I’m a New York theatre actor and I read your column each week, although it sometimes doesn’t translate to this coast. I don’t think I understand the whole concept of membership theatre companies. Is that only for non-Equity actors? Or is it within the union’s guidelines to allow professional stage actors to pay to participate in productions?

Excellent point. Absolutely, I write with an LA slant and that’s due to the fact that the only time I’ve spent in New York, sadly, has been as a visitor on book tours or vacation. I’m going to rely on my New York readers to help me with translation of concepts that perhaps don’t quite apply to both coasts. Thank you for assisting me in that goal!

Basically, Los Angeles theatre is comprised of more “black box” theatres than Equity houses (by a long shot). Many LA theatres fall under the Equity 99-Seat Agreement (see ActorsEquity.org for more detailed information on this agreement). Still others are not covered by any Equity Agreement and operate as non-union houses or rental facilities.

Membership companies tend to fall in that last group, although there are plenty of Equity Waiver theatres that operate as membership companies as well. Either way, though, the actors in Los Angeles who are members of theatre companies are generally NOT members of Actors Equity. They are usually actors who are more focused on film and television careers and wish to have an outlet for live performance without joining AEA and competing at the large Equity houses in and around Los Angeles (a choice that would prevent them from going out for daily auditions in film and television due to the rigorous Equity stage rehearsal demands). Membership companies have varying policies on whether their members are paid for performances (and the rate of pay can vary based on factors including union membership and tenure within the theatre company).

In a market like New York, rich with Equity houses, the need for black-box theatre companies doesn’t really exist. Actors who are not performing on Broadway still have many other AEA contracts under which they can choose to perform in New York, including at much smaller venues. In Los Angeles, stage actors are generally either working at the large Equity houses or are more focused on the cinematic pursuits and working with membership companies to feed their on-stage souls.

Please understand that, to a New York theatre actor, Los Angeles barely HAS a theatre community. That said Los Angeles definitely does have one. It’s just not at all what you’d expect, if your point of reference is the Great White Way. This is kind of like asking the New York television actor to understand driving 100 miles in a day in order to hit eight lots to audition during pilot season. “Doing the rounds” is defined differently in each city. “Doing theatre” seems to be defined differently too.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000180.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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