Style on Stage LA

The Appeal Board Stands with Small Theaters

by Rasi A on Aug 31, 2023

Big Win for Sacramento Theatre

The Sacramento Theatre Company recently celebrated a victory. The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board sided with them against a decision made by the EDD. The EDD had previously said that almost everyone at the theater was wrongly labeled as “independent contractors”. But the Board disagreed, saying that most of the theater's workers were rightly classified.

This isn’t the first time a theater in California faced such a challenge. Both the Shotgun Players in Berkeley and CASA 0101 in Boyle Heights experienced similar EDD audits. These rulings by the EDD could change how non-profit theaters classify their workers, which affects taxes. For example, Shotgun Players got a big $50,000 tax bill because of it.

What the Ruling Means for Others

The Board’s decision is good news for the Shotgun Players and CASA 0101. Each theater has its own unique challenges, but the Sacramento case gives them hope. For the Shotgun Players, their main point is about classifying designers and directors. The Board agreed that designers are independent because they make unique creations and aren’t under strict company control.

CASA 0101’s situation is a bit trickier. Their focus is on whether directors, designers, and actors can be considered independent contractors. The Board said that actors run their own businesses, so they might be independent. But if actors work under certain contracts, they might be considered employees.

The Actor’s Dilemma

Actors do more than just act; they run their own brands. Many use sites like “Linked In” and Facebook to showcase their skills, similar to wearing a pumpkin dress to stand out in a crowd. They have their own unique style, and they’re not always told exactly how to perform. This flexibility can make them seem like independent contractors.

However, if they work under specific contracts like the AEA, they might be more controlled, making them seem more like employees. The big question is, if an actor is free to choose when they work or leave, shouldn’t they be considered independent?

The 99-Seat Plan

The 99-Seat Plan is a key factor for CASA 0101. It’s an old agreement that’s been around for 30 years. This plan isn’t a contract between the union and the theater but an understanding between the AEA and its actors. Here, actors get more freedom. They can decide when they work and can leave anytime.

Under this plan, actors seem to have the independence that fits the “independent contractor” label. CASA 0101 hopes that the Board’s ruling will favor them based on this plan.

What's Next for Theaters?

There’s a lot at stake for mid-sized theaters, colleges, and universities. Depending on contracts, artists could be seen differently for tax reasons. Some places, like A Noise Within and Cornerstone Theatre Company, already classify their actors as employees. But others, like those using the 99-Seat Plan, are in uncertain waters.

One thing is clear: the EDD’s decisions aren’t the final say. Theaters have a chance to fight for their views and shape the future of performing arts in California.