Equity's South Florida Liaison Area might just as easily be called the Southeast Florida Liaison Area. Largely encompassing the coastlines of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, it's home to more than 500 Equity members and a robust handful of Equity theaters.
Florida, however—especially its bottom half—is home to a theatrical ecosystem unlike any other in the country. And given the sheer volume of the work happening in the lower reaches of the Sunshine State, I'm going to be a bit more expansive in my thoughts here than the 100-mile strictures of Equity's Liaison Area rules might typically encourage. So for the purposes of this piece, I'm talking about any of our members and theaters that find themselves within shouting distance of the Tamiami Trail.
Now, I've worked in Florida a LOT. Firstly, because there's a lot of work to be had. And secondly because I'm a Jewish man and I'm often right for roles in shows being produced there. (It's a living, you know?) So far in my career, I've worked at resident theaters in Palm Beach, Vero Beach, Orlando, Fort Myers, and Sarasota.
Rest assured, it will come as no surprise to local stage managers and actors to hear that a New Yorker's gobbled up a lot of work in Florida, and that all of these productions were heavily populated with others from New York. A lack of local hiring has been and remains an issue across Florida, and there's work we can do on that together.
As the Chair of the Equity Principal Audition Committee, I know that there's lots more to be achieved around access for our members—both strengthening the rules in our contracts that require employers to consider local members for hiring, and continuing to work on cutting down on needless concessions to these rules. Florida would also benefit greatly from a big organizing push, with so many producers using pre-paid contracts like Special Appearance and Guest Artist for many years, without ever taking the leap onto a full and appropriate Equity contract.
But if you serve in Equity governance and know anything about our members in Florida, you know that they have a very particular concern that they desperately need the union to address:
Our members in Florida have to drive. Everywhere. Due to the size of the state and the distance between the coasts, local stage managers and actors often log hundreds upon hundreds of miles just to try to book work. And then, once they've managed to get hired, they're often refused housing by their employers, or lack appropriate reimbursement for the gas they've had to buy to get to and from their workplaces. I have heard constantly from our members on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts—and everywhere in between—that they need their contracts to protect them in this very locally-specific way, but that our agreements often seem too inflexible to address their needs.
This is a real problem in need of a solution, and I believe it begins with a better model for independent theaters. A new contractual model—one that empowers Equity's staff to negotiate more directly towards the needs of local members and specific employers—will give us the flexibility we need to craft more locally-relevant agreements. Additionally, better, fairer agreements tailored to individual independent employers will not only strengthen our ability to organize more theaters onto contract, but will ensure that our producer partners can remain viable and solvent as we emerge together from the COVID crisis. This can be a major piece of working toward a member-driven recovery for all of our stage managers and actors. And in a state like Florida, in which the average age of theater attendees is quite a bit higher than the national mean, this will be all the more critical.
In my next term as Eastern Regional Vice President, I look forward to finally getting down to South Florida for a Membership Meeting, and hearing even more from our local members about how our union can help make their lives better.