Facing a Shaky Future, California Theaters to Receive $50M in Assistance

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LOS ANGELES — California’s network of beleaguered small, nonprofit theaters will receive a one-time $50 million subsidy under the $262 billion California state budget deal signed by Governor Gavin Newsom this week.

Mr Newsom and Democratic leaders in the legislature negotiated aid as part of a comprehensive 2021-22 budget that includes billions of dollars in economic aid for residents and small businesses struggling under the weight of the pandemic. The theater subsidy came after intense lobbying from small theaters. worried about their future After a 15 month shutdown. Compounding the effects was the possibility that labor costs will rise sharply for many theaters as a result of a new concert worker law enacted in 2020.

Theaters smaller than 99 seats already operate on extremely tight budgets. Most remain closed, hoping to reopen this fall, but amid concerns over whether their audiences will return to sit in cramped halls with poor ventilation. Cases of Covid are increasing in Los Angeles, and the county is now recommending that people wear masks in closed public settings.

The gig worker law was intended to address the plight of people like Uber drivers who were considered contract workers. But it will also affect many smaller theaters that treat employees as contract workers and pay them salaries that typically range from $9 to $25 per rehearsal or performance.

Under the terms of the law, which went into effect just before California shut down, movie theaters would have to comply with the California minimum wage, which will soon reach $15, and cover payroll taxes, workers’ compensation, and unemployment costs. Some union theaters in Los Angeles were already doing this, but many received an exemption from Actors’ Equity, the national labor union for actors and stage managers, saying the additional costs could exceed their small budgets.

Some industries have lobbied legislators in Sacramento for an exemption from this requirement. Equality was vehemently opposed to seeking an exemption, and theater groups pressed for a subsidy instead.

The union applauded the result.

“This funding will enable the reopening of vibrant arts employers, which will bring Californians back to work and lead to more economic activity in the California economy,” the statement said.

Theater producers also applauded the financial boost, warning that this alone would not be enough to ensure the long-term recovery of the industry. “Will it help?” Martha Demson, chairman of the Los Angeles Theater Producers Guild, said: “Absolutely. Is it enough? Enough for today. Enough for this year. However, it is not enough to help our organizations achieve long-term sustainability. This will require substantial funding over several years.”

This funding is one of two ways the government is saving the small theater industry. The other is legislation currently under discussion that will create a staging agency that will cover the administrative costs of the law’s payroll liability.

State Senator Susan Rubio, a Democrat pushing both measures, said she thinks these efforts will help theaters get through this difficult time.

“Small for-profit performing arts companies have historically been undervalued and underfunded, despite their contribution to the economic growth, social welfare and cultural vitality of the local communities they serve,” he said.

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