Artists at Play (AAP) is a collective of Asian American creative professionals who present theatrical productions missing from our local landscape, telling the stories of communities underrepresented in theatre. One of the main core values is to provide opportunities for Asian American artists to increase their visibility in our artistic community. As producers, we have been conflicted about the proposed changes to the Actors’ Equity Association in Los Angeles 99-Seat Theatre Plan. Because other companies have raised the issue of how the new plan will stifle their ability to be diverse, and because we are one of the few companies of color in L.A.’s 99-seat theatre community, we feel that we need to address how the new proposal will actually affect diversity on L.A. stages.
Since our founding in 2011, Artists at Play has produced four Los Angeles premieres and four public readings, all written by Asian American playwrights. We have provided opportunities for about 40 Asian American actors (at least 20 of them Equity members) as well as six Asian American directors and six Asian American designers. We have also gone beyond to hire other ethnically diverse artists to work on our shows. While some people claim that the new 99-seat proposal will close a lot of theatres in L.A., the reality for us is that we will only be able to afford to create theatre with non-union actors if the proposal is passed. With our inability to provide opportunities for Asian American actors who are union members, where can Asian American actors expect to find opportunities to perform? In intimate theatre, contract work is already limited for actors of color, especially when compared to their white counterparts at the LORT level.
When it comes to our art, Artists at Play is one of the few companies in Los Angeles that would produce a show like CHING CHONG CHINAMAN by Lauren Yee, EDITH CAN SHOOT THING AND HIT THEM by A. Rey Pamatmat, COWBOY VERSUS SAMURAI by Michael Golamco or 99 HISTORIES by Julia Cho. All of these shows were L.A. premieres (all published works, produced nationally) and critical/office successes for AAP, but even greater than that, they raised the profile of Asian Americans as theatremakers and theatergoers in L.A. One of the biggest setbacks that come with this proposal is that AAP will not be able to produce our mainstage show this year. For this coming fall, we have been planning to present the Los Angeles premiere of IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT by Madhuri Shekar. Under the new 99-Seat agreement, we will not be able to produce this fall but will instead need to spend the year raising additional funds in order to produce the show at a later time. Which means that in 2015, L.A.'s small theatre scene will lose at least one production (of very precious few) dedicated to telling the stories of and featuring the talents of Asian Americans.
When it comes to our business, Artists at Play only plans to grow to a certain point. We will probably never have a full season; at best, we are aiming for two full productions a year. Growing to a mid-size theatre is not our end game. Small theatres that intend to stay small need a plan to work with Equity members. The pay scale that the current agreement allows for is shoddy, to say the least, and we can’t help but feel a little silly giving our actors such small stipends. But we also give our directors and designers stipends that are just as small. When we can afford it, we raise artist stipends in order to reflect how we value our artistic community, and we feel that others should too. Producing theatre in general is tough. For the last four years, AAP has tirelessly worked to help change the landscape of Los Angeles theatre alongside like-minded colleagues. On top of the limited funding and resources, along with the challenging landscape in which we struggle to operate, we are concerned that the new 99-seat proposal will negatively impact AAP and other similar organizations. We agree that we need changes but not these changes.
To Actors' Equity, we pose this question: How are you going to support the creation of roles/ opportunities for union actors of color? This new proposal makes it difficult for union members of color to do any work. White union members still have the chance to audition for roles—many which are written exclusively white—at the mid- and large-sized institutions and to possibly book them. By comparison, the already limited opportunities to perform onstage for union members of color are now being taken away. It can be argued that you are supporting and perpetuating systemic and institutional racist practices. We urge you to look at the impact that these proposed changes will have specifically on artists of color and on our artistic community in a way that you may not have considered.
Artists at Play exists because we saw a void in our field that needed to be filled. We want to make sure that opportunities are not taken away before a decision is reached.
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