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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Today, December 13 is the last day of small theater in Los Angeles as we've known it for the last three decades.

Or if you're not a member of the theater community -- it's just Tuesday.

The disconnect between the end of the world and just another day is the real crisis in LA theater but let's start with all the drama.

Last Thursday, a superior court judge dismissed the lawsuit that a group of local union actors filed against their union, Actor's Equity. In one very clear sense this brings to a close a dispute that's been consuming the local intimate theater community since the spring of 2015.

In a nutshell, theaters with less than 99 seats have been able to produce theater with union actors and only pay them basically gas money for the performances.

Back in 2015, their union came out with a proposal to do away with all that and said that union actors in Los Angeles should get paid minimum wage. Now you'd think the actors would celebrate that. Union protecting its workers, a win for the little guy, right? That's not how it played out. The actors were outraged. They literally marched in the streets of NoHo and when given the opportunity to vote on the union's plan, cast their votes against it by a margin of two to one. You see, the actors valued the opportunity to make art more deeply than they valued the paycheck. They knew minimum wage meant more money but less theater.

So naturally the union withdrew the plan, right?

Wrong, again. For the union, this was never about what Los Angeles actors wanted. After all, if LA actors weren't getting paid neither was the union and what union needs the liability of part of their membership saying, "We love what we do so much we'd do it for free." So the union tweaked the plan a bit but then said, come December 14, 2016 - it's minimum wage. This led a group of actors to sue the union after failed negotiations.

So this lawsuit was the last great hope for the theater community and, as we've so painfully learned about 2016, your last great hope is often dashed. And so it was with the lawsuit.

So now what? And why should you care?

Well, in one sense everything changes and small theaters are in peril.

In another sense, there will be smaller shows and fewer theaters but you probably won't notice it.

The same way you don't notice major changes to any ecosystem. After all, the membership companies, which make up some of the finest of LA's intimate theater, are spared . . . for now. And the union can't stop non-union actors from making theater. And the lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice, so they could appeal the decision. And, after all, all that's required is more money to fix the whole problem. And, really, this is a dispute that's been going on in one form or another since the 1970s with wins and losses, so what's the big deal?

It doesn't feel like a big deal because there are no front page stories, even on the art section because, let's face it, there is no art section. There is no rally in the streets by the theater community. There is no city-wide campaign of support for these actors.

But it is a big deal, Los Angeles is about to lose a part of its cultural infrastructure: less theater, less art, less community . . . and that's a tragedy.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

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