Edward Weston, Western Regional Director of Actors Equity Assn., Monday announced possible modifications of the Equity Waiver Plan.
The 14-year-old plan (whereby Equity, the stage actors' union, "waives" its jurisdiction in theaters of 99 seats or less), has been recognized as the single most energizing agent in the smaller Los Angeles theater scene.
If approved by Equity's 7,500 Los Angeles members, such modifications would reinstate a measure of union control in all so-called Waiver theaters where union members work.
The new plan, renamed the Actors' 99 Seat Theatre Plan and subtitled A Code of Fair Practices, was arrived at by Equity's Joint Committee (its 99-seat Waiver Committee and its Developing Theaters Committee), in response to growing complaints by actors about working conditions in the Waiver theaters.
Weston said that Equity's Western Advisory Board unanimously recommended the new plan's adoption. A special membership meeting has been called for 1 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Musicians Union Auditorium (capacity about 500), to consider the plan before it is voted on by mail referendum. The secret balloting will offer members residing in Los Angeles the following choices: (1) putting the new rules into effect, (2) retaining the Waiver as it now stands or (3) eliminating the Waiver completely.
Under the new plan actors would still be allowed to perform without salary in 99-seat spaces (except for a mandatory carfare reimbursement of $5 per performance), but limits would be set on budgets, rehearsal time and the number of public performances. The new plan would also require all 99-seat theaters employing union members (which includes members of Equity, the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) to be not-for-profit, abide by specified "safe and sanitary" working conditions and hold open casting calls under most circumstances.
In addition, 99-seat theater producers would be required to provide complimentary tickets to "franchised agents, bona-fide casting directors, professional producers, directors and choreographers" and make the list of professional comp holders (with addresses and phone numbers) available to union actors in the company. They would also be expected to admit, upon the presentation of their Equity card--free of charge, on a stand-by basis--any Equity members wishing to attend a performance.
The current Waiver plan was instituted in 1972, in response to actors' needs for a more liberated workshop situation than the prevailing codes allowed.
Rumors of impending changes in the Waiver have been rife for the past several months and had intensified after Equity challenged the right of the owners of the twin Tiffany Theaters in Hollywood to operate them as Waiver spaces.
The challenge was based on a technicality. The union was taken to court by the Tiffany owners and lost its case. In the months that followed, requests by Equity Waiver theater operators to meet with Equity representatives and discuss Waiver problems were repeatedly turned down by Equity "for legal reasons."
The union's refusal fueled an already smoldering adversarial situation between Equity and Waiver theater operators who believed they were being snubbed. Some of them had held a meeting earlier this summer, warning that changes were in the making and even calling for the formation of an autonomous local. On Monday a few of the Waiver theater operators (Allan Miller of the Back Alley, Barbara Beckley of the Colony, Christopher Callen of Camelot Artists) lined the hallways outside the Equity offices handing out leaflets that spelled out some of their frustrations with Equity.
As of Monday, only the press had received a summary outline of the new Actors' 99 Seat Theatre Plan and representatives of the Equity Waiver Theater Operators' Committee were still trying to get a copy of the proposed new rules. According to Equity, copies of the new plan were in the mail.