LA’s theatrical producers are organizing themselves, but for the moment there are two nascent groups — Theatrical Producers League of Los Angeles, which represents theaters that operate in venues with fewer than 100 seats, and Greater Los Angeles Theatre Producers’ League, which represents theaters that operate in midsize venues that use Actors’ Equity contracts .
Approval of the small-theater group’s bylaws occurred Monday evening, as representatives of 55 Los Angeles-based 99-seat theater producers — theater operators and independents — gathered at Burbank-based Colony Theatre. The vote in favor of the TPLLA bylaws was 54-1.
Meanwhile, approval of bylaws for GLATPL, the midsize group, occurred in a recent electronic vote.
The bylaws adopted on the two levels are “very similar,” said Trent Steelman, one of the GLATPL organizers — and also the host of last night’s gathering as executive director of the TPLLA meeting site, the Colony.
But “one notable difference is that we [in the midsize group] have removed all references to collective bargaining with the unions. We are all mostly happy with our individual negotiating, and did not feel that we need to collectively bargain at this time.”
By contrast, in the language approved by the small-theater group, “representing theatrical producers in union negotiations” is mentioned alongside other goals such as strengthening LA theater and its “brand identity.”
At the small-theater level, the organizing began last July 20, at a producers’ meeting held at the Academy for New Musical Theatre in North Hollywood, where 14 individuals were selected as a transitional committee to draft the proposed bylaws.
Prior to last night’s larger meeting, committee member David Elzer — an independent producer and theatrical publicist — affirmed, “We have met a number of times between last August and May of this year. After some revisions, we now feel we have a solid bylaws proposal to present tonight.” Nine of the 14 transitional committee members answered questions from the small-theater producers before the vote took place.
The bylaws are composed of four articles covering membership, dues and assessments, membership meetings and the leadership council.
Before opening up the meeting to comments and discussions with the assembled theater representatives, committee member and Rogue Machine artistic director John Flynn read a prepared statement that addressed the proposed league’s relationship with midsize and large houses. “We must be clear that this organization is for those theaters that produce in spaces that are 99 seats and less. We have had talks with both large and midsize houses and everyone assured us they are interested in forming a larger organization. However, there were issues within the mechanics of it all in forming such an organization that include some conflicts of interest that led us to decide, for now, that we would form our own entity.”
In a statement to LA STAGE Times, Steelman explained the later but somewhat parallel development of the midsize effort. “In early January, we had a meeting at the Colony Theatre for midsize producers. At that meeting we collectively agreed that we wanted to create a set of bylaws for our producing level, and follow the same timeline that the 99-seat theater producers were following. We all believed that it was important to show that the theater community is united on multiple levels, and we wanted to demonstrate that we also have a strong midsized community.
“At the January meeting, we agreed to have a transitional committee of four” — LATC general manager Paul Stuart Graham, Theatre West executive director John Gallogly, Falcon Theatre producer Sherry Greczmiel and Steelman. The quartet met twice, using the draft of the bylaws for the 99-seat theater committee. “We then met with representatives of that [smaller theater] transitional committee to discuss the steps we were each going to take. Last week, we conducted a vote via email of all of the mid-sized producers.”
Steelman expressed his hope that eventually the two groups will merge, with separate committees for smaller and midsize theater contained within the larger umbrella group.
Meanwhile, what about the largest theater companies?
“Most of the major larger theaters [the theater companies that use League of Resident Theatres contracts, La Mirada Theatre, Musical Theatre West, etc.] have had meetings about this with small and midsize theater producer representatives,” said LA STAGE Alliance director of programming and operations Doug Clayton, “and have been universally interested and supportive of the idea of a producers’ league. They move much more slowly, and have more bureaucratic, legal, and financial hurdles to deal with than the smaller houses do, so they encouraged the 99-seat and midsize producers to move ahead with getting approval for their governance structure and to elect their first formal leadership, who can then work with the larger houses in a more constructive way in the fall.
“The point of view of the LORT houses, in particular, is different” from those of other theaters, Clayton explained, because LORT companies already belong to LORT — a trade association that addresses union issues and other business issues that affect their field. “So that need is already, in some ways, met for them in a way it’s not met for anyone else.” But, he added, “they support, in concept, this League idea. Also, most of the larger theaters have said that it’s really impossible for them to engage coherently with the 99-seat theater producers until the 99-seat producers have clear representative leadership to meet with.”
It is that very issue that was on the mind of John Flynn when last night’s meeting was thrown open for discussion. “This has to be a trade organization. To that we need a Leadership Council to represent us. To do that we need to move forward on these bylaws. We are at the bare beginning of this whole process.”
During 50 minutes of freewheeling exchanges, much attention was paid to Article One’s stated requirement for full membership, which stipulates a producing organization is eligible if it has mounted at least one qualified production per year in three of the past five years and has a budget of at least $10,000 per show with a minimum of 12 performances, operating under at least one union contract (SDC, USA/829, AEA) or the AEA 99-seat agreement.
Audrey Marlyn, founder and artistic director of Actors Forum Theatre in NoHo, voiced the concerns of many of the attendees. “I don’t meet that criteria and I have been producing professional theater in Los Angeles for 38 years. Does that mean I am ineligible to join the Producers’ League?”
Elzer assured the attendees that the application process allows applicants to submit a statement of merit to the Leadership Council, which has the power to waive any eligibility requirements and grant full membership to any individual or organization at its discretion. Other committee members added that producers and producing companies are also free to apply as associate members, according them all TPLLA privileges except voting.
The continuing TPLLA timeline includes: June 17-July 15 — transitional committee accepts initial membership applications; July 15-August 1 — transitional committee reviews membership applications and approves initial membership of TPLLA; August 1 — nominations for the first TPLLA Leadership Council open; August 15 — nominations for the first TPLLA Leadership Council close; August 19 — first full membership meeting of TPLLA, including election of first leadership Council (location TBA).
As the assembled devotees of 99-seat LA theater moved out to Colony’s lobby area, Flynn shook his head. “It is not going to be easy get people who have been struggling to express themselves artistically to think in terms of being a hard-nosed trade organization, but that is what’s going to have to happen to survive.”
**Photos by Dani Oliver