Regional Theatre May Save Actors

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Only if you support it…

West Valley Playhouse is definitly worth checking out. Their dedicated company of professional actors directed by theatre stalwart JON BERRY revitalizes Mary Chase’s pulitzer prize winning classic “Harvey”. The love for the craft of acting here on this stage, is palpable. I am however sorry to report that I was late to this party and the final shows are the weekend of November the 17th-19th so don’t wait.

If you can’t catch this one their next show is “Miracle on 34th Street” running from November 17th – December 17th.

If you are lucky enough to be reading this and able to head over to the theatre in time, you will catch a lovely show. All performers like DENICE STRADLING and ROBERT REEVES want to do is put a smile on your face and joy in your heart. STRANDLING as “Vita Louise Simmons” balances the sweetness of an adoring sister and the hysteria of an overwhelmed caretaker perfectly. REEVES is absolutely charming as “Elwood P. Dowd” and we could all learn a lot from this exceptional type of man. A special tip of the cap goes to the crew behind “Harvey”. Let’s just say he was simply magical.

I hope that regional theatre like this experiences a boom in the coming years as more and more actors are phased out of the on screen medium by the use of ai. With a new contract awaiting ratification by the members of Sag-Aftra, regional theatre may become more important than ever. During a recent Q&A with the heads of the union, the question “How do actors hone their craft while their likeness is being used by productions?” was posed and the answer was “They don’t.” The head of the negotiating committee went on to say “When a digital replica is being used that’s probably not going to do anything to hone your craft.”

They then went on to say that productions are “most likely” to use digital replicas only for re-shoots and other types of “specific scenes.” Notice that there are no assurances as to how productions are specifically allowed to use these replicas. As of right now, it appears that the use of ai digital replicas is completely up to the production so long as there is what’s called “informed consent”. Many actors who grace the stage of your local theatre can also be found blending into the background of major motion pictures. The growing fear is that if an actor refuses to be scanned so their digital replica can be used, then they will simply not be cast for that production. No consent essentially equals no pay.

This can sound confusing so here is a little look behind the curtain of how a background actor ends up working on a project. Usually, they are spending an hour or two every day submitting their profile dozens of times on multiple different casting websites that they have to pay an annual subscription fee to use. If you are lucky enough to fit a part you will likely get a call from the extras casting director, or their assistant, asking if you are available to work on a certain date. Sometimes it can even be the exact same day you submitted. If you are not available they will simply say thank you, hang up, and call someone else. Here is the scary part. Now that “informed consent” has become a factor. If you say you are available but you will not consent to be scanned, they will likely just pass you over.

This is what terrifies actors. Until the complete contract is released and examined the idea of “informed consent” and the specific restrictions as to how productions can use replicas is nebulous at best. Background jobs provide vital experience on set and can, on the rare occasion, lead to greater work as a stand in, body double, or even an under 5 role. Not to mention, background work is how most people become eligible to join the union in the first place. If you want to know more I’ve included a footnote at the bottom. This experience is one side of a very valuable coin that actors need to possess. The other side is the crucial role that engaging in theatre productions plays in honing their craft.

Acting is not easy and putting together a production on a stage in Los Angeles is even harder. After losing their initial home and the pandemic, West Valley Playhouse was performing at a Barnes and Nobles. Since then they have carved out a new niche in Canoga Park. This dogged determination to bring joy to our lives by sharing unique and interesting stories is what drives real thespians. Yes I said it… Thespians! They have earned that title. Wear it proudly.

Opportunities for actors in theatre faded when streaming services took over and released so much content no one needed to leave their house to see a show anymore. Theaters were forced to close and some of the best have never reopened. The pandemic added another haymaker to the pummeling and now ai is a threat to actors everywhere. The last bastion of hope may strangely be back where it all began, on stage, live, in front of an audience yearning for human connection. Let’s hope that the masses see through the rouse and let performers honor them with their presence once again.

WHAT:
WEST VALLEY PLAYHOUSE 
presents HARVEY.

  • WHO:
  • Written by Mary Chase
  • Directed by Jon Berry
  • Starring Robert Reeves and Denice Stradling
  • Produced by Jon Berry
  • Presented by West Valley Playhouse
  • WHEN:
  • Final Performances
  • Nov, 17th and 18th at 8 p.m.
  • Nov 19th at 2:30 p.m.

WHERE:
West Valley Playhouse
7507 Topanga Canyon Blvd
Canoga Park, CA, 91303

TICKET PRICES:
$27-$32

HOW:
www.wvplayhouse.com
818-884-1907

Footnote:

As a non-union background actor you have to obtain three “vouchers” before you even become eligible to pay the now prohibitive Sag-Aftra initiation fee of $3,000. These “vouchers” are given out, if and only if, the production is unable to fill the minimum number of required union slots for that production that day. This can happen if one of the chosen union background, gets sick, has an emergency, or simply doesn’t show up. Productions however, regularly fill their quota, which depending on the project can only be up to a maximum of 25 union background actors. I have even seen them call in another union actor to fill an empty slot because that is easier that doing the rest of the paperwork later. There is one more even less likely way to become eligible known as a Taft Hartley”, but it’s so rare I won’t bore you with more details here.