Frequently Asked Questions

Like every union, Equity’s fundamental purpose is to advocate on behalf of the greater good of its membership. This means that it is not possible to represent the personal interests of each individual member. In everything from equitable salary standards to safety conditions, from pension benefits to health benefits to a decades-long battle against discrimination, Equity’s mandate is to serve all members, including those who wish to make a living from live theatre.

What is going on with the 99-seat theater issue in Los Angeles?

Actors’ Equity Association’s National Council created a new contract to be used in some of the Los Angeles County theaters with 99 seats or fewer. This contract, which is negotiated with producers in the same way Equity negotiates contracts everywhere else, requires that actors and stage managers be paid at least the legal minimum wage for rehearsals and performances. Additionally, the Council voted up three internal membership rules, allowing members to continue working without benefit of contract (“off the card,” just as members do under Showcase and Member Project Codes elsewhere) in the majority of Los Angeles. These new rules and agreements effectively eliminate the availability of a code that has allowed producers to give actors a stipend that was far less than state and federal minimum wage. The implementation of these new agreements provides consistency with every other county in the United States, as well as with Equity’s rules. The new internal membership rules allow opportunities for members to self-produce, to perform with membership companies or to volunteer in productions that are mounted in theaters with fewer than 50 seats.

What is the Actors’ Equity National Council?

The National Council is the democratically-elected governing board of Actors’ Equity, composed of 83 representatives elected by the entire membership around the country, including 21 Councillors who live in Los Angeles.

What does this change mean?

It means that the old 99-Seat Theatre Plan, which permitted up to 80 performances with no salary for the actors (even in for-profit theaters), is no longer available. Three new internal membership rules allow for Equity members to perform without benefit of contract. The new 99-Seat Theatre Agreement, which is negotiated with producers, brings Los Angeles County in line with the rest of the nation by requiring that actors be paid. This also brings LA County 99-seat theaters in line with Actors’ Equity’s core function as a labor union – to negotiate wages for members working in theatre.

Why now?

With the confluence of discussions about raising the minimum wage, and the outreach from members in LA County who told Equity they wanted to be paid for their work (like the members who voiced the same outcry in the late 1980’s), Equity determined that it was time to take a closer look at 99-seat theatre.

For decades in LA County, 99-seat theatre productions did not pay Equity members for rehearsals, gave a small performance stipend (as little as $7 per day, far below state and federal minimum wage) and could run for up to 80 performances before being required to go to contract. These allowances did not exist anywhere else in the country; this landscape–in Equity’s second largest market–established an unfair balance that undermined bargaining in other cities.

Was anyone complaining about the situation in Los Angeles 99-seat theaters?

Yes. In fact, the Council acted in response to complaints from LA Equity members who said they wanted to work in 99-seat theatre but simply could not afford to if they would only receive a small stipend for performances and nothing for rehearsal time.

Many Equity actors in Los Angeles struggle to make ends meet and survive by working day jobs. A relative handful of Equity members are well-established in the film or television industry and/or are highly paid in other jobs, and they can afford to work in small theaters for a nominal stipend. But that is simply not the norm. While the 99-Seat Theatre Agreement provides for a salary that is far from extravagant, it is a significant step toward ensuring that Los Angeles theatre professionals are adequately compensated for their work.

Isn’t this change facing a lot of opposition?

There are always people who don’t want change. We respect their opinions and have incorporated many compromises into the final policy. At the same time, Equity’s mission is to stand for fair pay for all of its members. This includes actors who are not celebrities. It includes actors who do not have other income that allows them to work without pay. In the name of fairness for all, we are simply requiring that producers of 99-seat productions employ and pay actors the minimum wage at least some of the time. This action represents the core of what Equity stands for; more than 100 years ago, the founders of Equity made massive sacrifices to ensure that actors’ time and talent is regarded as worthy of monetary compensation. The fact that the union has faced opposition does not change our fundamental values. We hope that the opponents of this change will eventually understand the union’s perspective.

Aren’t there actors who are suing the union over this?

Yes. There are 18 plaintiffs in the Asner vs Actors’ Equity lawsuit. All except two of those are Equity members, although several have primarily been producers for years or decades (it is noteworthy that numerous theaters that are now eligible to be organized are represented among the plaintiffs). Some of the plaintiffs were also parties to the 1988-1989 litigation concerning the 99-seat plan.

Equity has just concluded several months of facilitated discussions with representatives of the plaintiffs, seeking a mutually-acceptable compromise that would alleviate the need to spend hundreds of thousands of members’ dollars in federal court–and to allow the money the plaintiffs have raised for a lawsuit to be redirected to paying a wage to actors and stage managers.

Unfortunately, Equity and the plaintiffs in the Asner vs. Actors’ Equity litigation announced recently that they were unable to resolve their dispute. Due to previously agreed-upon ground rules, both parties are unable to comment on the actual discussions.

While we are disappointed that this dispute will enter the courtroom, Equity intends to vigorously defend itself against the meritless lawsuit and has already filed a motion to dismiss. We are fully prepared to defend both the process and the substance of Council’s actions. Read Equity’s Statements:

Aren’t these just members producing their own work?

Many of the individuals who are voicing opposition are members of Equity, including some of the plaintiffs. But consider this: some of the biggest producers on Broadway are also members of Equity. Should those producer/members also be allowed to use their fellow members to develop new shows without having to pay any wages?

For those LA members who are truly producing their own work, Equity has made available a self-producing code, as well as the membership company rule. Finally, many of the changes made between the proposed and final rules took into account the concerns of member-producers.

Isn’t Equity being sued by these actors because the changes are going to hurt 99-seat theaters and even shut some of them down?

Actually, the lawsuit is about whether or not Equity followed specific procedures (required by the 1989 settlement agreement) in the process of making these changes. You can read the complaint here.

The plaintiffs are calling for a new referendum. Doesn’t it make sense to just let Los Angeles members vote to determine the future of Los Angeles theatre?

If only it were that easy. We understand that there are those in LA who favor this kind of self-determination. As a national union, though, Equity has to look at the bigger picture. Our members across the country are constantly being asked to work for free, or for “exposure.” We believe that our members’ time and talents deserve a living wage, and this belief is a cornerstone of every single negotiation. Equity’s democratically-elected National Council has a responsibility to fight for fair wages for all who have joined this union. To simply ignore this principle in the second-largest market in the country undermines our ability to push for it everywhere else.

Does this impact everyone who wants to act in live theatre?

No, it only impacts members of Actors’ Equity — those people who join the association to enjoy benefits such as ensuring that they are fairly paid while working within the union’s jurisdiction.

Will Equity members in LA County be able to act in live theatre without working under contract?

Absolutely. We have created multiple pathways that allow stage actors to practice their craft at all times. The options include:

1. Participating in and performing with Membership Companies
2. Operating under the Self-Produced Project code to produce their own work
3. Performing under the LA Showcase Code, which is available in theaters of up to 50 seats

What impact did the old 99-Seat Theatre Plan have on the volume of productions?

In LA, a business model grew up around not paying actors. The result: theaters stayed small and actors went largely unpaid; growth beyond 99-seat spaces was actually disincentivized, which is why it so rarely happened. In essence, the effect was to create an artificial ceiling on the size of Los Angeles theaters. Not only was this arbitrary, it could no longer be justified as sound policy. For example, during the 2013-14 Season, there were 390 productions on the 99-Seat Theatre Plan. Equity estimates that there were the equivalent of more than 12,000 theatrical work weeks on the Plan during that season, and more than 11,000 theatrical work weeks under the Plan in the 2014-2015 season.
For a list of the theaters, click here.

How does Los Angeles compare with other cities around the country in both size and work weeks?

The union’s data reveals that LA County actually provides less paid work for stage actors and stage managers than markets such as Baltimore/DC, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

In the most recent period for which data is available (2014-2015) and excluding paid work weeks accrued under touring contracts:

  • LA County (7,000 members) had 6,500 paid work weeks for Equity members;
  • Baltimore/DC (854 members) had more than 8,700;
  • Boston (845 members) had more than 7,900;
  • Chicago (1,589 members) had more than 15,800 paid work weeks; and
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul (with 437 members) had more than 6,700.

Despite being the “entertainment capital of the world,” with actors flocking from around the globe to Southern California, Equity’s data reveals that LA County actually provides less paid work for stage actors than a market with approximately 6% of the LA member total.

Did Equity make changes to what it initially proposed based on member input and the results of the advisory referendum?

Yes. For example, the new internal union membership rules contain several important changes to the original proposal – including a Showcase Code and changes to the Los Angeles Membership Company Rule. The National Council has allowed for the use of the Small Professional Theatre (SPT) Agreement, which up until this point has not been available in Los Angeles, and has also created the LA Transitional 99-Seat Code (available until December 14, 2016), which provides for an implementation period so that theaters have time to adjust.

Is this the end of small theatre in Los Angeles?

Absolutely not. Los Angeles has an established theatre community. And like Chicago and other major cities where Equity actors are paid at least the legal minimum wage, Los Angeles’ 99-seat theatre scene can survive and prosper under the new Equity policies. Producers can and do pay Equity actors at least minimum wage in small theaters in every single market in America, except Los Angeles County.

What about volunteering? Can’t actors volunteer to work if they want to?

By volunteering in work that is within Equity’s jurisdiction, actors make it more difficult for the union to organize paying opportunities under a contract. However, Equity recognizes that some members want to be able to volunteer. The new internal membership rules provide significant pathways for them to do that, to the extent the law allows.

What are the so-called “pathways” that provide flexibility under the new rules?

The LA Self-Produced Project Code: This is an internal union membership rule allowing Equity members to collaborate as a group to self-produce theatre without the requirement of an Equity contract. Based on the Member Project Code, which is used in non-office cities, this is the first time such a code has been available in Los Angeles.

The LA 50-Seat Showcase Code: A second internal union membership rule, which allows members to work without the requirement of an Equity contract in theaters with 50 seats or fewer, where the budget for the production does not exceed $20,000, for up to 16 performances. The 50-Seat Showcase Code provides for reimbursement of actual expenses, favored nations compensation and future rights for actors in subsequent productions.

The LA Membership Company Rule: In the original proposal, membership companies would have been limited to their current membership. Council amended this rule to allow any Equity member to participate with any membership company as long as that company was in existence prior to Feb. 6, 2015, had registered their company by April 1, 2015, and had previously produced under the old 99-Seat Theatre Plan. This new internal membership rule allows Equity members to perform with their membership companies without the requirement of an Equity contract. Members may negotiate their own compensation, expense reimbursement and other working conditions.

Click here for a list of membership companies

Will there be collective bargaining under the new rules?

Yes. The Los Angeles 99-Seat Theatre Agreement is a collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated with producers for productions in theaters of 99 seats or fewer. The Agreement provides no restrictions on budget, length of rehearsal period, ticket price or the length of the performance run. The Agreement would provide for salary payments based on the legally-mandated minimum wage in Los Angeles County (currently $10 per hour) with minimum call requirements, but with no pension or health benefit payments required. The Agreement would require future rights (e.g., right of first refusal) based on the terms of the subsequent Equity collective bargaining agreement and would also require basic workplace standards.

Is anything new for theaters with more than 99 seats?

Yes. The Small Professional Theatre Agreement (SPT). The SPT Agreement, which has long been available in other parts of the country, will now be permitted for productions in Los Angeles County in venues with a capacity up to 349 seats. There is no budget cap per production, reasonable and flexible rehearsal hours per week and no restriction on the length of the performance run. The Agreement provides for salary payments ranging from $229 to $664 per week — based on the maximum number of weekly performances — with pension and health contributions required. The Agreement requires future rights based on the producer’s future involvement with any subsequent production and would also require basic workplace standards, like negotiated work rules and safe and sanitary requirements for the workplace.

In addition, the Hollywood Area Theatre Agreement (“HAT”) is an existing collective bargaining agreement for use in Los Angeles theaters of 349-499 seats. There is no budget cap per production, and no restriction on the length of a performance run. Productions may rehearse for no fewer than 2 ½ weeks. The Agreement provides for salaries between $229 to $582 per week and based on a 5-performance week (up to three additional performances may be purchased), with salary increases every 20th week of employment. The Agreement requires pension and health benefit payments, future rights based on the producer’s future involvement with any subsequent production and basic workplace standards. The HAT Agreement is an all-Equity agreement.

Where can I find out more?

To read more details about the full set of the new membership rules and the new 99-Seat Agreement, please visit: https://members.actorsequity.org/99SeatDecision/

For more information on Actors’ Equity Association, click here.

For a fact sheet about Actors’ Equity Association, click here.

For a detailed explanation of the new rules, click here.