Amidst the recent controversy over whether to pay L.A.’s theater actors minimum wage, a new faction has entered the fray: L.A. actors’ friends sitting in the audience.
“Everyone’s talking about the issue of L.A.’s 99-seat theaters,” said 26-year-old West Hollywood resident Joey Mueller, who has many actor friends. “We’re the people who are actually sitting in those seats.”
The actors stage union, Actors’ Equity Association, is fighting to require minimum wage for actors in L.A.’s small theaters, while actors argue that this would make producing shows prohibitively expensive and eliminate opportunities to work.
Mueller, head of the new advocacy group L.A. Actors’ Friends in the Audience (LAAFITA), believes that if actors get minimum wage, audience members should, too.
“L.A. actors’ friends sitting in the audience work hard at their jobs, from finding parking in Hollywood on a Saturday night to thinking up ways to compliment experimental productions of Ionesco,” he said. “We believe these efforts should be remunerated.”
The LAAFITA cites statistics showing that watching a friend’s show can require a three- to six-hour commitment, depending on the running time of the show, distance from your home and how long you have to stand in the theater lobby awkwardly as the performer greets his or her other friends.
The job also can require unexpected responsibilities, such as tagging along to after-show cast drinks and laughing at inside jokes about that time someone didn’t do their quick change fast enough and almost walked onstage naked.
“That kind of acting is just as legitimate as the acting onstage,” said one audience member from Studio City who wished to remain anonymous, so as not to offend his four actor roommates.
The LAAFITA is seeking wages for various other tasks, from running lines to listening to stories of humiliating auditions and providing career counseling over whether to just quit and go to law school.
“At one show I was one of four people in the audience and there were six people onstage,” said Debra Barnes, head of the LAAFITA subcommittee on L.A. actors’ spouses. “At that point, the actors are watching me.”
While LAAFITA has established itself as L.A.’s main audience-advocacy organization, it’s been experiencing escalating tension with an upstart group, called the Friends of L.A. Playwrights and Directors (FOLAPAD). Mueller argues that the rival group’s claim to minimum wage is not as legitimate.
“The director or playwright might not even be there that night,” Mueller said. “They won’t even know you came.”
A spokesperson for FOLAPAD responded that friends of directors and playwrights could still “send an email afterward.”
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