1) “Don’t you want to pay actors?” sounds to me a lot like “Don’t you love your country?”

2) Speaking of paying actors, one of the “big lies” repeated endlessly by Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) Executive Director Mary McColl is that actors are the only ones not getting paid in Los Angeles intimate theater. And yet one of the people campaigning hard for AEA, Armina LaManna, while a union member herself, was complaining that she wasn’t getting paid as a director. So, two questions: Why does AEA use a director to represent an actor in their referendum materials? And doesn’t this invalidate the argument that only actors are not getting paid? For the record, Mary McColl and her Council know Armina quite well – as indicated by this celebratory tweet from Councilor Melissa Robinette – but used her statements for their agenda anyway:

armina thank you from mel AEA 450px3) Interestingly, the AEA Council voted in the new plan despite the strong objection by Los Angeles actors. How strong? 66% rejection to 34%. As I’ve written previously, this is a landslide of epic proportions and on a scale rarely seen in elections. And that’s after the union waged an aggressive campaign to get their “yes” vote. The magnitude of this “no” vote landslide covers practically all of the Bell Curve out to one standard deviation. Just for some additional perspective on that 34% number: 25% of Americans think the Sun goes around the Earth. The point is that there will always be a bunch of people in the fringe outside a standard of deviation (which is what 34% is). So the LA actors thoroughly and completely rejected the AEA direction. Since this was a secret ballot there is obviously no “silent majority” that McColl kept insisting existed. There simply is no way for Mary McColl to misinterpret the magnitude of Los Angeles’ dismissal of this referendum. The result is so loud and so clear that Mary McColl, who always talks of listening to union members, could have even heard this unified yell above a sonic-shattering, 140 dB Hanson concert.

But by this point it’s clear that Mary McColl, AEA President Nick Wyman, and the Union Council are all so deaf to their own membership, they couldn’t even hear the concert itself. It’s easy to spot their immediate dissing of the landslide vote in their framing to the media. Rather than report the voting in percentages, as is usually done, the Union spokesperson always reported the individual vote tally hoping to diminish the perception of the union’s stunning defeat.

4) However, the AEA spokesperson did report one percentage: voter turnout. So “only” 44.6% of eligible voters turned out. “Only.” And if you’ve learned nothing else from reading these musings, you’ll know that numbers always have context. So here’s some context: In 2014 (like last year), less than 10% of the AEA membership turned out to vote. More perspective: that means nearly as many actors, just in LA, voted on this referendum as did the entire national union in their 2014 elections.

Perhaps that’s too much perspective.

Because Mary McColl, upon announcing the devastating loss for the Union, explained how her Council would interpret the vote as they moved forward:

Council will take into account the percentage of members who voted, the number of votes cast and the results, as well as the information that you have shared with Council over the last several months.

Did you see that? She lists the percentage of members who voted will be considered even before the actual results of the vote!

Have you ever heard of an election being determined by the percentage of turnout? Even in part? Ever?

GoldenBook AEA
Art: Jon Mullich

Just a few months ago, Mary McColl and her Council commissioned a professional survey which used a sample size of 608 people to ascertain the mood and feeling of the Los Angeles theater community. That’s less than 10% of the community. But Mary McColl had no problem in that case assuming a sample of less than 10% was a good measure of the actors’ will. (In fact, it is a good measure in a well-run poll but the AEA survey was fundamentally mathematically flawed in other ways.)

Is there any consistency with the math they do in the Union?

For dangerous precedents result if 44.6% turnout is considered questionable participation by Mary McColl’s elevated standards. It means that all the Councilors elected last year, with less than 10% turnout, are illegitimate office holders. And that’s just last year. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Union could show us the year the last time union voter turnout was more than 40%?

Because it’s been more than forty years since the last United States off-year election hit above 40% turnout.

I’m betting President Nick Wyman was elected with less (far less) than 40% turnout. Which, by Mary McColl’s standards, means he’s not a legitimate president. Which means his hiring of Mary McColl isn’t legitimate. Which means Mary McColl has no position and shouldn’t be setting up Union rules in the first place.

Los Angeles actors turned out unprecedented numbers to reject the AEA proposed plan in a historic landslide. Those are the numerics put in context. And no amount of trips to Cloud Cuckoo Land by Mary McColl and her Council can change that.

5) After McColl’s statement surrounding the referendum vote results, it wasn’t hard to guess what would happen when the Council “considered” this advice in their vote four days later on how the Union wanted to deal with Los Angeles theater. Mary McColl signed her letter that announced the elimination of the 99-seat plan with “sincerely.” I guess she intuited she wasn’t in “solidarity” with the Los Angeles union membership.

6) The revised AEA plan that passed has more than twice the number of categories than the original new plan introduced two months ago. One marvels at the efficiency of the Councilors who worked so hard in those four days (two of which were Saturday and Sunday), after it was known LA actors rejected the original new plan, to come up with such an intricate new plan that took in all that “information that you have shared with Council over the last several months.”

One of those new categories is called the TRANSITIONAL[sic] Los Angeles 99-Seat Theatre[sic] Code. It’s supposed to be the interim plan to assist the Los Angeles theater community bridge the gap to the destruction of LA theater as the City presently knows it. Here’s what’s curious. It looks pretty identical to the present 99-Seat Plan. The stipends are exactly identical.

You know, those stipends which people said were illegal. The stipends that were being investigated (allegedly and suddenly) by the California State Labor Board. The stipends that one pro-plan person kept insisting 11 labor attorneys (eleven!) had clucked their collected tongues over.

The not-minimum-wage stipends.

Yes. Those stipends.

I guess Los Angeles actors can use all those illegal, not-minimum-wage stipends for a year because an action is not illegal as long as you promise to follow the law sometime in the future.

Seriously, where the hell is Rebecca Smith, ace labor attorney from New York whose self-proclaimed expertise includes enforcement of workplace standards? Or did she merely write an op-ed piece for the Union and run? Because if this is her idea of enforcement and how the law works, someone ought to call up the New York State Bar Association.

I’d refer you to the page in the Transitional Code where the stipends are listed, except I can’t. All the pages are numbered “ii.” I’m not making this up. I’ve worked for the government and that level of screw-up wouldn’t even be close enough for government work. Just how careless were those Councilors tossing all this together to get’er done by end of business day?

Hey, Equity, “fix it in post” is a term from the film industry, not the theater one.

However, that type of “fix” is what I expect will be happening over the next 13 months. Mary McColl and her staff will negotiate and adjust things on an ad hoc, piecemeal basis hoping that if the Union can just get through the initial outrage, the community will accept the Union timetable as “inevitable.”

Oh, there are more delights galore in this new plan. All 7 parts. Too many to go through here.

Well, okay. One more thought on this topic: The Councilors likely implemented a new “50-seat Showcase Code,” not to help producers lose money even faster than in the 99-seat theaters but to “salt the Earth” and prevent any shows from casing their old 99-seat haunts and thwarting the Union’s designs.

7) As one might imagine, a lot of pent-up vitriol between those for and those against the new plan was spent when the final Council vote was announced. On a particularly heated Facebook comment thread, one actor wrote: “Please! We’re all involved with theater! And theater shouldn’t be creating this type of hostility.”

When the Union made theater all about money, what’s really the surprise?

8) Just for fun – I have a strange notion of fun – I looked at one of those boring annual reports that the Union sends out. Full of … y’know… numbers and pie charts and tables and… zzzzzzzzzzz….

And I found the distribution of the AEA membership as listed by city. New York, of course, has the most Union members. Because Broadway. I get it.

And Los Angeles has more AEA members than the next 8 biggest cities combined. In fact, it’s about 10% larger. Than the next 8 biggest cities. Combined.

AEA membership horizontal

I’ve heard it said in the City of Angels that New York thinks it’s superior to everything on the west coast. Well, don’t kid yourself. New York thinks it’s superior to everything on the east coast, too.

So for you non-NYC AEA members not in LA, don’t think this story isn’t about you directly. Look at the graphic to the left. It’s a well-known social dynamic that if you want to dominate a group, you first take out the top dawg and pretty much everyone else will fall into line after that.

This tale isn’t about how the Union leadership feels about Los Angeles theater. It’s about how the Union leadership feels about the Union members. And once Los Angeles is taken care of, the rest of the country can expect similar “listening” from Mary McColl and her Council.

This tale is not about what’s going to happen to Los Angeles theater at the hand of the Union leadership. It’s about the Union leadership’s methods to get to those results:

Duplicity. Inconsistency. Hypocrisy.

And that should concern everyone. I’ve documented it all. I know some of you won’t believe it. That’s okay. Statistics show that 1 in 4 of you believe the Sun goes around the Earth. That’s how it is with a large sample space.

And for Los Angeles: what are you going to do about this situation? The Los Angeles theater community just voted in numbers nearly as great as the entire national membership. And there’s another national election coming up. Just imagine if that large black bar in the graphic voted for Eastern Region candidates who are openly and clearly upset with the current Union leadership’s tactics and methods. Before the Council voted on the new plan and before LA voted on the referendum, Eastern Region candidate, Christopher Gurr, wrote:

Am I for Equity’s three-pronged proposal as is?

I was. Now I’m not.

That’s a gold standard of clarity. No waffling. Clear. And so easily accountable. I wonder what other candidates have to say about the present Union leadership tactics? And I wonder if they can similarly express it in clear, succinct declarative sentences.

There’s an election coming, Los Angeles. Get out the Vote. Or, in 21st century speak:


9) I’m currently trying to get a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to set up a cultural exchange plan. It will provide funds for elementary school children to take enriching trips to the theater and Actors’ Equity Councilors to take enriching trips to elementary school math classes. Maybe then the Councilors will be able to understand how mathematically flawed their member survey was that led to this whole debacle in the first place.

+1) It appears Mary McColl and her Council have what they wanted. So there’s no need for them to even show up anymore. You’d think they’d at least be courteous enough to clue in their foot soldiers who fought so hard for them.

150422 armina vs leo marks


Other thoughts about Actors’ Equity actions:
9 + 1 Questions that AEA has Yet to Answer
Flawed Union Math
9 + 1 More Musings during the Los Angeles Vote on the New AEA Plan
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 April 23, 2015 in Bitter Lemons.