Yesterday I read an article by Hoyt Hilsman stating that Actors’ Equity was “targeting minorities, women and LGBT theaters” because of a policy that went into effect in Los Angeles in April 2015. Mr. Hilsman suggests that an Equity membership rule that allows members to volunteer at theaters run by and for members is discriminatory because many of those theaters do not cast minorities, women or LGBTQI+ performers.
If that is truly the case, and the membership companies of Los Angeles County are not hiring members of color, or women, LGBTQI+ members or performers with disabilities, then the LA theatre community has a much bigger problem than the plan Equity has put forth. Over our history Equity has taken positions against segregation, blacklisting and discrimination. But more importantly, we have worked diligently to move the theatrical industry forward, negotiating contract language that requires access for every member, and especially speaks to requirements of diversity and inclusion on stage.
Mr. Hilsman mentioned the Latino Theatre Company, Casa 0101 Theater, Queer Classics and Teatro de La O. To be factual, all four of those theater companies could use the LA Showcase Code. If that structure isn’t acceptable to them, Equity stands ready to assist them (and any other theater company in Los Angeles) in finding a solution that can work. All that is needed is the good faith and good will to do so.
But the real issue in Mr. Hilsman’s article, and the claims made by plaintiffs who are participating in a lawsuit against Actors’ Equity, is that the producers have no responsibility for who is cast and what is programmed. They would like for you to believe that that is Equity’s responsibility. That is patently false.
We agree that there is a problem in LA, just as there is across the country, in regard to programming and casting that doesn’t reflect the community. However, Equity is not the employer of actors, nor are we the curator of theatrical seasons. When we have a bargaining relationship with a producer-employer, our contract language requires certain access. For instance, any Equity member who attends a union audition must be seen. We also have equal employment opportunity clauses in each of our major contracts that prohibit employers from discriminating against Equity members.
I would ask, especially in a tight-knit, vibrant theatre scene like Los Angeles’, why the community would allow the theaters that cast minorities, women and LGBTQI+ performers to be the most fragile in that ecosystem? And further, why hasn’t the community banded together to ask for changes to the programming of the membership companies not casting minorities, women or LGBTQI+ performers instead of fighting so hard against a union that is simply trying to get minimum wage for some actors and stage managers some of the time?
Executive Director, Actors’ Equity Association