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I don't disagree with anything in Josh's essay except for the fact that it is somehow Equity's fault that the play was underwhelming. It was not an Equity play.

It was a play written by Bruce Norris and produced by a theater company that happens to have an agreement with Actors' Equity to hire Union Actors.

That's what it means to be an "Equity Theater." All Equity is in charge of is making sure the Actors are treated fairly with wages and working conditions negotiated on behalf of them by the union.

In solidarity,

Rik Deskin


Great article. Personally I have been pondering this same issues - whenever I direct a play, the question comes: how do I make this an experience for the audience, instead of them just sitting there watching the play unfold. Sometimes it works ... sometimes not so much. That's the fun part, though.

I wholeheartedly agree with him regarding asking for donations, and have felt that way at performances. I confess that when I first started welcoming folks to a show, that's what I did. However, now with my own company it was decided to only ask for money during the annual fundraising drive and not at each performance for his exact reasoning: they already gave us money for that evening.

Josh Parks

My main point is not that the play in particular was underwhelming, but rather how little the experience of playgoing itself, of being in the audience of an Equity house while a play was being presented, has changed since I last saw one. And it is certainly not my point that AEA is to blame for that lack of change. I refer to the Equity status simply to categorize, not criticize, the experience and to differentiate it from other non-Equity options.


Thanks for the clarification Josh. :)

Louise Penberthy

I agree with you about their asking for donations at the start. It put a bad taste in my mouth, too.

Laura McCabe

Dear Josh (and Paul, too),
When you've lost something, don't you ask yourself, "Where did I last see it?"

25 year-old Annex Theatre is still producing new work. Yes,"the quality index is a lot more volatile." You may have seen shows there since your tenure that weren't exactly 'Bessemer’s Spectacles.' Some shows fail spectacularly--fair enough--but aren't you looking for something on the flipside of that very coin? Certainly, ideas are "born" and not "rehashed" there.

At Annex, artists still have a space-- and a modest production budget-- to develop "something cool, something current." Annex's most recent request for proposals garnered nearly 40 submissions (and yes, the season is still democratically selected by the company collective). As ever, the quality is a mixed bag, but every season there are shows that will knock you flat.

No one imagines that a $15 ticket compensates anyone for their art, but it keeps the lights on. Annex's mission and token stipends aren't antithetical to union goals of living wages for artists and technicians. Rather, because it's an all-volunteer arts collective, it doesn't have to hedge its bets to meet its bottom line. Thus, Annex serves an essential (if largely unappreciated) function as a sort of primeval arts swamp. It isn't glamourous, but "an atmosphere of improbability and risk" (from the mission statement) allows for "the surprise, the creativity, the unexpected, [and] the brilliance" you couldn't spot from your seats at the Rep.

Annex's curtain speech doesn't ask, but it briefly describes upcoming projects (because it's all new stuff). It also pitches a membership deal called "The A-List:" admission to every show for $25 a month, total.

The A-List supports the theater (it used to have the more mundane moniker "Rent Club"), but more importantly, members have an incentive to come see new things. There are mainstage, late-night, off-nights, monthly cabarets, rentals and workshops; so there's a lot to see.

What it really costs to see the kind of relevant work you crave isn't your hundred bucks: it's your time. If you want risky, you have to gamble, too: you have to be willing to take a chance on something that just might suck. Are you still willing to roll those dice? Fifteen years ago, you were. Today, for a hundred bucks, the big houses will make sure that at the very least, you get "serviceable."

If you help pay the rent without spending your time, some good stuff will trickle up to safer waters, eventually, sure. So do that, then. Or better yet, submit a play you haven't produced because you're not sure it won't fail spectacularly.

Get some volatile quality off your hard drive and into the world.

More info about Annex's A-List is on their website.
Thanks for reading.

Laura G. McCabe
Company Member 1994-; Board VP, 2008-, and Proud Member of the A-List

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Laura, for that important reminder.

I do believe a year so ago I followed you advice exactly as stated re: submitting a play to Annex I wasn't sure wouldn't "fail spectacularly".

Hmmm. Must have been that damned democracy that stymied it. No worries. Same thing used to happen to me in the "good" old days. ;-)

Louise Penberthy

BTW, if anyone wants to see something new (at least relatively), try Riddled or Cafe Nordo.

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