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Big Stars Asking Small Theaters To Allow Actors To Volunteer Their Services

HOLLYWOOD ( — Big stars like Tim Robbins are hoping small theaters will get to waive the minimum wage for actors.

Robbins, Noah Wyle, Francis Fisher and many others are lending their voices to the cause.

The issue, as KCAL9's Juan Fernandez reports, is simple.

Should small theaters be forced to pay a minimum wage to actors? Should the small theaters also have to pay for rehearsals to actors who want to volunteer their time?

Opponents like Robbins and Wyle say people should be able to volunteer their time if they want to. The actors gathered on Santa Monica Boulevard's theater row Wednesday to make their case to the acting community.

Big-name actors bring an audience to smaller theaters, they reason, and their presence can help a show that isn't making a lot of money.

Actor's Equity, meanwhile, is having trouble reaching an agreement over minimum pay with owners of small theaters, those with fewer than 99 seats.

Actor's Equity Executive Director Mary McCall emailed members to say "While there are strong views on all sides, we heard clearly that LA members want the Plan to change so that actors' contributions to 99-seat theaters are more fairly valued."

"I encourage every Actor's Equity member in Los Angeles," said Fisher, "to vote no on the proposal."

"If they're limited to 99 paying customers, on any night if some of these theaters have to pay a minimum wage for rehearsals," said Robbins. "It's telling them basically they can't do theater."

Robbins, Fisher and Wyle are part of the "I Love 99" movement. They're joined by City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who believes actors should have the right to volunteer their services.

Wyle is producing the play "Sons of the Prophet" at the Blank Theatre, a venue with 54 seats.

"You're cutting into what is no profit margin anyway," Wyle says. "You couldn't open your doors."

The original point of the 99-seat contract was to give actors the chance to work in small theaters without the benefit of the union contract.

If the small theaters are unable to operate, Robbins said, the ripple effect will go beyond the box office.

"For every dollar spent in our theater," he says, "there is nine spent in the community."

For more about "I Love 99," click here.

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