Why LA Stage Actors Don't Want to Make Minimum Wage
They fear the closure of small theaters
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Apr 20, 2015 2:11 PM CDT
Many theater actors in Los Angeles would prefer to avoid a minimum wage requirement.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – While many low-paid workers fight for increased wages, actors in Los Angeles have become activists for the opposite cause. Many who perform in small theaters are raising their voices against their own union as it pushes for them to receive California's $9 minimum wage, the New York Times reports. Often, such actors get no payment for rehearsals and perhaps just $7 per performance, the Times notes. But that doesn't seem to bother them: A referendum found that 66% of members of the Actors’ Equity union don't want small theaters to have to pay them minimum wage. The worry is that small theaters—those with 99 seats or fewer, which are currently allowed to pay actors just a stipend—could end up shutting their doors if forced to pay more. The low pay has helped the small-theater scene's big success in the area.

"You want to be up onstage, you want to work out the acting muscles, not sitting on your couch waiting for an audition," says actor Tim Robbins, who is in charge of a small theater. Actors' Equity is due to make a decision tomorrow on whether to require actors be paid minimum wage, though an actors' committee has called on the union to postpone, Playbill reports. Actor Noah Wyle, who is a producer in a small theater, makes a case in Variety:

  • "Keeping our doors open requires constant fundraising, grant writing and, above all, volunteerism," he notes. "Call it 'love of the craft,' esprit de corps or old-fashioned apprenticeship, we’ve survived because of a consensus of understanding: We are here to make theater, not money."
But not everyone agrees. "It’s so weird to be doing the work and not get paid, and it’s totally unsustainable," says another actor.