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Producers Unsure About New Equity Plan; Taper Forum Revives Lab for New Plays

It’s the week to be wishy-washy in the ongoing Waiver Wars.

Actors’ Equity’s 99-Seat Theater Plan went into effect Monday, ending Equity Waiver as it had been practiced for 16 years. But many of the producers of upcoming shows in smaller theaters still haven’t decided what to do about it.

“Wait and see” is the most common response to the question of whether producers will sign with the Equity plan or with the rival plan offered since Sept. 12 by the Associated Theatres of Los Angeles (ATLAS).

Also popular is a fervently expressed hope that the Equity plan will be modified before it’s necessary to commit to either. Equity, however, contends that signing should take place before casting begins.

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The undecideds know that the union brass, led by Equity executive secretary Alan Eisenberg, will meet with opponents of the plan Oct. 25, and they hope that a compromise will result. Members of ATLAS met with Equity senior business representative George Ives for four hours Monday in an attempt to set the agenda for the Oct. 25 meeting.

But Equity says it will enforce the plan in the meantime, despite ATLAS president Laura Zucker’s contention that enforcement “will make it more difficult to have productive discussions.” So the time to be wishy-washy can’t last much longer, if these shows plan to open as scheduled.

As of Tuesday, Equity’s Michael Van Duzer reported that “nine or ten” productions were registered under the union plan, but he would reveal or confirm only three: a This Town Theatrics “Hamlet” at Theatre Exchange, scheduled to open Nov. 4; a Group Repertory Theatre staging of “A Doll’s House,” slated for Nov. 10, and “A Winter’s Tale” (based on “A Christmas Carol,” not the Shakespeare play), scheduled for Dec. 9 at the Gene Dynarski Theater.

The “Hamlet” team, led by producer-star Jon Mullich, signed up July 20, before the plan was even approved by Equity’s national council. Mullich also negotiated the first exceptions to the plan; This Town will pay its actors $5 a performance instead of the $10 that the plan prescribes for theaters the size of Theatre Exchange.

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Equity maintains that any producer can request such concessions, but “Hamlet” is the only show that has yet received them.

Mullich said that his appeal for concessions pointed to the size of the cast (20, including 14 members of the affected unions), the “artistic goals, and the potential amounts of money we could make.” All of the actors, not just the union members, will receive $5 a performance, so the actor payroll will amount to $100 a performance.

“If we don’t take in that much,” said Mullich, “we do have a reserve.”

Several other productions have applied for concessions; their appeals are going through union channels. Mark Travis, who plans to open the one-man “No Place Like Home” Wednesday at the Tiffany, has learned that the union will permit his show to run outside the plan, on the grounds that the sole actor, Equity member Shane McCabe, is a profit participant and therefore acting as an independent contractor.

The only stipulation is that the show must register with the plan if Travis hires an Equity stage manager or other actors.

Meanwhile, in the first test of the plan, the Santa Monica Playhouse will open “The Great Fair--Sholom Aleichem on Tour” on Friday under ATLAS auspices, using two Equity actors, Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. DeCarlo and Rudie also run the Playhouse; they are the employers as well as the employees.

“It would be ridiculous to sign a plan with ourselves,” DeCarlo said.

Don’t say that to Van Duzer. “Union members are union members, whether or not they’re producing,” he said. “You can’t be an independent contractor (like McCabe at the Tiffany) with a cast of people involved.”

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So will Equity try to discipline DeCarlo and Rudie? “I imagine so,” Van Duzer said.

Van Duzer added that he sent a cease-and-desist letter recently to two Equity actors involved in “Geography of a Horse Dreamer,” at Al’s Bar, which has no agreement with Equity, not even as a Waiver space under the old rules.

The most prominent of these actors, Ron Campbell (who recently played the title role in “The Inspector General” at Los Angeles Theatre Center), said Tuesday that he hadn’t received the letter, nor was he aware that Al’s Bar wasn’t an approved space.

“I never gave it much thought,” said Campbell. “I was thinking of the script and the production. An actor can dig a hole in the ground and act in it--who’s going to stop him?”

But This Town’s Mullich thinks that actors who don’t follow the rules, as he has done, should be stopped. He acknowledged that the Santa Monica Playhouse case was “sticky.”

But asked how he would feel if Equity generally looked the other way and didn’t enforce its new plan, he responded: “I’ll be furious. I’ll raise holy hell.”

The Mark Taper Forum has revived the Taper Lab, a workshop for new plays that hasn’t been in operation since 1983. For eight weeks, the Taper Lab ’88 New Work Festival will help develop 16 plays and performance pieces at Taper, Too, the 99-seat space under the John Anson Ford Theater.

The public is invited to free, open rehearsals of 10 of the pieces and readings of the other six on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Oct. 17-Dec. 5.

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The writers include Bill Cain, Philip Kan Gotanda, Jude Narita, John Fleck, John Steppling, Shem Bitterman, Migdalia Cruz, Michael Henry Brown, Tim Miller, Ariel Dorfman, Doris Baizley, Doug Wright, Steven Morris, Robert Schenkkan, Tony Abatemarco and Pavel Kohout.

The return of the Lab, which existed sporadically between 1972 and 1983, was assisted by a $25,000 grant--a quarter of its budget--from the Reader’s Digest Dance and Theatre Program. Reservations: (213) 972-7373.


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