Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "The Blind VERSUS The Elephant"

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Saturday, 5 October, 2002:
"Car-Talks, Lunches, and Gossip"

I've been learning a lot in cars.
Since I own neither a car nor a driver's license, I am often ferried to and/or from shows by people working in the art who know a lot more about theater than I do. And, since I'm not driving, I ask questions.

I hear, for instance, that Shiela Stasack's ACTOR-NEWS --- an internet bulletin-board/forum directed mostly toward Equity card-holders --- has received a number of letters complaining that local directors with L.O.R.T. Contract Theatres overlook the local pool of Equity actors entirely, and fill those roles with New Yorkers. (In fact, when The Merrimack Rep in Lowell hired a new Artistic Director, he complained publically that the Equity actors in Boston were not up to his standards and he would be casting mostly out of The Apple.)

Well, it's even worse than that.

I caught a ride not long ago with a young lady who had worked for the past two years for a company in Vermont, the last year as Casting Director. She said it was the same there: without even considering the talent available locally, they filled their Equity slots with New Yorkers. But that wasn't what surprised me. She said:

EVERY REGIONAL THEATRE IN AMERICA DOES EXACTLY THE SAME THING!

In other words, in their search for competent card-holding actors, all these companies are going directly to The Apple and fighting it out with one another, without even considering locals.

When I mentioned this to another friend in another car, he shot back "And where the hell is Boston Equity in all this, then? They do a great job of making certain their members get paid a living wage WHEN THEY WORK, but don't they have an obligation to Find Them Work, right here where they live?"

And I had another angle on the subject:
Could it be that the Equity actors here in Boston ARE inferior to their colleagues down South ... simply because they get so Few Opportunities to Practice Their Craft???
Actors improve their skills by tackling challenging parts in new plays --- and I have met a Lot of Equity people over the years whose faces I see most often at The Huntington --- not on their stage, but with me in the audience on StageSource nights.

What does StageSource think about this, by the way?

I do believe that Actors' Equity ought to think of itself a little less as a UNION and a little more as a GUILD. Members ought to be encouraged to take pride in their work as well as in their paychecks and fringe benefits.
The only help Boston Equity has offered is a "showcase" scheme wherein actors can band together to self-produce an artistically beneficial show with a limited run, a limited budget, and with as little advertising as possible. I have seen only maybe half a dozen such shows here in the past eight years --- most of them in the now non-existent Threshold Theatre. In every case the plays were interesting, the work was fine, and the stage was filled with the faces I never got to see anywhere else.

Can't Equity offer their members some way to work for less than scale in plays by companies that otherwise couldn't do such plays without going broke?
What about letting any Equity member who hasn't been cast in, say, six months take a below-scale job just to hone their talent?
What about letting members appeal to an "Artists Committee" for a relaxation of rules once a year to work with a specific director, or on a specific show that would stretch the actor in new ways?
What about relaxing rules if a member wanted to appear in the World or Boston Premiere of a new play, or a work by a playwright living here in Boston who would participate actively in the production?

If the way to learn to act is To Act, Equity should be looking into ways to get local members onto stages more and more often.
I see a lot of very active and very good local companies, and I cannot say the Equity members always stand out because of the excellence of their work.
And I know actors with cards who have to make a choice between joining that nation-wide actor pool in New York and gypsying across the nation from city to city, or staying here and fulfilling the classic definition of an Equity Actor as "A waitress who goes to auditions".

I wish it were true that Equity members were, by definition, the Best Actors in Boston.
Right now, they're only the Best Paid.

Love,
===Anon.


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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