Michael James Bell

running for Western Principal Councillor of Actors' Equity Association in 2020

 

For endorsements, visit: facebook.com/MJBforCouncil

 

I've been a proud member of Actors' Equity for almost two decades. I've served on committees in New York City and Los Angeles. And I'm worried about our members.

Most Actors' Equity members don't work a single contract in a given year. I believe as a union, we're partly to blame for this. We're neglecting our greatest resource: the creativity and ambition of our members. I think it's costing us contract jobs.

In New York City, thousands of members invest countless hours Off-Off-Broadway. But due to that code's restrictions, the number of shows that move to a contract is heartbreakingly small.

Indie theater shouldn't be the place where great ideas go to die. It should be a "minor leagues" for contract theater. It should be the foundation of the theatrical food chain, feeding the entire ecosystem.

In many regions, contracts are scarce and there's no union-sanctioned alternative. Members must choose between staying in their union and doing theater at all.

These are opportunities for improvement. We can be more compassionate and curious about the needs of these members. They're struggling to climb a ladder that doesn't have any rungs at the bottom.

I'm concerned that Equity's hardline policy of "only work when you're getting paid" may actually hurt members' ability to get paid further down the line. It's absolutely true we should fight relentlessly for a fair wage on every contract. But it's also true that working "on spec" is an essential element of building a career as an artist or entrepreneur. No one ever rose to the heights of their craft by waiting for someone to pay them first. We need to be protecting members when they work on spec, not prohibiting them.

Our members need a mechanism that allows them to do theater when contract jobs aren't available. They need a code, endorsed and administered by the union, that protects members from being exploited for profit, and that is available to all members, not just those in New York City and Los Angeles.

I've written a National Development Code that I think is one possible path. I'd love to start a conversation about new ways we as a union can increase contract workweeks and better serve our members.

Good governance is something I care about. I'm on the Board of Directors of a nonpartisan voting reform nonprofit, whose Governance Committee I chair. I also serve on the Government Review Committee of SAG-AFTRA's LA local. I serve on Equity's Media and New Technology Committee. When I lived in New York City I served on Equity's Off-Off-Broadway Committee, and I was part of the subcommittee that re-evaluated the NYC Showcase Code in 2008. I familiarize myself with the rules at every opportunity, and I usually have good ideas for making them clearer, fairer, and more effective.

We're all on the same team. On Council I'll strive to be compassionate, curious, and fair, to listen to everyone as an ally, and to be dismissive of no one. These are qualities we need not just in our union, but in the world, especially now.

Michael James Bell
April 2020