Great Performances, Troubling Times
Recently I looked around the LA theatre scene and realized there was just too much I wanted to see. (It’s a little like television these days: the choices and variety are staggering.) Anybody familiar with “small” (ha!) theatre here in Los Angeles knows what I mean. Right now, Rogue Machine has one more weekend of their three—count ‘em—runaway hit shows onstage, all adored by both critics and audiences, and there’s also one more weekend of the fabulously reviewed and realized “Hedda Gabler” at Antaeus. Pacific Resident Theatre has a stunning (Critic’s Choice) production of Williams’s “Eccentricities of a Nightingale.” The Odyssey has a brilliant version of O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape.” And the Skylight has the powerful world premiere of “Church and State” by Jason Odell Williams. All with great acting, direction and production values. And there’s plenty more great theatre coming next week and next month. Here. In the middle of summer, in Los Angeles.
For me, being on a stage feels most like home, and has since I was a child, so live theatre is unquestionably precious to me. I’ve loved every minute of the many productions I’ve been part of in Los Angeles. For those not aware, in this city the craft of stage acting is practiced under a unique, hybrid arrangement that evolved after decades of push-and-pull between actor-producers and the stage actors’ union, Actors’ Equity. This precarious but so far viable arrangement—and the wonderfully fertile, buzzing world of live theatre it has engendered—are now threatened. I won’t detail the complications of the dispute here, but the bottom line is that for over a year now our union, of which I have long been a proud member, has been bullying us. In response, thousands of actors in Los Angeles have come together to oppose the union’s draconian proposal, which seeks to prohibit its members from lending their talents to small, nonprofit theaters by requiring these theaters (many run by the actors themselves!) to increase actor compensation by nearly 1,000%. I think the actor Noah Wylie offered the best short version of the feelings of many of us about this situation: “The current 99-seat plan may be flawed, but you do not rid your home of termites by setting fire to it.”
A few days ago, negotiations broke down completely, and the fight moved to the courts, with suits and counter-suits. Its outcome is impossible to predict. Now, there’s little we actors in the trenches can do but stage protests, donate to cover legal expenses, continue our work, and pray to Dionysus that our union leaders will eventually see fit to let us have the freedom—and the right—to practice our craft as we desire to. All we want is a chance to continue creating the uncommon, ephemeral, exhilarating experience of live theatre. Because for so many of us, it's our life's blood.
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