After LATR's Hollywood Fringe panel discussion and as LA Stage Alliance continues to host conversations regarding growth and support in the LA Theatre community, a lot has been said of what can "fix," "aid" and "mature" our stages. As we await LA Stage Alliance's audience figures, hold our breath on theatre bankruptcy news, and attempt to satiate Don Shirley's requests for support for middle-range equity houses, a lot of the problem-solving seems out of the "little guys'" hands. For those wishing to ride the wave of enthusiasm and community built by the Fringe, or the Female Playwrights Initiative, or developing within their own theatrical enclaves, affecting change must begin on a personal level, in our very rehearsal halls and green rooms.
It's quite simple, really. Rather than bemoaning the LA 99 Seat Equity-Waiver system and banging our heads against the proscenium over a perceived lack of respect and standards, we need to do what everyone else in this town is doing and Fake It Til We Make It. It'd be lovely to be working under LORT contract, but if you're one of the countless thousands of performers, playwrights, directors, designers, stage managers, light board opps and producers working your way up in our 200-odd 99-seat houses in LA, chances are you may have some time before you'll be working under the protection and guidance of the stage unions. But that doesn't mean we cannot remind ourselves of the etiquette and procedures of the unions and behave accordingly.
In my experience on stages in LA, company standards vary greatly, from incredibly respectful to downright disturbing. Some people aren't aware, others (including myself) need a refresher course here and there, and still others I will never, ever work with again. Rather than write the whole community off as amateur, under-developed, and hopelessly "LA", I challenge everyone to step up their personal game. Behaving as a if you were a union member, especially regarding respecting your fellow artist's time, property, and personal well-being are the first steps to building a stronger, more equitable theatre community here in LA.
How to Fake It: Education
- Take a look at AEA's etiquette sheet. Very basic stuff, but sometimes it's the easy stuff that is most forgotten.
- While conduct guidelines vary amongst the country's various Regions/House Sizes/Performance Scenarios, much of the standard LA 99 Seat Contract is outlined here.
- My alma mater Ohio University outlined our requirements (based on a LORT contract) in the Actor's Handbook. It's a great, jargon-simplified look at performance and rehearsal etiquette.
- The AEA Stage Managers Handbook includes pertinent information re: actor's duties as well as random California-specific info like Earthquake Preparedness.
- Still confused about Fight Captains and why theatre artists need protection in the first place? Read more at About Equity.
-For stagehands, costumers, lighting & set designers and crew, or company members who are often asked to wear multiple production hats, familiarize yourself with IATSE's website, particularly safety guidelines. If you're really serious, the e-book One Hundred Years of Solidarity is a great resource on the history and growth within this field.
How to Fake It: Communication
With no Deputy to report to and many productions just barely scraping by, it's easy to see how standards can fly by the footlights. Once you know best-case-scenario regulations and feel confident that you are doing your best to lead by example, practice good communication skills in less-than ideal production situations.
- Meet one-on-one, face-to-face with the offending party outside of the rehearsal space (over a beer perhaps?). No one needs backstage drama, so keep it quiet, if possible.
- Use language that encourages dialogue over defensiveness ("I feel" versus "You make me"). Consider referencing union guidelines ("I know this isn't an equity production, but I prefer to abide by their rules. Any way we work out a compromise along their standards?")
- Not getting anywhere? Consider speaking with the Stage Manager, Director, ASM, or Producer in confidentiality as well. They may be able to talk someone's ego down where you can't.
When your artistic integrity, safety, sanity, and property is at stake, it serves everyone to be honest and communicative about personal working standards. In situations where no one is getting paid, consider the education and the wealth of creativity that comes from mutual respect and understanding to be your reward. It's through baby steps and bare-minimum standards that LA can self-actualize a richer, more professional theatrical environment, one waiver production at a time.
What strategies do you use in pre-production, rehearsal, tech and performance situations to ensure equity and respect for all? Any horror stories? Please share!
Kat is currently in rehearsals for Alive Theatre's Poppin Play Festival's LA premiere production of Jumper's with the Gypsy (directed by Roger Q. Mason) and What Can We? (directed by Jeremy Aluma). As fight choreography and long rehearsal hours are in full-swing, Kat is grateful her artistic collaborators are receptive to playing make-believe Equity with her.