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    Posted December 12, 2007

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AEA, Agents Endorse Changes In Franchise Regulations

Council Approves First Revisions Since 1991

For the first time since 1991, Council has approved changes in Equity's Agency Regulations, which govern commissions and other regulations between members and their agents. Equity and the National Association of Talent Representatives (NATR) welcomed the revisions, saying they were "long-overdue."

Earlier this year, Councillor Judy Rice, Chair of the Agency Committee, along with members of the committee and staff, began sustained talks with agents from the East and West coasts aimed at making some long-needed adjustments to the regulations that govern the franchising of Agents and the relationship between them and Equity's members. These regulations, known as "Rule A," were first drafted in 1958, and were later modified in 1991. At various times over the ensuing 16 years, both Equity and the two organizations that represent the agents -- the National Association of Talent Representatives (NATR) and the Association of Talent Agents (ATA) - identified new modifications that they hoped to make. Equity, for example, hoped to create a program that would help members without representation gain much-needed access to agents. Conversely, agents were seeking changes to the commission schedule and a streamlining of certain elements of the process for collecting those monies. Faced with ever-escalating operating costs and a growing threat from managers who are not regulated and charge actors a larger fee for representation, the agents sought to free up more resources that could be devoted to securing work for Equity's members. On October 19, 2007 Equity and the agents reached an agreement that addressed the goals of both sides in these and other areas. Both the Agency Committee and the ACCA unanimously recommended these modifications, which were approved by Council at its November meeting for implementation on January 2, 2008.

By virtue of the agreement, a subcommittee has been formed that includes both members of the Agency Committee and the EPA Committee to work out the details of a meaningful Open Access Program that will require agencies to hold auditions for non-represented members. The agents expressed great enthusiasm for an access program that can effectively and consistently bring together Equity professionals and franchised agents who want to represent them; they are working with the joint Agency/EPA subcommittee to design the access program to ensure maximum opportunity for Equity members. The number of auditions required each year will be determined by the number of franchised agents and sub-agents in each agency. This program will initially be introduced in New York, but can later be expanded to Chicago and Los Angeles in a manner that best suits the needs of the non-represented members in those cities. In addition, the Agents have already agreed to participate in Equity Career Development forums and seminars nationwide

The new commission schedule simplifies the present three-tiered structure down to two tiers. At present, salaries that are below the lowest Off-Broadway minimum (currently $516/week) are not commissionable. Weekly salaries that are between the Off-Broadway minimum and the average of the LORT C and LORT D weekly minimum salaries (currently $610) are not commissionable save for a $100 service fee. After ten weeks of public performance, however, these salaries are commissionable at a rate of 10%. Finally, salaries in excess of the average of the LORT C and LORT D minimum salaries are commissionable at 10%, except that the rehearsal period at minimum salary is commissionable at 5%.

Under the new schedule, weekly salaries of $525 or less will be commissionable at 5%. Weekly salaries in excess of $525 will be commissionable at 10%, except that the rehearsal period at minimum salary is commissionable at 5%.

Also, the stipulation that the payment of commissions may only be required for one-year by actors working on a principal contract where the weekly salary does not exceed the Equity negotiated minimum after that period was eliminated. This stipulation was retained, however, for actors working on chorus contracts. Of course, as has been the case up until now, actors may elect to continue paying commission beyond the one-year requirement even if their salaries remain at minimum.

Finally, the waiting period and application by the agent for collecting commissions from actors who are signed clients and working on chorus contracts was eliminated.

In addition to the modifications stated above, the agents also committed to working with Equity during the Production Contract negotiations next year in order to assist us in securing the best possible agreement for our members. They further committed to working to help protect Equity's interests against forces in the non-Equity arena. Both Equity and the agents also committed to quarterly meetings aimed at addressing areas of mutual concern.

AEA views the agents as partners in ensuring that the utmost care is taken to protect members' rights and guarantee proper compensation when they are working under Equity contracts. These modifications to the regulations governing Equity agent franchises go a long way towards making sure that this partnership is a healthy one for years to come. The agent community has represented to us that the increased revenue streams generated by the new commission structure will allow them to serve our members more effectively.

Supporting Equity Franchised Agents is extremely important to every professional actor. A frightening number of Agents are folding up their tents and re-emerging as Managers -- un-regulated by state governments or unions -- who charge up to 25% commissions, and often force Actors to sign contracts binding them to the Manager. These contracts contain none of the protections for the Actors that the Equity Franchise provides. Likewise, many non-franchised Agents in certain parts of the country are charging 20% commissions to non-Equity actors and 20% service fees to producers. These non-union clients can take Equity jobs in Right-to-Work states.

Thus it is in our interest as professionals to help make sure that our Equity Agents have reasonable incentives and compensation to conduct their business and support Equity Actors and Equity theatre. In the emerging world of the 21st Century theatre industry we can't take anything for granted, especially assumptions that Equity theatre is a permanent fixture. We have to secure every possible ally, and use every weapon in our arsenal to make sure that this profession we have built survives and thrives in the face of increasingly common greed and exploitation among some employers. Agents are key allies who can help us secure our professional place in the world.

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