Atlanta will forever be near and dear to my heart. My first summer after college was spent on the campus of Oglethorpe, working as an Acting Intern at Georgia Shakespeare (may it rest in peace.) That summer brought me my first paid stage work, my first experience as an understudy, my first time working with Equity stage managers and actors, and my very first meal at a Waffle House. (Smothered, diced, and peppered, please.)
I'll always remember sitting at the table for our first read-through of Hamlet, listening to the voices of the extraordinary actors that I'd be getting to share a rehearsal room with: people like Daniel May, Tess Malis Kinkaid, Brandon Dirden, Courtney Patterson, Neal Ghant, Joe Knezevich, Brad Sherrill, and Chris Kayser himself. Having spent four years in school at the Guthrie, I'd already known that there were fabulous Equity actors to be found all over the country. But I was still bowled over by the uniformity of talent and skill in the room, and in the city.
Years later, nothing has changed about the quality of work or the density of the talent pool in Atlanta. If anything it's grown and deepened, thanks to the explosion of film and television work being produced in the area. It's not uncommon to see actors from Los Angeles and New York suddenly pick themselves up and head down to ATL, because "that's where the work is." It should be no surprise, then, that we now have more than 500 Equity members calling Atlanta home.
And yet, we haven't quite seen the Equity workweeks available to our local membership increase to match that volume of talent, with the average hovering between 5 and 6 weeks of work per year for each Equity SM and actor in town. Statistically, that can potentially be attributed to a handful of things, including the number of Equity members who are exclusively seeking work in SAG-AFTRA's jurisdiction. But it's also attributable to the vast number of Atlanta-area producers who are long-term users of prepaid agreements like Guest Artist and Special Appearance. Without a doubt, we need to continue our work to organize these employers.
Thankfully, Atlanta has an extraordinarily effective Liaison Committee—and a highly engaged membership—that has not been shy about their insistence that in order for us to organize more employers onto full, seasonal Equity agreements, the union will need to be more flexible and responsive to the specific needs of Atlanta theaters, and more importantly the specific needs of Atlanta stage managers and actors.
They have made their case forcefully, and I agree with them. Equity has long needed a better model for independent theaters—one that allows the union's staff to negotiate with each employer based on the realities on the ground, rather than trying to shoehorn existing agreements around theaters that they weren't built for, and employers that didn't negotiate them. This will be all the more critical as we begin to emerge from our current crisis, and move towards a member-driven recovery.
Thankfully, the work on just such a new model is well underway, and I'm proud to be right at the heart of it, along with my fellow #FairWage candidate and Chair of the Eastern Developing Theater Committee Erin Maureen Koster. I look forward to getting this work across the finish line in my next term, ensuring that Equity has all of the best tools at its disposal to meet the needs of our members nationwide, including in Atlanta.