Dec 23, 2014

The 99-Seat Plan and Its Discontents

Most of the theater I've seen in my lifetime, and much of the best of it, has been in Los Angeles. And the great majority of that great theater was produced under what's now called the 99-Seat Plan; when I was coming up was still often called "Equity Waiver"--essentially, a showcase code that allows union actors to work for no actual wages but for some modest reimbursement and under a certain (modest) list of regulations. While I've had mixed feelings over the years about whether that plan is really a wise or fair one for the artists and institutions of L.A., I can't deny that much of that great theater I saw probably wouldn't exist at all but for the plan's low barrier of entry. (Near the end of my time in L.A., I gave a speech to the theatermakers I love lamenting the mixed blessings of that very freedom.)

Truth be told, I didn't give the 99-Seat Plan or its origins a great deal of rigorous thought until Douglas Clayton, then an editor at the now-defunct L.A. Stage Times, commissioned me to write a two-part history of the plan in 2009 (here's part one, here part two). Now, with revisions to the plan under serious consideration, thanks in large part to a movement spearheaded by Clayton and others, and with Equity putting a new emphasis on serving its West Coast members, the time seemed ripe for me to weigh in about the plan and its future at my day job at American Theatre. Money quote:
The debate over L.A.’s 99-seat plan may seem so stark because it dramatizes a fundamental conflict—one the arts face in every sector in our late-capitalist American moment. One side essentially asks, quite reasonably: Do arts workers deserve better compensation, even middle-class lives? Why is there seemingly only funding for new buildings, for infrastructure, for a handful of committee-approved geniuses, but not for the field’s rank-and-file workers?
The other side responds, passionately, that such talk is inimical to the creative instinct, to freedom of expression and association, and that we need look no further than the cautious programming and piecemeal hiring at major institutional theatres to see how little such bottom-line thinking has done for actors and the field.
RTWT here.

No comments: