Week of December 24, 2003

The scandal of Democracy Now: Mike Seely's article on the debacle at KDHX left out one of the most critical elements: the marginalizing of Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. Last winter KDHX began broadcasting this program live from New York at 8 a.m.: prime drive-time. Then sometime in August, the station moved the program to the far less desirable time of 6 a.m. Not only that; KDHX further degraded the status of the program by broadcasting the previous day's show. Yesterday's news and yesterday's commentary.

The explanation? A technical problem, soon to be resolved. The promise? The show would soon be moved to prime evening time. The absurdity? According to a manager, it really didn't matter if people heard yesterday's program -- most of the show was just like a magazine article that could be read at any time. It didn't matter that I and many others had contributed to KDHX because of this program. We could have our donations back if we didn't like the new format, we were told.

Democracy Now is one of the few news programs not controlled by the corporate media. Amy Goodman reports news that most of the mainstream media does not cover. In addition, she presents discussions of both sides of vital issues. For example, this week the show featured Lauri Fitz-Pegado, who ran the Kuwaiti public relations campaign for Hill and Knowlton during the build-up to the first Persian Gulf War, and John Stauber, author of Weapons of Mass Deception. They hold strongly opposing viewpoints and analyses of the controversial testimony given by the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United Sates. The testimony concerned the alleged Iraqi atrocity of pulling babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on the floor. Ms. Fitz-Pegado and Mr. Stauber disagreed on the validity of the young girl's report, which had helped convince many Americans that the war was justified.

Where else does an audience have a chance to hear a debate like this? How are the American people going to learn the truth unless they have many more facts than are presented to them in sound bites by the mainstream media? Shouldn't such a program be made available to as wide an audience as possible?
Margaret P. Gilleo

Union Do's
"Labor" pain: The St. Louis Liaison Committee of Actors' Equity Association (AEA) would like to thank Mathew Everett for his article, "Hard Labor," in the December 3 RFT. While we don't consider AEA membership an obstacle, we know all too well the difficulties facing us in St. Louis and appreciate the exposure of issues affecting union professional actors. However, the article did contain some incorrect information that does not present a fully accurate picture of the AEA actor in St. Louis, and we would like to make some clarifications.

To begin, Actors' Equity Association is a national union and as such, does not have local chapters. As of November 1 the annual dues are $118 per year, plus 2 percent working dues deducted from any pay the actor receives. Once actors join the union, they are still free to work for any company as long as the company signs an appropriate contract with the actor, such as the special-appearance or guest-artist contracts. Also, the official list from Actors' Equity shows over 230 AEA members in the St. Louis area, not 180.

The Rep is not an Equity-only company. The Rep uses students from the Webster Conservatory and has allowances for non-Equity actors in its productions, as do the St. Louis Black Repertory Company and Historyonics, based on cast size and the ratios in their particular contract. Additionally, the statement "only 24 of the Rep's 93 contracts were offered to St. Louis actors" may not accurately reflect the use of AEA members. While we don't know the origins of these statistics, they may include students and local non-Equity actors.

The comment that "several of the smaller commercial companies -- including HotHouse Theatre, City Theatre, Stages St. Louis, (Mostly) Harmless, New Jewish Theatre and St. Louis Shakespeare -- offer, between them, about twenty Equity roles every year" is inaccurate. Stages St. Louis should not be included in this list, as all the other companies listed are non-contract theaters. Stages is a full Equity company, which hires the second-most local professionals under Equity contracts (just behind the Muny) every year. Even so, they too are allowed a number of non-Equity performers in their cast for each show, once again dependent upon the cast size and the ratio allowed in their contract.

The $1,300 per week figure is close to the current Broadway minimum weekly salary and is not indicative of actual pay for local actors. In St. Louis the minimum AEA rates range from $150 per week to approximately $711 per week at the Rep for their main-stage productions.

It is encouraging to read that Scott Miller would love to work with some of the "terrific Equity actors in town." However, his point that "[t]o hire Equity actors, we'd have to pay them six to ten times what we're paying actors now" underscores the amount that these "professional" theaters are paying the non-union actors. While $150 a week would not be considered a "living" wage, nonetheless it is admittedly a great deal more than the $15 to $25 a week which, according to his statement, we deduce Miller is paying the individuals of his non-Equity casts. AEA is doing all it can to help these smaller, non-contract theaters achieve their goals by allowing limited use of AEA members to bolster the seasons where needed. The creation of the Special Appearance Agreement was designed as a concession to the lowest-tier Equity Small Professional Theatre Contract, to allow AEA members to pursue work with these companies.

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