Every Vote Counts1) Just so everyone is clear: This vote? It’s important. Very important. Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) Executive Director Mary McColl and her Council must sense they are losing the messaging game. They have gone all-out in an aggressive campaign to try to ensure a victory in the non-binding advisory vote currently taking place. Mary McColl and her Council desperately need proof that, yes, it’s only a tiny vocal fraction of acting Angelinos against the new AEA plan.

This vote is the Union’s one and only shot at that proof.

Along the way they (and the proponents of the new AEA plan) have bollixed things up by trying to convince people that voting down the “proposed action” (as Mary McColl originally said in February) somehow translates into no change of any kind or that actors shouldn’t be paid or some other sort of nonsense.

This type of voting logic is straight out of the Twilight Zone. It’s as if someone tells you that if you want Hillary Clinton in the White House, vote for Sarah Palin. By their actions, it’s obvious that the AEA will do anything to try to get “yes” votes because that’s their only hope now of proving popular legitimacy for their unilateral action. So, as a PSA for those who have never participated in a Western-style election:

If you don’t like the specific AEA plan as written, vote “no.” It’s as simple as that. And that’s how Mary McColl described the vote from the very beginning and a recent AEA email finally confirmed this.

By the way, I wrote about this vote before in Union Names and Actual Values. If you missed it or it put you to sleep, the column is still on the Internet for rereading. There, I laid out why the AEA is using the term “minimum wage”, how LA theater houses don’t have to grow for LA theater to grow, how Enron-style accounting is used by some to calculate theater economics, and why the increased pay that the AEA proposes will ultimately mean less money in the actors’ pockets. Y’know, things you want to be thinking about as you cast your non-binding ballot.

AEA 99 Seat Plan 400px2) There’s been some talk that the 99-Seat Theater Plan may violate current labor laws. I’m not so sure (and if you aren’t an attorney likely you aren’t either but if you have consulted with an attorney please share the written brief). It does seem, however, that if it were illegal, the AEA wouldn’t have waited some 30 years before bringing it up. And when they brought it up, they would have immediately brought it to court. Without a whole lot of costly actor polling and focus groups.

3) It seems that nearly every person defending the new AEA plan (a) doesn’t presently live in Los Angeles, and/or (b) is a solo performer, and/or (c) performs mostly in Equity musical theater. In other words, nearly all the people I hear defend the new plan will not be affected by it. Conversely, the majority of voices against the new plan are intimate theater actors – including those who want the plan to evolve – who claim serious negative impact on their artistic lives if the plan is adopted. Why are those unaffected so passionate about the new plan? There are lots of other causes that directly affect them like global warming.

4) I have heard those defending the new Union plan claim that some actors volunteering on intimate theater stages “diminishes” their own professional stature. This reminds me of the people who claim that gays marrying “diminishes” the sanctity of their own wedding vows. I admit to not being smart enough to follow the nuanced logic in either case.

5) As I spend more time listening to actors, I’m beginning to notice the word “fuck” is slowly creeping back into my vocabulary.

6) One of the first things taught in an acting class is that listening is an active process. Listening is not merely staring ahead while being silent. The AEA is an actors’ union. But somehow it has confused listening with silence. Now, I don’t know if Mary McColl has trained as an actor but where is Union President (and actor) Nick Wyman in all this? The guy is running for re-election, Playbill (which is I hear is quite popular with theater goers in New York City) has headlines like

L.A. Equity Actors to Picket Their Own Union Monday

and Nick has made no public statements at all? None? This entire imbroglio happened under his leadership. Is Nick trying to prove that he’s part of the “silent majority” supporting the new plan? That’s some impressive silence.

But where’s the listening?

7a) The LA Times carried a full-page statement against the new AEA plan. Signed by 609 Union actors. That’s one more than the 608 Union actors originally polled by the AEA, a group that spoke “loud and clear” according to Mary McColl.

7b) And on the flip side is an anonymous group, The North Hollywood Ten, which supports the AEA plan. Colloquially known as The NoHoTen (which, I believe, was originally a 1910 New Orleans Jazz Band), the group strikes me as sort of the North Korea of LA Theater: tiny, isolated, belligerent, mysterious.

Someone contact Sony.

8) There’s a lot of acrimony from the Union over the famous faces protesting the unilateral push to approve the new plan. I think it’s because the pickings are slim for famous faces willing to speak in favor of the new plan. Samuel Jackson wrote something early on (though I wonder how he feels about the wisdom of that move now) and that’s been about it. This Actors’ Equity Association couldn’t even come up with a, y’know, actor to rebut Tim Robbin’s editorial in the LA Times. They ended up going with an employment attorney instead. One who appears based in New York City with no offices in Southern California, let alone Los Angeles. And one who hires law students as interns for no pay. Not even minimum wage. (I wonder if the unpaid students who volunteer – to help develop minimum wage laws – believe the experience will lead to opportunities in the future?) I’m not saying there’s anything illegal by not paying your interns but, seriously: do you really need a law to lead by example?

Apparently it has never occurred to Mary McColl and her Council that the celebrities who oppose the new AEA plan and passionately support intimate theater do so precisely because intimate theater helped them get to their well-known status today. And these celebrities want other Union actors to enjoy the same artistic opportunities to further their careers. Consider it a Solidarity between the past and the future.

Isn’t that a Union value?

9a) The AEA went ballistic over the LA Times full-page statement. They immediately issued a tweet conflating the cost of the placing the statement with money that could have been used to pay actors (as in: #PocketChangefor99). However, it is producers who pay actors (as the AEA constantly reminds us) but it was actors who paid for this statement. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the AEA doesn’t understand the basic economics of theater. That’s been clear from their other statements.

150325 AEA tweet 500pxNext, 170x36x$9 is $55,000. I’d like the AEA to issue a statement why they thought $55,000 was the cost of a full-page ad. Here’s a chart – less than a minute of search time – showing the full-page ad rates of various newspapers. Yes, this chart is from 2013. But cumulative inflation since that time is less than 1%. Consequently, $14,000 is not a bad approximation for a full-page ad in the daily edition of the LA Times. The Union’s estimate was not close enough for government work. It wasn’t even close enough for Congressional work. Note to AEA: I think maybe you mistook LA for another city. But what else is new?

Lastly, some want to cite the full-page statement as “proof” that money could be raised for intimate theater. Of course, the fallacy is the false equivalence comparison between a one-time raise and a sustained business model for the second largest city in the United States.

9b) Over the last month, however, I’ve acclimated to the poorly constructed, internally inconsistent arguments from the Union. So what really astounded me is that the Union which, after all, offers the choice to vote “no,” would get so apoplectic by a group of loyal unionists who simply want to opt for that choice. It’s a telling reaction and, by now, an expected one. From the start of their unilateral push for the new plan, the Union has acted like the entire process is pro forma and member sentiment be damned.

Maybe this whole hot mess was a ploy to encourage a strong turn-out for the upcoming officer elections.

If that’s the case, I think it’s going to work.

+1) The Union’s angry tweet about the full-page statement garnered a mere 20 retweets. The AEA has 34,600 followers on Twitter.

Actor Kitty Swink tweeted a few days prior while marching to the Los Angeles AEA offices. Her tweet received a whopping 129 retweets. Swink has 337 followers on Twitter.

People can detect an honorable tone. Even in 140 characters. Unfortunately for Kitty and her fellow Los Angeles Union actors, the AEA has yet to hear, much less listen.

Maybe this vote will help.

150323 Kitty Swink Tweet


Other thoughts about Actors’ Equity actions:
9 + 1 Questions that AEA has Yet to Answer
Even 9 + 1 More Musings after AEA Votes to End the 99-Seat Plan
Flawed Union Math
When Unions Strike
Union Names and Actual Values
9+1 Musings Since the Release of the New AEA Waiver Plan
Show Me The Money

Originally published March 26, 2015 in Bitter Lemons.