Posted June 22, 2006
99-Seat Plan - Then and Now
By Glenda Chism-Tamblyn, Chair
99-Seat Plan Committee
On any given evening, Green Room conversations usually come around to a version of, "What has the Union done for me lately?" Equity members new to Los Angeles find it particularly astonishing, nay, downright alarming, that members are allowed to rehearse in cramped, converted storefronts for up to eight weeks at no pay, and are only compensated per show with a stipend that hardly covers the cost of driving to the performance. Huh?
Twenty-some odd years ago, members in Los Angeles wanted the Union to waive its rules so they could do live theatre and invite industry people in order to be seen; then, after enduring abuse and unsafe working conditions, they demanded their Union protect them. Producers declared that instating rules and paying actors would be the "death of theatre in Los Angeles." The ensuing Waiver Wars are legend. Equity fashioned a set of rules, which became known as the 99-Seat Plan, and that eight-page set of rules remained untouched, virtually sacrosanct, until its first member-mandated revision took effect some five years ago. In three months, the second revision will take effect.
In August, 2005, a town-hall style meeting was held, open to all paid-up members who were not in conflict-of-interest. The more significant changes were outlined to those attending; the most substantive of these changes is the reduction of rehearsal weeks and maximum number of performances allowed-the first such reduction in the Plan's history. Some cheered both reductions, some wanted one or the other, and some just said no, period. However, the idea of crafting a suitable compromise was met with enthusiasm from even the most jaded skeptics.
This compromise is called ERPP or Extended Rehearsal and Performance Provision, and will only be available to producers who meet certain criteria. It will allow them to continue the use of up to eight rehearsal weeks and 80 performances. However, in order to qualify for this provision, producers will be required to meet with Equity in a certification conference once a year. This is significant: for the first time, Equity and ongoing LA 99-Seat producers will meet in a non-adversarial atmosphere in an attempt to establish a sense of community whereby the growth and success of theatre in LA County can be considered as mutually beneficial and inclusive.
Equity will have a unique opportunity to discuss issues and topics that are of interest to the theatre world as a whole. Producers will be able to meet in person other producers whom they may only know by phone call or email. The sharing of information, resources and ideas, as well as illuminating problems before they become issues, can make this a win-win brainstorming opportunity benefiting Equity, producers, and ultimately, actors in Los Angeles.
Rolling out a new version of the Los Angeles 99-Seat Plan to its theatrical community is much akin to trading for a new family car: someone will love the new engine, someone will love the new features, and someone will want the old one back. Hopefully, it will at least be given a test ride before being summarily dismissed.
Noble aspirations not withstanding, the words that best sum up the entrenched mindset were spoken by a producer in a meeting a few years ago. When enumerating expenses that the producer encountered as reasons he could not pay actors more than $5 a performance, he listed costume and space rentals, advertising, designer and director fees. Finally, he said, "Oh, and I have to pay the musicians because they're union."
Time for a tune up?