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San Diego has a national reputation for theater. So do Chicago, Seattle, and Minneapolis, among others. But what do they have that San Diego doesn't?

At least twice as many Equity houses. These hire professional actors, stage managers, and technicians and pay salaries and full benefits. If necessary, Actor's Equity Association (AEA) also assists with administrative items (payroll, labor disputes) , houses out of town actors, and helps open doors for funding and grants. As a result: directors, crews, and producers can focus more on the creative side of the work.

Maybe most important, they give a theater legitimacy.

San Diego has some Equity houses. And owing to a generosity we can't praise enough, donors often sponsor individual actors at non-Equity companies like Moxie and Cygnet. But compared to the other cities, San Diego lags behind.

Local actors, in fact, must make a choice: don't join Equity and stay in town (and play the occasional juicy part); or join AEA, knowing that to make anything like a living you will have to leave the area.

"Actors go for Equity, and that's a good thing," says Jonathan McMurtry, who has been a successful Equity actor for over 50 years. "But we lose a community that way. What can we do to have it happen here?"

The North Coast Repertory Theatre has made a move in that direction. On Tuesday, February 5, it will honor McMurtry and stage a benefit for the recently established Jonathan McMurtry Actor's Fund, ""Championing the Professional Actor in San Diego."

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, McMurtry has performed over 200 productions at the Old Globe (including all 37 of Shakespeare's plays), appeared in leading roles across the country, and given a Craig Noel Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Diego Theater Critics Circle.

The fund will be ongoing, all proceeds "earmarked to pay the salaries of professional actors" at North Coast Rep.

"I'm honored - and humbled - that the fund bears my name," says McMurtry. "It will help provide employment and dignity to our professional stage actors in San Diego.'"

The ceremony takes place at the North Coast Rep on Tuesday, February 5 at 6:30 p.m.

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Vymm2384 Jan. 31, 2013 @ 7:44 p.m.

This will only be good news for San Diego theatre & it's many talented actors if North Coast Rep uses it hire more local actors! Let's hope it creates more work opportunities for San Diego actors--many of whom can never seem to break into the very tight knit community that exists


CygnetSean Jan. 31, 2013 @ 8:47 p.m.

This is indeed good news for professional San Diego actors! However, I have to correct a point in the article. Cygnet Theatre has been under agreement with Actors Equity since our move into the Old Town Theatre in 2008. We have worked under the Small Professional Theatre contract, category 8, hiring union actors, stage managers and assistant stage managers in our year long season. We also pay our non union artists a salary commiserate with that Equity wage as well. We are proud of our commitment to creating paying jobs for local artists, and have been doing so since the first production that opened our doors in our Rolando space in 2003. San Diego has great local talent. It would be a marvelous thing for us all to see more theatre jobs created here in the city to hold them here through sheer artistic opportunity.


Jeff Smith Feb. 1, 2013 @ 10:14 a.m.

My goof. I was referring to Cygnet's Artists Advocate program, which helps to underwrite actors, etc. The blog may have suggested that Cygnet is a "small" theater. Not so. It is currently San Diego's fifth largest company.


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