STAGE : Q & A : Key Players Tangle Over Pay Scales and Profits
“We don’t want to drive anyone out of business where business is possible,” Equity’s Western Regional Director Edward Weston had told the Times 16 years ago . “But we don’t feel that an auditorium with a 99-seat capacity is a viable economic situation.”
Not any more. While Weston c oncedes that no one’s gotten rich in Waiver, he says the Waiver has become “institutionalized” and stands in the way of theater’s growth.
Q uestion: Do you think anybody has made a bundle doing Equity Waiver?
Answer: No. We’ve never indicated that. I think the only ones who have made money are the landlords.
Q: Has Waiver hindered the professional employment of actors in Los Angeles?
A. Definitely. I say that without reservation. Initially, I didn’t think so, because we didn’t have the alternatives we do now. But now, looking at what’s happened in San Francisco and Chicago and Seattle and San Diego, the Waiver has definitely prevented (Los Angeles) companies from going on to Equity contracts.
It has institutionalized them in the security of being a Waiver theater. They have not been willing to make the next move.Whether they’re able to make it, I don’t know. What I’d like to do is make another offer to get them some help. Let them hear from one of their own--not from the union, but from management consultants--to talk to them about ways of making the transition.
Q: Is there validity to the producers’ plan?
A: First of all, would they have even prepared such a document if we hadn’t? They now say we all want a plan that pays and protects actors. If they really wanted it, why didn’t they do this years ago?
We wrote a plan to protect actors. They’ve written a plan to protect producers.
Q: Is it better for the actor to get a set fee than to work on a percentage of grosses?
A: The union’s Western Advisory Board felt yes. Why should the actors be the only ones working on a percentage when everyone else is getting a fee up front? There’s also the difficulty of policing it (the grosses).
Q: The producers talk about posting the grosses every week, so the actors can check them.
A: I’m not sure the actor should be put in that position. Why not look at the possibility of the set designers, directors and playwrights and everybody working off a percentage? Why just the actors?
Q: What about the argument that payment is the only reward for the box-office worker, whereas the reward in playing the role of a lifetime is in the playing of it, plus the exposure. Actors do want to be seen.
A: That’s playing on people’s emotions. The actors suffer enough. Suffering doesn’t have to be written into the contract.
Q: But after all, it’s not compulsory to do Waiver theater.
A: The actor who is told “You don’t have to do Waiver,” says “There’s no place else for me to be seen now. I’m forced to work Waiver, whether I want to or not.”
Q: Would you bring a member up on charges if he or she does a play under the producers’ plan? Q: I don’t think that’s going to happen, and we’ll wait and see what we do.
Q: How will Equity police the plan?
A: It came about because our members said they wanted some regulations. Obviously, the members are going to have to help us police it. And unless they do, nothing is going to be successful.
The same thing happened in New York. Showcasing was becoming institutionalized and nobody was getting paid. The Off Off Broadway agreements went in and Joseph Papp said, “This will be the end of all theater in New York. It’s killing everything.” And, of course, it has not proved to be true.
San Francisco in 1982: All we heard was doom and gloom. All the theaters will be out of business. There are now approximately nine theaters under Equity contract that were not, prior to that.
Q: Neither have we seen any dramatic growth in theater in San Francisco.
A: The difference is that the theaters that were not paying actors are now paying the actors, although a very modest amount. The basic philosophy is: Should an actor work for nothing and be institutionalized on that basis?
Q: Didn’t you originally think that Waiver was a good idea?
A: I still think it was a good idea, had it not been for the abuses that began to happen and had it not begun to replace ways of actors earning some money.
Q: Were discussions with the Waiver operators snapped off too quickly?
A: I have no way of knowing. The producers didn’t seem to want me there, so I didn’t attend them. My understanding was the producers were asked (to tell us) what they really wanted. And the producers gave what I was told was their bottom line.
Q: Did you check with them?
A: I did not.
Q: Is it possible that you could still meet with the Waiver operators?
A: What would be the purpose? We’re faced with a lawsuit. I’m gun-shy of doing anything that may put us into legal difficulty.
Q: But the abrupt way that Equity sent out the referendum without notifying the producers--was that a friendly act?
A: Well, it was not a negotiation in that sense. That’s all I can say.
Q: But you weren’t dealing with the Shuberts.
A: The Shuberts are wonderful. They’re very easy for us to get along with. Because they’re businesslike. And they’re realistic.
Additional research for these articles was prepared by Janice Arkatov, Lynne Heffley and Robert Koehler.