August 26, 2005
The labor union Actors' Equity Association exists to protect professional actors and to provide theatre-producing organizations a pool of qualified talent. Since 1913, the AFL-CIO affiliated Equity Association has negotiated minimum wages and working conditions, administered contracts and enforced the provisions of various agreements with theatrical employers across the country.
Aspiring actors have three potential pathways into the union. They may, under the Equity Membership Candidacy program, build up experience serving as non-Equity talent in an Equity production, earning credits measured by the number of weeks worked. Once the candidate acquires 50 weeks of such work, Equity requires he or she to enter the union. Actors can join Equity if they already possess membership in one of the sister unions, such as the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. And finally, if a theatre wants a performer badly enough, they may offer a non-Equity actor an Equity contract, allowing the artist to join Equity immediately.
For many, Equity membership is a double-edged sword. Though a symbol of status, clout and talent, it makes an actor more expensive to hire. Often, especially in a town the size of Kansas City, skilled, available, Equity actors audition to no avail. Local union houses rely on a consistently small bevy of Equity locals, make abundant use of Equity membership candidates, and often fly in talent from Los Angeles, New York and other larger talent pools.
The situation puts the Kansas City Equity member in a quagmire. Without working, he or she won't be seen. Unless they can prove their stage chops to producers and directors, they won't get work. The merry-go-round turns.
However, Equity does provide a method for candidates without work to act. Equity's central region allows actors to self-produce shows to showcase themselves for producers, agents and directors.
A group of Kansas City actors recently mounted a production under these guidelines: “Five Short Plays” ran at the UMKC Performing Arts Center Aug. 4 through Aug. 15. The show came together without a producer or production company, but under the organizational leadership of Kansas City Equity actor Tom Moriarty.
Sentences and Words by Cynthia L. Cooper launched the evening. An attorney, Karla (Jennifer Plas) recently defended a man who murdered the son of Maggie (Jennifer James Bradshaw). Carla arrives at Maggie's house to passionately request Maggie's presence at the killer's sentencing, pleading to save her client's life. The program lists the location as "A small community in a 'death' state."
Given Bradshaw's specific and consistent dialect, the state referred to felt like Texas. Bradshaw made convincing a white trash character delivering poetic passages, including, "The sadness is so thick I don't know where to put it." Bradshaw tapped into a dark and angry grief.
The second short play, Juliet by Romulus Linney, depicted a campy conflict over a pending production of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. Cynthia Hyer played Jane Zane, a middle-aged stage diva slated for the lead role, Mrs. Alving. An up and coming young actor, Phillip French (Chris Holbrook), arrives at the theatre to consider taking on the role of Oswald, Mrs. Alving's son. Their disagreement revolves around Jane's obtuse and exhibitionistic vision of her portrayal of Mrs. Oswald. Phillip wants a far more conventional staging. Attempting to mediate the verbal sparring match is Willy Hardt (Jeph Scanlon), director of Ghosts and Jane's lover.
Linney created a surreal composition by having Phillip's mother, Esther French (Laurie Hamilton), inexplicably arrive and histrionically lecture her son in a strikingly similar manner as Jane's.
The most successful piece followed. Once Upon an F'ing Island portrayed, with dark absurdity, a man (Antony Ferguson) and a woman (Alison Schacherer) stranded on an island. Despite occasionally suggesting that they need to talk about their own survival, they hilariously get distracted with a debate over the use of profanity. Schacherer and Ferguson played off each other like seasoned team members, believably desperate and enjoyably accessing the horrifying humor in Jay C. Rehak's script.
Kansas City playwright crafted the words in Bill Buckner Did Not. . . . Did . . . Did Not Lose the World Series. Mark and Amy, played by Richard Stubblefield and Heidi Stubblefield respectively, meet on a blind date. Their initial attraction takes a nosedive when they enter into a passionate disagreement over a decisive event in the world of baseball. The strong actors took some winning risks by building climactic anger over the seemingly trivial debate. Richard Stubblefield created a riveting character with a very specific and unique way of moving. He folded up and erupted with a realistic lightness in his body.
The closing one-act play, The Author's Voice by Richard Greenberg, showed a novelist, Todd (Darryl A. Stamp), negotiating with his horny editor Portia (Deonna Bouye) over his upcoming work. She jokes that he has a gnome in his closet that does his writing for him. Once she exits, we find out that he indeed does. Tom Moriarty played Gene who lives behind closed doors in Todd's apartment and possesses a brilliantly creative mind housed in a body of deformity.
The event as a whole set a pace. The first four pieces zipped by with brevity. The Author's Voice possessed some meaty length that disrupted the rhythm of “Five Short Plays.” We became used to a designated slot of time for each play and, despite competent acting, the notable extent of the play and its placement as a finale made for tedium.
All said, the efforts put forth to feature the actors in “Five Short Plays” deserve recognition. A more frequent appearance of plays under the Actor's Equity Association Members Project Code would benefit the entire theatrical community..
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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