Off-Broadway, LORT, Production, International Actors
We must overcome many hurdles before we can gather again and do the work we love in the way we’re used to doing it.
But I believe that the way we work, coming together to realize a single vision, in a collective that grows by the size of the audience each night, is as important as the work itself and gives it unique value.
That belief led me to help found the #FairWage movement at that first living room meeting. One night in Brooklyn, underpaid stage managers and actors gathered to imagine a perfect Off-Broadway contract with livable wages. We partnered with Equity to give leverage in negotiations. I co-wrote a petition to management signed by over 1100 members. I was a spokesperson in the press campaign. We won. Wages increased up to 83%.
That belief is why I serve on the Off-Broadway, LORT, and Production committees, voting with one thing at the front of my mind: your bills.
It’s why I went to Congress with Equity in 2017 to advocate—successfully—for the preservation and expansion of the NEA.
Now we must appeal to federal, state, and local governments to shore up our members and our employers until we can again be an economic engine and positive social force.
I am compelled to advocate for you by lending my voice to Equity’s—and my ears, to find out what fairness means to each of you where you live, and help you realize that potential.
1968 brought a world’s fair to my hometown of San Antonio when I was five. From Hemisfair I remember monorails, picturephones, Los Voladores de Papantla—Totonac people of Mexico, who, their feet tied to ropes coiled around a 114’ pole, flung themselves headfirst into space from the top and spiraled downward, fanning out in ever-widening circles over our heads—and H.R. Pufnstuf, who debuted in the Sid and Mary Krofft show at the Coca-Cola pavilion: I saw him empty, hanging from a hook, as we exited the auditorium through the wings, which killed the magic.
After the fair closed, my parents longed to see more of the world again—both were WWII vets, my mom having been stationed in Berlin right after V-E Day, and my dad in Japan later that year. They wanted to live in a place where it took less than a day to drive to another state. Both federal workers, they managed to get jobs in DC, and in 1969 moved us to Fairfax County, Virginia.
NYU Graduate Acting Program accepted me when I was an undergrad, a 19-year-old at George Mason, so I moved to NYC in 1982 and have lived here since.
My Equity Card: I got my Equity card the year I got my M.F.A., in 1985. After making my debut that summer, as an EMC in Shakespeare in the Park, playing Froth to Nathan Lane’s Pompey in Measure for Measure directed by Joseph Papp, I got my card on my next job, playing Clarence Day, Jr. in Life with Father at the Pittsburgh Public that fall.
Why is Equity and this work important to you? On what committees do you serve?
I was always proud to be a member of three unions, before the merger. I was grateful for their protections, and I’ve been steadily insured since I was 22, taking the affordable premiums and coverage for granted. Now I value them and pensions dearly.
But it was the #FairWage movement that really brought the importance and power of a union home for me.
Having worked for 30 years in nonprofit theatre, I’d just internalized that I’d be supplementing my theatrical income with the money I’d made and saved doing film and television. It never occurred to me that our careers in the theater could or should be self-sustaining.
But in a secret meeting in a Bushwick living room, a half dozen actors I joined thought differently.
When we brought our struggles to the union’s attention, and they actually steered the ship to negotiate aggressively for salary increases, I felt seen and heard. And when I saw and heard the stress and humiliations faced by 200 of my peers on these wages, testifying in our social media campaign, I was deeply moved.
Jeff Biehl said it to me so clearly then: “They have to pay us enough so we can pay our bills.”
I’ve never been prouder to have been a part of anything than what we all achieved in 2016 with the new Off-Broadway contract.
Now, when I vote on concession requests in the Off-Broadway, LORT, and Production committees, Jeff’s words are foremost in my mind.
What is your Superpower?
Describe your family unit (whatever that means for you).
In this time of social distancing, I’ve never been happier to be single. My deep, abiding friendships feel like my family unit, and now I feel even closer to my friends, though we’re physically separated, thanks to the picturephone.
What is a Fun Fact or something most people don’t know about you?
I lettered in debate.
What is your happy place
Outside the gym, Veselka, an East Village Ukrainian restaurant. I’ve eaten there on the reg since 1982, a couple of years before the woman who makes their borscht started. The room, the clientele, the staff—the place is noted for hiring middle aged people and retaining them for decades—and the food all comfort me. I really miss it.
What was your first ever stage production
The first I remember was in sixth grade at Commonwealth Christian School, where my working parents put me not for the Bible study but the day care. Mrs. Saldahna chose a British panto for us, and I played pantomime Dame Peep, Bo’s mother, in a hoop skirt and a beehive. I was doomed.