Actors' Equity disputes Evidence Room's producing status

Actors' Equity in bizarre dispute with Los Angeles' Evidence Room theater

In the ongoing wage dispute between many small Los Angeles theater companies and Actors' Equity Assn., a strange sideshow has developed between Evidence Room, a small L.A. theater company that has operated for 20 years, and the New York-based national union that represents stage actors and managers.

Leaders at Evidence Room said this week that they have received communication from Equity stating that the union has no record that the company has ever produced shows in L.A. under the union's 99-seat plan.

Evidence Room has officially disputed this claim, saying that it has produced numerous shows throughout its history.

"I have to say it makes me curious about your record-keeping over there," said the company's  founding artistic director, Bart DeLorenzo, in a recent letter to an Equity representative.

The conflict is connected to an effort by the union to determine whether a number of local L.A. theaters qualify as "membership companies" -- stage organizations that are structured around a core ensemble of member actors.

Such a designation would provide those companies with some leeway from the recently passed pay increases that have been at the heart of the dispute between the union and small L.A. theaters. 

An Equity spokeswoman issued a response to The Times this week regarding its dispute with Evidence Room.

The union said it retains relevant records for seven years, "and in the case of Evidence Room, the union's records do not show that either the theater company or Mr. DeLorenzo ... has signed as the producer of record on any application form for the shows in question."

It said that for Evidence Room co-productions, the producer of record is either the Odyssey Theatre or the Unknown Theatre -- both of which are local stage venues that have partnered with Evidence Room in the past.

The production history on Evidence Room's official website shows that in recent years, the company has co-produced with the Odyssey and Unknown, and that it has not solely produced a show since 2006.

Last year's staging of Sarah Ruhl's "Passion Play" was a co-production between Evidence Room and the Odyssey. Other Evidence Room co-productions with the Odyssey include 2013's "Annapurna," by Sharr White, and a 2012 staging of Chekhov's "Ivanov."

Equity also said that none of its records shows that Evidence Room is a membership company.

DeLorenzo issued a counter-response to The Times saying that Evidence Room has had a company of members and has been producing -- and co-producing -- since 1995.

The dispute appears to have begun on May 11 with a message sent to Evidence Room by Alison Harma, an L.A.-based Equity representative.

In the email, Harma states that Evidence Room doesn't appear to meet the requirements of a membership company and that it had not produced under the 99-seat plan prior to Feb. 6.

DeLorenzo has provided Equity with a list of productions but said he hasn't heard back from the union.  

Equity has faced considerable acrimony from the L.A. stage community over its recent decision to pass a wage hike for actors that would affect theater companies that perform in venues with fewer than 100 seats. Opponents of the hike believe it will make producing theater economically untenable in L.A.

The union has said the new $9 minimum hourly wage was implemented at least in part as a response to grievances about poor pay for actors. 

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