and brought it to Broadway in 1961 and I have been the proud holder of my Equity card ever since! I cannot tell you how important it has been to have the solidarity and the pride in what we have and the support that we need to survive. So I am delighted to be here today to wish Equity a Happy 90th Anniversary celebration.

Michele Lee
Actress



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Barbara Beckley Remarks AEA 90th Anniversary Celebration

A proud member since 1966! All I ever wanted to do by the time I was ten was to act in live theatre under the auspices of Actors' Equity Association. I grew up outside New York City and attended Broadway shows since I was this high, so I knew what AEA was. And that’s all I wanted.

Then when I came out here to Los Angeles I started working in Equity Waiver shows because I wanted to act and Waiver theatre gave me a place to do that. Somewhere along the way I discovered that I really loved putting all the pieces together and watching that special juncture where theatre meets the audience, so I became a Producer. From the very beginning I wanted to pay my actors fairly and to give them the security of health and pension benefits, but it was some years before I was able to take my company from Equity Waiver to a full Equity contract. Even during those Equity Waiver years I feel we didn’t exploit our actors, but we didn’t read the rulebook, either. And when we did start producing under an Equity Contract, there is one big surprise that I was not aware was going to happen that I want to share with you.

Once we started reading the rulebook, once we started running our rehearsals and performances and everything about our productions according to the rules, something happened that I just didn’t expect: the art got better. And I love the reasons why: we started treating our actors like professionals, and the actors responded with a depth of focus and a professional demeanor that brought out and showcased so much more of their talent. You’ve all been there so you know, but I will tell you, having lived in both worlds, Equity Waiver and Equity Contract, when you do the work according to the rulebook under contract, the art gets better!

Thank you Equity, and Happy Birthday!

Barbara Beckley
Artistic Director
Colony Theatre



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