The Playgoer: The Regional Actor's Lot

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Regional Actor's Lot

Teresa Eyring, the Executive Director of the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) actually takes on Mike Daisey in the current issue of American Theatre. Or at least goes after one of the gripes Daisey gave voice to in his recent monologue-show "How Theatre Failed America": namely that our nonprofit resident theatre institutions around the country do a disservice to the acting profession in the US by continuing to "job in" talent from NYC instead of cultivating/sustaining/ housing a full time Equity-level pool at home.In an editorial not subtly titled "How Theatre Saved America," Eyring defends the record of the LORT (league of resident theatres) membership basically by saying there are TOO permanent companies. Her point:

the fact remains that in these [larger] cities, the regional theatre movement’s larger goal of making it possible for theatre professionals to make a living in their own communities has in many cases been achieved.
Her examples, though, seem to be picked mostly from the very low end of the Equity ladder (the Lort D level for instance, which allows for semi-pro contracts). So oddly I find her piece reinforces what Daisey was saying.

Obviously, Daisey things so, too, and has responded already on his blog.

One thing I would remind Daisey, though, before he actually makes the effort to challenge the argument on the merits (imagine!), is to remember just who Teresa Eyring is, what TCG is, and what American Theatre is. American Theatre the magazine is not the voice of American theatre itself, but rather of TCG. And TCG is, to put it simply, a trade and lobbying association. In other words, it is Eyring's express job to advocate--again, not necessarily for American theatre as a whole, but the LORT membership.

Those two things don't have to be mutually exclusive, of course. But they're not always the same either.

So when someone like Daisey comes along clearly criticizing the current state of LORT specifically (moreover, the high-end, well-funded LORT theatres) it's her job to defend them and their image.

Ok, now having said that, here's another article that's well worth reading beside these two: the Denver Post's John Moore surveying just how tough it is to support yourself as an actor in the greater Denver area these days. For instance:
Only about 150 people can claim to make full-time salaries in the theater here. [NB: By "here" Moore refers not to Denver but to the entire state of Colorado.] And what they make varies greatly. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts employs 80 year-round theater workers [and] hires about 50 seasonal actors, but they get paid only for the weeks they work. And only about eight of them get full seasons of work, which is about 36 weeks of pay.....

The Denver Center pays its actors minimums that range from $555 to $816 a week, as dictated by its contract with Actors Equity. Some make more. If they work enough weeks, they qualify for health insurance. That makes for a living wage, but hardly an extravagant one....

Smaller union theaters don't offer as many performances, so their minimums are lower. Curious Theatre must pay actors at least $250 a week; the Aurora Fox, $187. No union theater runs 52 weeks a year, but say the Aurora Fox did. If one actor managed to get cast in every show, he still wouldn't clear $10,000 for the year.

It's a remarkable portrait--partially for being so unremarkable in mirroring what many stage actors (professional, experienced stage actors, mind you) go through around the country.

There's a lot more surprising (and sadly unsurprising) details I'm leaving out, so read Moore's full piece. His kicker: "
They used to say most actors in Colorado perform for gas money. But with the cost of fuel these days, not even that's true anymore."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think your post is a little misleading - TCG doesn't advocate for LORT. Their mission ("to strengthen, nurture and promote the professional not-for-profit American theatre") includes any nonprofit theatre that becomes a member of TCG, not just LORT members.

The Playgoer said...

I'm open to correction on this point.

I guess you're referring to companies that may work on "letter of agreement" contracts rather than LORT? But those are mostly "semi-professional" aren't they? (mixing equity and non-equity). Not that the quality of the their work is any less, of course.

Also, do non-LORT members, say, get invited to the TCG annual conference?

My point was that no matter how TCG defines its mission officially, Daisey's argument was clearly directed toward the companies that CAN afford full LORT membership.

And my understanding of how TCG works is that that's the primary constituency.