Is the 99-seat theatre dead?

Is the end near for the 99-seat theatre?

With 20+ live theatres in the NoHo Arts District i, any and all discussion about the strength and health of the theatre community in L.A., or the rest of the nation, concerns us. We here at try our best to support and promote the great theatre we do here in North Hollywood. The following was reprinted by permission from our friend, Maria Gobetti, artistic director at the Victory Theatre Center.

Victory Theatre Center 99 seat plan

“The reason this debate is one sided is because it is convenient for those who oppose 99-seat theatre.

I have called AEA and asked to be admitted to their meetings with members. I am a member and also own a theatre. As a hyphenate actress-producer I am not allowed. So my point of view, which is honed by 30 years in the 99-seat theatre movement, will not be heard. I don’t make a living from theatre. I make a living as an active acting coach and teacher and as an actress in other than equity union work. I would gladly pay up the dues and come off honorary withdrawal status to attend and speak rationally and reasonably in those meetings of my fellow union members. Equity was my parent union way back.

I wonder: Will the actor members of membership theatres be refused admittance to meetings on the same grounds? There is certainly a wall being built and critical information is being deliberately suppressed.

Were it not for people like Tom Ormeny, Jay McAdams, and John Flynn…very little of the theatres’ points of view would be out there. If you want the 99-seat movement to be sustained, those of us who believe in it need to speak out and make the effort to reach the AEA members.

Hopefully the press will seek out the opposing point of views and explore them.

At the Victory, we treasure artists and treat them with respect.

There is a reason for 99-seat theatre…and a need for it. Even if a couple of more mid-sized houses were to spring up (this in spite of how difficult the contract is, and how poorly most mid-sized houses are doing financially), there is not, and would not be enough equity work to keep the over 7000 members of that union working or making a living wage. Unfortunately, one to three additional Equity houses would not provide enough work to keep its members happy or financially stable.

I certainly don’t think AEA is the enemy, but I do have objections to the way things are being handled. It broke my heart to go against my parent union as one of the original plaintiffs in the Equity Waiver Wars over 30 years ago. I know that Equity board members have gone on record recently, saying waiver is impeding the growth of the mid-sized movement. This is certainly not true. When we went into the lawsuit, we called Chicago, San Francisco, and Denver, etc. They all said they lost their small theatres because AEA made inroads into the theatres by promising concessions. These small 99-seat houses tried to make a go of it with onerous contracts and died. Now there are practically no 99-seat theatres anywhere but in Los Angeles. (To fund-raise for the 12 performance contract that exists in New York is absurd.) AND the mid-sized house movement is stalled with an onerous contract.

Further, I remember the head of Equity (Eddie Weston) saying 30 years ago in a meeting for 1 Cent-for-the Arts (which Tom Ormeny started in Los Angeles) that he would “do everything in his power to destroy Equity Waiver”. That is a quote. I was there. I heard him say it to the very man who began the 1 Cent- for-the- Arts movement. So, it is difficult to view AEA as entirely non-adversarial to the Pro-99-seat members of the theatre community. However, I am working on understanding what I can do to help theatre in L.A. Trying to deal with a union that shuts me out makes that difficult.

I’m sure Equity has spent money on its new multimillion dollar building. I’m sure they are trying to now find state funding for theatre. Well I wish them lots of luck on that, sincerely. We have been so de-funded that we rank 50th in the country.

I believe an open dialogue with ALL MEMBERS, including hyphenates, is the best way to go. AEA is using 20th Century procedures in the 21st Century. The by-laws can be changed and for good reason… a democratic forum for all union members should be the order of the day. It is silly to call 99-seat theatre producers “employers”. The system is voluntary and the fees paid are honorariums not salaries. The theaters are not making money but are fostering real services for actors. Yes, we could have better product, yes we can improve, but we are here and we need to stay here.

I believe the members of AEA will vote to keep the plan if they are provided with the real facts and not the exaggerated claims that are being put out by those with an agenda to eliminate the choices 99-seat provides to actors.

Let’s put out the word – Pro-99-seat theatre. It has struggled and flourished for over 30 years and has an important function in helping, breeding, and sustaining talent in the theatre and entertainment community of Los Angeles. Send this to everyone on your Twitter, Facebook, etc. lists.

And please read the very articulate, informed Pro-99-seat theatre opinions HERE from others in our theatre community for more information.

Most sincerely,
Maria Gobetti
Artistic Director
The Victory Theatre Center”

For more background on the Equity Waiver, the 99-Seat Plan, check out this L.A. Times article>>
Read more by our other theatre friends Rogue Machine Theatre here>>

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