Carson D. Elrod
Off Broadway, New Media, and LORT
We’re in the middle of a global crisis. On March 12th, the country locked down. I lost work. So did you. We all did. We’re looking into the future together with a sense of fear and dread in an already challenging line of work.
The silver lining is that we’re not alone and that our union has a unique role to play weathering this storm. Equity’s core functions now must include providing relief, hope, and visionary leadership as we struggle together. If ever there were a moment for solidarity, this is it. We need to have each other’s backs now more than ever.
As your councilor, I will offer compassion, affection, respect, and decisive action as we navigate these unfathomable circumstances. I have no doubt that the American theatre will survive and once again thrive. If re-elected, I will make sure that stage managers and actors survive and thrive too. I will demand that we lobby all public and private channels to make sure our members get needed relief.
The United States will need theatre more than ever when this tribulation ends. I am certain that our members will help heal the country. We have a crucial role to play in the story of this crisis because we will be the ones telling it. When the theatres fill up again with human beings desperate for connection and community, I want to make sure that our members do so with a fair wage on stage.
I’m originally from Topeka, Kansas. I moved to NYC in 1997 to get my MFA from NYU’s Graduate Acting Program. I’ve lived all over the city. East Village, Harlem, South Bronx, Lower East Side, and finally, now Bushwick, Brooklyn.
I’m from a big and fun family that is now spread out all over the country. I have so many aunts, uncles, cousins, and now the babies of cousins! We have such a great time together and at Christmas, we all convene in Topeka, Kansas at my mother’s place where we cram like 30 people into a house together where we sing, dance, and laugh constantly for a few days. I’m really lucky to have such a warm and functional family and I wish we all lived closer to each other so that we could see each other more than just once a year.
My Equity Card: I got my Equity card doing the American Premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Comic Potential (With Kellie Overbey!) at Manhattan Theatre Club in the year 2000.
How/Why is Equity and this work important to you?
I could spend all day on this question. This is more like the prompt of a book! OK, how do I bake this down?
Well, it’s my firm belief that labor in this country doesn’t know it’s own worth or value. And in particular, actors, are incredibly vulnerable to buying into the myth that they are worthless, easily replaceable, and lucky to work. All over the country, labor are told that story. And all it would ever take anywhere is for brave people, standing together in solidarity, who believe in their own value to stand up and claim it. But this country has produced such economic anxiety among so many millions of people that they are afraid to stand up for themselves and demand a fair wage.
The whole function of a union is to help develop labor consciousness in people. Unions let people know that they are stronger together. Unions allow workers to come together and collectively bargain for fair pay and safe working conditions. Equity has been incredibly effective over the years at creating safe working conditions. On certain contracts Equity has been effective in demanding fair wages. But Equity has dropped the ball with communications and member engagement and allowed a set of circumstances to develop where Equity members don’t believe that Equity can get them a fair wage. Many Equity members go to bed wondering how they’ll make ends meet and convinced there’s nothing that can be done. I was one of those people until 2014.
In 2014, I invited a group of people over to my apartment to brainstorm what our contracts would look like if they were perfect. That meeting turned into two. And a third. And then I was asked to come into the union and talk directly to staff and leadership about these issues. Then I was asked to serve on the Off Broadway negotiating team. On that team I was repeatedly struck by how many members of our own team had internalized our employers’ arguments and point of view. I don’t mean this as an indictment of my fellow team members. It’s an indictment against years of anti-union and pro-management propaganda. I realized that my job on that team was to just keep saying, “What we are asking is reasonable, do-able, and long overdue. Even with the large percentage increases we’re asking for, we’re still not going to get a living wage. But we can at least get closer to a fair one.” That negotiation concluded with us getting up to 83% single contract cycle increases in salary. We made labor history with those numbers. But I didn’t walk out of there after we made the deal thinking we’d won. We haven’t won while people still can’t pay their rent WHILE WORKING an Equity contract. We haven’t won while thousands of our members lack health insurance. We haven’t won while our members have unpaid and unreasonable two hour commutes to work. We haven’t won while Stage Managers still don’t have ASM’s on every contract. We haven’t won until there is MRE on every contract. We haven’t won until stage managers and actors get buy outs or right of first refusal on projects they originated the work on when that production moves. We haven’t won until every Equity member who books a job knows that they’ll be able to pay their most basic bills with their work and know that the conditions that they work in will be 100% safe and sanitary.
So, given that I walked out of there feeling that way. I joined a group of really truly amazing, brilliant, committed, and labor conscious people who all shared the same thought I did, namely, that we should be on council.
It’s hard to write that or say that without implicitly saying, “Equity was bad and I wanted to make it better.” I mean, anyone running for office, is, just in the sheer act of running, saying a version of, “What this place needs is ME.” It’s hard, because I certainly didn’t think of myself running against anyone when I ran for council. I didn’t know enough people on council to know who I might be running against if I did think of it that way. I simply thought, “I think I have passion, professional experience, and a real investment in making these contracts better. I have been in this union for 15 years and I haven’t seen the basic things I need materialize. So it’s time for me to compile the lists of things that everyone I know working this contracts wants and then go get on council and try to get those things done.”
So, I won a seat and the very first thing I did in my very first meeting was vote AGAINST the LORT contract as it had been negotiated. The salary increases weren’t good enough in my opinion. The stage manager provisions had sunset clauses in them. And we STILL weren’t forcing our Broadway LORT employers to pay a Broadway wage on a Broadway stage. I got up and spoke against sending it to membership saying, “I just won this seat, I think, because our members saw what we could do when we run a member driven campaign to demand what we’re worth. We didn’t do that with LORT and I don’t think we got what we should have and I think I’m here to say NO to not good enough. This is not good enough. “ That was my FIRST DAY on council.
In the last three years, my point of view has changed a lot about what Equity governance is, how it functions, and who is doing it. I am now utterly convinced that there is no one serving our membership who doesn’t think that their approach is the best approach to achieve the best results for our members.