You Don't Exist

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

Divide and conquer worked.

Said more clearly, Act One of the actors-union-versus-their-Los-Angeles-members' battle royale is over and it's hard to score it as anything but a knock out for the union.

You'll remember that the union, Actors' Equity, was fighting to banish the 99-seat plan in favor of seven different options built around either eliminating union protections or paying the minimum wage. For a brief shining moment, the acting community banded together in opposition to the union, managed to trounce them in an advisory referendum only to have the union obscure the issue and divide the community into smaller subgroups. Most significant among those membership companies who, seemingly, earned a stay and were excluded from the minimum wage requirements and importantly any union protection.

This, as Equity no doubt strategized, has led to the fragmentation and near radio silence of the community. The membership companies breathed a sigh of relief and, with no small amount of hubris, embraced their reprieve.

Now at the beginning of Act Two, the union has begun with an insurance adjuster's cynical precision to thin the herd.

Over the last several weeks, Actors' Equity has sent kind notes to companies in the community essentially saying that they were mythical creations and didn't exist.

Notable among of them, but certainly not alone, is the Evidence Room. Now if you're a theater person you know that the Evidence Room has been part of the artistic lifeblood of Los Angeles theater for the past two decades. You can recall their ensemble performances lighting up stages across the city under the insightful artistic direction of Bart DeLorenzo.

When, after a brief hiatus, the Evidence Room returned to producing - this time at the Odyssey Theater in West LA, I gleefully titled my review "The Evidence Room Is Back!"

Ah, but not so in Equity's eyes. They have no record of the company.

When confronted with the facts and a wonderfully acerbic letter from Mr. DeLorenzo, the union deftly parried with 'oh but you didn't sign the producer's agreement - the Odyssey did.' Ergo, you don't exist.

Now, for membership companies watching on the sidelines smugly thinking 'thank god that's not us,' you might want to re-read the Greeks and see how hubris works out.

Now to be clear, the union isn't doing anything wrong. They're just acting with disciplined precision to get rid of theater that doesn't pay them. The fault, if one exists, is with those in the theater community who believe they're dealing with an Iago who will kindly be truthful with his audience while he does his dirty deeds.

Remember, the union hasn't embraced membership companies, they've stripped them of union protections.

What's next?

Well, if I had to guess the union will reduce the ranks with bureaucratic paperwork as much as they can . . . and then in two to five years -- conveniently when the minimum wage has risen to $15 -- shrug and say 'we've changed our minds. No membership exemption.'

Next week, why all of this has been a dangerous distraction and what it's really going to take to save this ecosystem.

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