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Rik Deskin

The Union in question here, Actors' Equity Association is not preventing anyone from working under living wage jobs. The onus here is twofold: theater companies and producers need to be responsible for the professional theatre artists working for them and do everything in their power to raise the money to PAY them. Second: Actors, Playwrights, Directors, et al need to value what they bring to the creative table.

AEA has many Contracts, Codes and Agreements that are flexible and enable a producer to hire Actors under many budget tiers.


Rik Deskin

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Rik.

Do you know where AEA stands on adjusting rehearsal schedules to make them more amenable to folks who have standing day jobs?

It's the nitty gritties like that that I think a lot of people are more interested in.

Jim Jewell

I'm not sure the claim is that AEA is preventing living wage jobs. I'd be more likely to state it that AEA is not doing enough to work with administrations to create a relationship/situation in which artists can make a living and continue to make art.

I'd go further and say artists are tilting at the wrong windmills and administrators have their heads firmly in the sand about the effect the system they administer has on the artists it supposedly serves (among other masters, of course).

An MD making $100k+/yr ought to be able to figure out some way to offer jobs to actors that either 1) pay a living wage, or 2)make room for living wage day jobs. 1) may be impossible given the economics, though I'd argue hiring $50k/yr MD's might be a step in the right direction, or the $100k/yr folks should be expected to be smart enough to figure out 2).

Louise Penberthy

I'll write my plays. I'll submit them to theaters.

But unless there's a good reason for me not to, I'll charge royalties.

I do the work, they pay me what's fair.

Scot Augustson

Argh. I'm of six different conflicting minds on this.
I've certainly taken my share of grant money and might work for peanuts but not for free these days (with a couple sentimental exceptions, I'm looking at you 14/48).
But am I the only one who sometimes finds commissions to be joyless exercises?
After writing for others for a while, when I go back to writing something I'm passionate about (but might hold slim chances of making much scratch)I feel alive and tingly. There are days when I swear I'm never going to take another dime for writing plays (Don't tell my husband I said that unless you want me sleeping on your couch.)
I'm not saying we shouldn't keeping finding new creative ways of funding stuff, but I echo what Paul said it not being the whole ball of wax. (Mmm, wax)
Seriously, let's all remember why we started doing artsy stuff in the first place. (Which, I'm pretty sure, the only honest answer to that is to get laid.)

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Louise.

I generally agree, depending on the situation, the theatre and the play.

But the model you are "submitting" to-- and that word is more telling than most imagine, allows the theatre to be the gatekeeper between your play and its potential audience.

What if, hypothetically, your play shared news from the community that you thought others in the community needed in order to participate fully in the democracy? Wouldn't it be incumbent upon you then to produce it yourself and charge on a pay-what-you-can basis?

When you make the theater institutions the ultimate and sole arbiters of what gets done, aren't you doing your audience a disservice? Aren't you cutting out of the process the very people you want to reach, and thus perhaps perpetrating the status quo?

Paul Mullin

Scot, if I could guarantee a "getting laid" I'd forfeit all claims on a "living wage."

Scot Augustson


Peggy Gannon

I want to add (expand) on what another aspect of my point was that evening (and what my point continues to be) ...

Paying a weekly "living wage"* for a 8-10 week contract is NOT an actual living wage. It's actually worse than a living wage, because if I take you up on your offer, I most likely need to quit my crappy day job** with no guarantee of sustainability (in fact, with the extreme likelihood of non-sustainability). And then where am I after 10 weeks? Especially in this shit economy.

NYC has the stereotype of the actor/waiter; night jobs that free you up during the day for auditions. Seattle is not NYC. Seattle is a day-job town.

*I hate hate HATE the phrase "living wage" as the meaningless piece of crap cliche that it is.

**I actually don't have a crappy day job; I have a great one. So it's an even greater loss for me. (And you really kinda suck for forcing me to choose, Big Fancy Pants Theatre.

Louise Penberthy

Well, Paul, I think I now know your perspective on the issue. ;)

Theaters have their passions, the types of plays they're burning to produce. I see my job, in part, as finding those theaters who will love my plays, and sending my plays to them. I explain to them how my play fits their mission and how their audiences will love it.

If a theater wouldn't like my play, I don't bother.

I admire you for producing your own plays. I haven't done a full production yet, but I have done readings.

If any playwright has a play that is important for any reason, and they want to produce it, I say go for it.

Scot Augustson

Peggy, yes! And this is another reason why I wish mid sized theaters were economically more viable. I know of several cases at the Late Empty Space where they worked with day-job folks to make it work.

Peggy Gannon

Ahhhhhhhhhh! I'VE GOT MORE TO SAY! But I am visiting Denver and need to go see my dear cousin's 7-mo old baby now. I'm jumping back in later when I get back to the hotel. Keep it going until then!

Paul Mullin


Thanks, and agreed. Over twenty-five years ago I read a piece of wisdom from David Henry Hwang re: finding plays willing to stage your plays. "If you can find it, found it."

Scot Augustson

Louise, Here's a question for you:
What if two theaters were vying for a script of yours (and for the sake of argument, only one can produce it)
Theater A will pay you a nice chunk of money, but the production will be mediocre.
Theater B will pay, maybe a tenth of what Theater A would but would produce the play beautifully.
Which would you pick?
(And I'll admit, I don't know how I would answer this.)

Mark Handley

My issue continues to be the loss of the "middle class" of theater in Seattle. When I started getting plays produced, there were many theaters that paid almost "living wages" and produced a shit load of new work: Empty Space, The Group, Pioneer Square, Bath House, all gone--Now it is: Big and Fringe. And Big wants nothing to do with helping to create local artist's work. I never had a play done by the Big Three (now Big Two) But I had plays done by all of the middle tier. And there was a hustle and bustle about the scene and there seemed to be great opportunity. (Ou sont les neiges d'antan? Do I smell a madelaine?) How do we regain this "middle class"? I don't know, except perhaps by suppporting the Fringe and by the Fringe aspiring to be more. Take themselves more seriously, I mean.


A "living wage" is just that: a wage that will meet the minimal living expenses of the average person in a given geographic locale. It's not a "crap cliche", it's an imperative for maintaining basic human dignity in a Capitalistic economic system. Nobody who wants to work, and is able to put in a 40 hour week should be denied the right to the basic human necessities of food, shelter, clothing, and medical attention because their employer refuses to provide the minimal level of compensation in exchange for their labor to meet those needs. Anything less than this is exploitation, and should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Peggy, I understand your point: for many artists in our industry, work is itinerant at-best. But, WHILE those artists are working in a situation where, by nature of circumstances, they do not have the opportunity or ability to perform another job concurrently, they deserve and should expect compensation that is commensurate with both their skill-level and the ability of the employer to pay.

Choosing not to do that kind of work, because it is itinerant, or because one prefers the stability of another type of artistically less-satisfying job, is just that - a choice - one that individual artists make every day, but I think it's a stretch to call it a "forced" one. There are artists who quite willing accept the sacrifice of relative stability that comes with such itinerant work, and if they're successful at the professional level they are compensated - quite handsomely, I might add - for their sacrifice, as well they should be. You and I just happen to be people who aren't willing to make the same choice they do, and I would no more begrudge them their decision, than I would hope they would mine for taking the safer, more stable, if unquestionably less soul-satisfying path I have chosen. But, nobody forced me to make it: I did that all by myself.

Rik Deskin

Paul: AEA only sets the amount of rehearsal hours allowed weekly. It's up to the theater to schedule when they happen. And no one should ever have to choose to lose money to do a show. That does not mean we don't. I lose money every time I volunteer at my theater unless I'm under an AEA or IATSE contract. That's because I'm working towards a better situation at my theater. But my tiny Umbrella Contract Theater or the Equity Member Projects that get produced are the bottom tier compared to the Seattle Rep's LORT contract. And AEA's minimums are that. An individual can negotiate for more. The theater company can pay over scale if they can afford it.

Louise Penberthy

@Scot Ayeeee! A question of honor and morals!

How much money are we talking about? ;)

Seriously. That's a good question. I like to think I would choose the theater that would do the better production.

A good production in New York might do more for me than an excellent production in, say, Boise.

But a mediocre production? I think a bit of my soul would die.

Which would you choose?

Louise Penberthy

@Mark Would you consider Seattle Shakes to be mid-tier? Granted, they only rarely do new plays ("Wittenberg" being an exception).

How about Seattle Public? Or Village Theater?

Steven Gomez

Louise raises an interesting question that I myself wonder about. Where concretely would we set the bar on 'middle tier' theatre? Let's set some definite terms.


Louise, Seattle Shakes, along with Book-It, Taproot, Bellevue Civic, and New Century all operate under the Equity Small Professional Theatres (SPT) Agreement, the same agreement previously used by other "mid-tier" theatres (e.g. Empty Space, Group, Alice B, Bathhouse, et al). So, I would consider all of these to be in the mid-tier category as well.

Village is several steps above that, operating under a Letter Of Agreement (LOA) to the Western Civic Light Opera (WCLO) Agreement, basically a modified version of the same agreement used by The 5th Avenue, so basically they fall somewhere between the mid-tier and the upper tier, albeit somewhat closer to the latter.

And Mark, while I understand the impulse to wax nostalgic about the "good old days", let's not forget that those mid-tier companies you miss (and believe me, I miss some of them as well) didn't collectively meet their demise in some sudden "mass extinction event", but rather, their closures occurred over a span of some 16 years, beginning with PST in 1990 through to EST in 2006. People have this tendency to lump them together, as if they all closed at more-or-less the same time within the past few years. But, in theatrical time, even five years ago is not exactly "recent history", let alone more than 20.

William Salyers

Such a lively, intelligent discussion. Such a great community. I wish I could live there.
But my job is in LA.

Louise Penberthy

I only moved back here in 2001, so does someone know how many new plays Empty Space, The Group, Pioneer Square, Bath House, etc., did?

Do they do more or fewer than Seattle Shakes, Taproot, Bellevue Civic, and New Century? Book-It is different in that they do adaptations, which I guess are all "new."


Among the current crop of mid-tier theatres, Book-It has the best track record by far in terms of producing original works. Of the four productions that New Century has mounted, one, "On The Nature Of Dust" by Stephanie Timm, has been a world premier. And Taproot occasionally does world premiers, such as the Christmas show John Longenbaugh wrote for them last season, but that's really about it in terms of new play production from any of those theatres.

If you're trying to compare the new crop against the old companies in terms of new play production, I would have to say, based on my experience, that while the older companies did produce original works, it wasn't really more than one a year, if that (Empty Space being the notable exception, having done at least two, and often three new works per season). But, otherwise most of these companies' seasons were comprised of previously produced works, although they certainly racked up an impressive list of West Coast and regional premiers.

Peggy Gannon

(I culled the below from a comment I made over on the SLOG post discussion of this same issue. Not a straight-up cross-post, but a repeat. The Reader's Digest version of the most appropriate points for this page's discussion. For those of you following both, please smile and nod.)

A living wage has to be annualized to be a meaningful guide in this discussion.

I honestly appreciate that ACT paid me $400-500/week during the time they employed me as an actor. I understand and honor that the unions and the theatre's administration made that possible in a historical context. But that is not the whole story. And administrations and the unions do a disservice by ending their narratives there and calling it a day.

I dropped off the payroll after my contract, and ACT had no commitment or obligation to hire me ever again (even though I was AWESOME). Which is fine; don't get distracted by that. They don't owe me another acting job. BUT ... to take that contract, I had to essentially give up my very reliable day job.

And here's the kernel of my point: They can't sustain my living wage on an annualized basis, AND their contract employment standards (i.e. rehearsals from 10-6, Tue - Sun; and then performances on an evening schedule) essentially prevent me from making a living wage elsewhere in almost every industry.

This model may have worked in the past, but now it's broken. It's nobody's fault; it's simply worn out and I'm not even sure exactly when or how it happened. But now that it's become obvious, I think it's irresponsible to persist in adhering to a system that is harmful to those who should be valued (more than simply monetarily).

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