AB-5 Causes Havoc at Sierra Madre Playhouse

A blue car in front of a theatre

Sierra Madre Playhouse (Photo – sierramadreplayhouse.org)

Assembly Bill 5 is wreaking havoc among free-lance musicians, actors and community theaters across California.

By Jean Sudbury

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is an Equity Waiver (99 seats or less, union and non-union) community theater in Sierra Madre. This theater has been forced to cancel its production of a show which was scheduled to begin on March 30, 2020. President of the Board of Directors at the Playhouse, David Gordon, and Playhouse Artistic Director, Christian Lebano, came to the conclusion that the financial impact was too great for the show to go on as planned.

California Assembly Bill 5 (AB-5) is intended to make it harder for employer to designate workers as independent contractors.  There is an exemption for “fine artists,” but there is no particular exemption for performing artists and no clarification as to whether actors, singers, dancers or musicians are considered to be fine artists. AB-5 does not have a transition period for theaters to adjust to the new classifications established by this bill.

Young audience program

One of the missions of the Sierra Madre Playhouse is to nurture an appreciation of live performance in people of all ages, especially young people. The Sierra Madre Theater for young audience program began six years ago. The production of Charlotte’s Web had 36 confirmed and paid bookings that would have allowed at least 2,600 children and 400 teachers to enjoy the show. Ten additional performances were scheduled for general audiences.

AB-5 added another $38,000 to the budget for the Charlotte’s Web, which had been planned under previous law. The financial impact has forced the production to be cancelled. This dilemma is shared by at least 25 other community theaters in Los Angeles County.


[This article has been updated to correct the added amount to the budget, Jan. 29, 11:37 pm.]

Jean Sudbury
2 comments to “AB-5 Causes Havoc at Sierra Madre Playhouse”
  1. I read the article and the Playhouse’s letter, and did not see a specific explanation of why this adds $38,000 to the budget (reported in the article as $40,000….. rounded up?).

    This is about $1000 per showing, so I am guessing this is the cost of paying people who were previously not paid? Or paying them more?

    Personally I would be interested in knowing what the extra expenses are. 🙂

    • An itemized list would be nice. But essentially the bill gives everyone working the production minimum wage, overtime, sick leave, unemployment and other benefits, as well as makes the production company pay the payroll taxes such as FICA. It’s not hard to see where this would add up to a lot of money quickly. All of these great laws go into effect with people turning a blind eye to what will happen, just expecting that companies have unlimited money to spend (ie the greedy 1%). It will take situations like this for people to sit down and really have an honest conversation.

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