Los Angeles stage actors are fighting a minimum wage battle. But these thespians are opposing the $9 hourly minimum instituted in April by the Actors' Equity Association (AEA), the national stage actors' labor union.
Under old rules, only theaters with 100 or more seats had to pay equity actors a minimum wage, while smaller venues could get away with a token stipend per performance. Under the new rules, however, small Los Angeles County theaters must pay actors $9 per hour for all performances and rehearsal time. Shows with fewer than 50 seats may be exempted from the wage requirement, but they're then limited to a 16-performance run and three shows per season.
In explaining the union's move, Mary McColl, executive director of the AEA, told American Theatre: "Minimum wage is kind of the floor for everybody across the country. We are a labor union, and we want our members to have fair working conditions on contract work."
Many L.A.-area AEA members—for whom theater is both a passion and a profession—say the changes will bar them from volunteering time with small, independent, and experimental theaters. The required payment per actor per show for a lot of such theaters will jump from as little as $110 for a typical run to more than $1,000. The L.A. Drama Critics Circle predicted "a drastic reduction in the amount and quality of local theater."