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Small companies jump to Equity

October 05, 2003|Don Shirley

In L.A., most actors in venues with fewer than 100 seats work for the paltry minimum per-performance fees prescribed by Actors' Equity's 99-seat theater plan, which amount to little more than gas money, with nothing paid for rehearsals.

But a couple of companies have broken the pattern. Arroyo Repertory Theatre and Syzygy Theatre Group, though housed in spaces that could qualify for the 99-seat plan, are operating with Equity contracts that cover rehearsals and pension benefits as well as higher wages.

Arroyo Rep moved to a space at La Salle High School in Pasadena last summer and planned to use nonunion actors for its "Taming of the Shrew" because the space hadn't been approved by Equity for the 99-seat plan.

But when mononucleosis swept through the nonunion cast, said artistic director Jude Lucas, the company quickly turned to six Equity actors who already knew the show and arranged for them to work on an Equity contract, which increased total costs by $3,000 -- and contributed to a shortfall of more than $3,000. Yet Arroyo has decided to use Equity contracts for "Tartuffe" in January.

The company wants to become a midsize theater, which requires contracts, Lucas said. The use of contracts now "is a steppingstone. It's time to jump into the abyss and hope someone catches us."

Syzygy began using contracts this year with "The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek" in a 98-seat theater and is continuing the policy with "Sus," which opened Friday in the 42-seat Hudson Guild Theatre. The contracts added more than $11,000 to the cost of "Trestle."

"It's right to try to do it," said artistic director Martin Bedoian. "But if we were managing our own space [instead of renting] or doing a whole season, there's no way we could do it." However, he said donors sometimes make larger contributions when they learn the reason for the greater costs.

Syzygy also hopes to work in a midsize theater, but probably not in L.A., Bedoian said. He acknowledged that many people would find Syzygy's policy imprudent. "We keep joking about what it would be like to present our business model to an MBA class."

-- Don Shirley

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