Posted by Bruce Miller
A grand time was had by all tonight at the annual Open House hosted by RAPT, the Richmond Alliance of Professional Theatres. The guest speaker was Peggy Baggett, Executive Director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts and one of the most able state arts leaders in the nation. Peggy informed the 100 or so attendees about Virginia’s upcoming Minds Wide Open celebration, slated for March through June 2010. The theme of this statewide initiative will be Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts. Peggy invited all artists and arts organizations in the Commonwealth to participate.
Phil Whiteway, our Managing Director, introduced Peggy and welcomed the diverse crowd of actors, directors and other miscellaneous theatre practitioners to Barksdale Willow Lawn. Barksdale was proud to co-host the festivities for the third year in a row. Christine Walters, the head cheese at Comedy Sportz Richmond and this year’s RAPT Pres, introduced the theatre producers who were there and generally emceed the evening’s announcements.
David Sennett (pictured to the right) announced the upcoming RAPT auditions and the free audition workshop, which he generously conducts. He explained that he doesn’t act in Richmond because he “can’t afford to,” and suggested to me publicly that if Barksdale should ever become “LOA” I should give him a call. As we all retired to the lobby, several actors came up and asked me what he was talking about.
Perhaps now is a good time to review a few of the AEA (Actors’ Equity Association) acronyms so that people can understand David's announcement. I hope no one will get the wrong impression, however. AEA works tirelessly on behalf of its members, and wants each member to be gainfully employed. They never prohibit a theatre, any theatre, from meeting David’s or anyone else’s salary requirements.
Having said that, lets go wading into the alphabet soup. LOA stands for Letter of Agreement, and it specifies a particular AEA contract. In fact, Barksdale has operated under an LOA contract for several shows, Crowns at the Empire being a recent example.
At Willow Lawn, Barksdale normally contracts with AEA actors using an SPT contract (Small Professional Theatre). Our minimum SPT contract pays marginally less than our minimum LOA contract, but we are always allowed to pay more to get the actors we want.
At Hanover Tavern, we work under a GA (Guest Artist) contract, and even though Hanover Tavern has fewer seats than Willow Lawn, we pay more under the GA contract because fewer contracts are awarded for any particular show. Some Hanover shows, like the upcoming Driving Miss Daisy, have no GA contracts at all.
Another AEA contract is the TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) contract. There were several years when Theatre IV employed actors using TYA agreements. Still another is the SA (Special Appearance) contract. Firehouse and Henley Street use SA contracts when employing AEA actors. SA contracts are similar to GA contracts except they are for smaller theatres and have no health insurance requirements.
The big daddy of the regional theatre contracts is the LORT contract (League of Resident Theatres). TheatreVirginia was the only Richmond theatre to employ actors under a LORT contract. TheatreVirginia went out of business in 2002. Perhaps it was a LORT contract that David meant to refer to instead of an LOA.
Of course, David is right in one regard. Like a lot of smaller cities, Richmond underpays its theatre artists, whether they are actors, directors, designers or administrators. Barksdale continues to work faithfully to raise all salaries, including actor salaries, to more acceptable levels. The reason we proceed cautiously and responsibly is because we are determined not to suffer the fate of TheatreVirginia (see the vacated theatre seats pictured above and to the left in STYLE's 2002 coverage of TVA's closing). No one in Richmond or at AEA wants to see another Richmond theatre go belly up.
Whatever combination of initials a theatre may use, no talented actor should be discouraged from auditioning because of the contract a theatre employs. If a theatre wants to work with an actor, and the actor wants to work with the theatre, then the actor can always try to negotiate a contract that meets his or her needs, despite its initials. No matter which contract a theatre uses, AEA doesn’t prohibit a theatre from paying more than the minimum if an actor’s unique contributions to the production justify the payment.
Also present at tonight’s RAPT Open House were two of Barksdale’s high school talents, Hannah Miller and Jack Schultz from Trinity Episcopal School. Their video coverage of the evening will be added to this post soon as the first edition of Barksdale Backstage, our new video blog commentary. Stay tuned. We’ll post the video as soon as it’s edited into shape.