Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Tampa Actor On Todd Olson

Mike Daisey publishes a letter from a Tampa area actor about the recent back-and-forth between Daisey and Todd Olson, Artistic Director of American Stage Company.

I have enjoyed reading your correspondence with Todd Olson -- producing artistic director at American Stage Company in St. Petersburg, Florida -- and honestly, I see solid points made on both sides, as I think you do.

However, one important fact has been obscured in the dialogue: When Olson says his theater is "fully AEA," he means he has a contract with Actors Equity -- NOT that all of the actors he hires are Equity members. I'm not sure what contract he is on now, but he can and does use a fair proportion of non-Equity actors. Such obfuscation is not uncommon among small theaters with Equity contracts, as they rely upon the misperception that Equity = professional and non-Equity = non-professional to puff up their stature with statements such as "fully Equity."

Why does this matter? It matters because many of Olson's points are predicated on the assumption that all of his actors are Equity. Talk of how his actors have access to health insurance, of the struggles of finding a way to pay actors more than scale, of the comparatively low pay to his staff, or of what he considers silly ancillary Equity requirements (breaks, cots, etc.) is disingenuous, given that many of his actors have no insurance, are paid well below Equity scale, and are not entitled to most Equity protections -- although they do share in the breaks, and I suppose no one would object if they fainted onto the cot.

Read the whole letter and I think you will agree that the situation for actors in Florida mirrors that of many regions across the country. This includes Boston, where many actors choose to avoid Equity if they can.


Thomas Garvey said...

Yes, this actor scores a serious point against Todd Olson - but still, when I read his entire letter, I'm hard put to say what his actual argument is. In fact, I'd say instead that he's completely incoherent. He criticizes Olson's employment of non-Equity actors, yet it turns out he himself works as a non-Equity actor? And indeed, feels that Equity membership would limit his acting opportunities? Surely he understands that his own activities therefore undermine the earning power of actors more than Todd Olson's do. And why does he do it? Essentially so he can do more theatre. Surprise - that's why Todd Olson hires him, too! So he can do more theatre. Everyone has the same motives! The problem here, of course, is that the economic model for theatre is broken - the available, freely-paying audience is not large enough to support it. Wage equity inevitably breaks down in such a situation, and actually, at a deep level, whether it is indeed possible, or even "should" be possible, is somewhat in question. Thus neither Daisey nor Ned Averill-Snell, the writer of this letter, seems to have a cure for the condition underlying the symptoms they decry. (They just don't admit it. Of course no one else does, either.) Even their seemingly justified anger at investment in theatres rather than actors is at least partly deflated by the observation that physical facilities last, while performances are ephemeral - the money spent on a theatre ensures that performances can go on for years. So I'm not sure that a theatre that invests in a new facility rather than a full Equity cast is entirely in the wrong.

Mike said...

I've responded to some of Mr. Garvey's posting, mainly the part not concerned directly with Mr. Averill-Snell's letter,

Ned said...

This is Ned Averill-Snell. Obviously I communicated poorly... the point I was making is that Olson should use LESS Equity, not more. Read it again with that in mind. It may seem less incoherent. And yes, in fact, I do offer a solution: Hire more local, hire less Equity, save money, pay actors, survive. Tell me why that math doesn't work, and there's a reasonable argument to be had.

Thomas Garvey said...

I don't want to get Art in the middle of what may be an extended conversation, so I'll be posting a response to Mike Daisey on my own blog, I'm sorry if I misinterpreted Mr. Averill-Snell. His suggestions may, indeed, "work," but they would also undermine Equity, which I'm not sure is something actors want to do.