Interview: Kellie Overbey Chats About The FAIR WAGE ONSTAGE Campaign

By: Nov. 04, 2016
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Veteran Broadway and Off-Broadway actress, Kellie Overbey sat down with BroadwayWorld ahead of the Sunday to chat about the #FairWageOnStage Campaign.

Over 1,000 members of Actors' Equity Associations have signed a letter seeking a pay increase for actors with an Off-Broadway contract.

The current contract is set to expire this Sunday, November 6, 2016.

Kellie Overbey discusses her own experience with working Off-Broadway, what Off-Broadway actors are looking to change and much more!

Check out the full interview with BroadwayWorld below and to sign the petition for #FairWageOnStage click here!

How did you get started with the FAIR WAGE ONSTAGE Campaign?

A couple of years ago Carson Elrod had gathered a few people to talk about how difficult it was to work Off-Broadway and to make a living. We just spent several meetings in a salon-type atmosphere where we discussed, ideally, what would a great contract look like. We all had a lot of ideas, and the same people were not at every, single meeting, but there were a few of us that were central. At some point, we made that known to Actors Equity, and they brought us in to advise them about what we wanted. I think they feel very bolstered by our efforts right now.

You've done a lot Off-Broadway work in your career. Can you talk about the personal experience you brought to Fair Wage OnStage?

I love working Off-Broadway! Some of my favorite credits are plays that I did Off-Broadway. In terms of personal experience, it's the same complaint that everybody has, which is when you are working a full-time job, 42-64 hours a week, and you're bringing home less than half of what you need to actually just survive, it's an unsustainable model. So, you know, years and years of being underpaid make living in New York City - one of the most expensive cities in the world - very, very hard. There's not anyone who works Off-Broadway that doesn't have to supplement their income - their main job - doesn't have to supplement it some way. Whether that's with film and television work, which is not guaranteed, or whether that's with a second or third day job, or whether you might be lucky enough to have a spouse or a partner who has a regular job and an income that can support you.

We're adults and professionals, and we shouldn't have to depend on these things when we are working. The argument is not that we need Off-Broadway work 52 weeks a year. It's that when we are working those jobs, we are full-time employees and we deserve salaries commensurate with what we bring to the business.

The contract expires on Sunday. Are you guys planning anything specific leading up to Sunday? What do you hope happens when the contract expires?

What we hope to get out of Sunday is a fair wage. We want the next contract to provide us all with a fair wage. That's what we want. Leading up to Sunday...I'm not on the negotiating team, so I'm not in the room...but I think we are leaning on each other and keeping up the social media campaign and trying to make the PUBLIC aware of what it is we are doing.

I think there's this misconception in the public - and I'll admit I think actors and stage managers both have, for a long time, internalized this idea - that Off-Broadway is something you don't really do for money. You do it for the love of the it. While it's true that we all love our jobs, we are laborers. We belong to a labor union. We are professionals. There's an interesting statistic, last year, apparently, Off-Broadway brought into NYC $535 million of revenue. That's the kind of thing that we contribute to the city and to the businesses we work for, but we are being paid substandard wages and it's not moral, it's not fair, it's not ethical, it's not sustainable.

Last year, Broadway was very much in the public eye with the popularity of HAMILTON. I think Off-Broadway often gets overlooked by the public that only looks at Broadway.

Well, Hamilton started Off-Broadway. There's was an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week where producer Paul Libin, president emeritus of the Off-Broadway League said equity members work for exposure. That's another misdirect, I'm sorry, but you know, Off-Broadway work is an end to itself. It's a goal. Actors and stage managers have a goal of working Off-Broadway. Off-Broadway leads to other work Off-Broadway. To say that you should work for exposure, is to say that people who are laboring 40-60 hours a week don't deserve to be paid unless that work leads to what, a television show? Then you're being paid by another industry.

They have asked for and we have, subsidized our own employers for decades. I think there's kind of an awakening happening right now, a kind of enlightenment among the membership. We are recognizing that the math just doesn't work anymore. There's no way to make it happen, and we are at risk. The entire industry is at risk of falling apart because Off-Broadway has not prioritized its actors and stage managers, and that way of doing business is unsustainable.

More so than ever, I feel like there's an abundance of stage actors that have migrated to television and film in just the last year. Fair Wage OnStage is really highlighting that there are Off-Broadway actors that need to leave even when we have a thriving industry that isn't being taken care of.

That's right. This is specifically about Off-Broadway, not Broadway, which uses separate contracts. It's the same pool of actors, though, that work both places. I've worked on Broadway six times, and many of my Off-Broadway colleagues have also worked multiple Broadway jobs, but this about specifically the Off-Broadway theater, which is the cutting edge for playwrights, for new plays, for serious plays, for thought provoking plays, for plays about diversity, for plays that challenge their audiences and question our culture. That's where you go to see those things. Broadway, in commercial theater, can be a little bit more about something glitzier maybe. I like to think all New York Theater is challenging to its audiences, but I think specifically Off-Broadway really offers that.

We risk losing veterans, we risk losing young people who go straight to Los Angeles. Veteran actors are going to other cities to do theater, like Chicago or somewhere else, where they are paid better or they're leaving the business altogether to take on new careers. You're going to end up with a pool of actors available for Off-Broadway who are people that already have money for some reason, and that's going to really limit the diversity of the talent available to do what should be these cutting edge plays.

Some of the most diverse musicals and plays that hit Broadway last season started Off-Broadway. Like ECLIPSED and even HAMILTON.

Yes, absolutely. I think people often forget that. Again, we are just asking for what is fair.

The video testimonials Fair Wage OnStage has done pulled in actors from all over to support this cause. How did that social media campaign come about?

I wasn't in charge of that specific campaign, but we all put out the message to our Equity Brothers and Sisters that anything they could say in support of this effort would be helpful. We were met with basically 100% compliance. It just made me realize how part of the zeitgeist this sudden awareness actually is. Actors, collectively, have suddenly woken up and said, "You know what? We need to do something about this!" So, everyone has leant their voice. Basically just about everybody that we've asked has made a video. I think there are up to seven videos a day coming out right now. Mine just went up on Wednesday.

Kellie Overbey - Broadway: The Coast of Utopia, Twentieth Century, "Q.E.D.", Judgment at Nuremberg, Present Laughter, Buried Child. Off-Broadway: Women Without Men (Drama Desk nomination, The Mint), Dada Woof Papa Hot(LCT); Love and Information (NYTW); Rapture Blister Burn,The Savannah Disputation (Lucille Lortel nomination),Betty's Summer Vacation (Playwrights Horizons); Sleeping Rough (Drama Desk nomination, Page 73); Lemon Sky (Keen Company); Animals Out of Paper, Good Boys and True (2nd Stage); The Music Teacher (Minetta Lane); Hamlet (CSC);Gone Home, Comic Potential, Debutante Ball (MTC). Film:Sidney Hall, Imitation Girl, That's What She Said (also screenwriter), Favorite Son, Sweet and Lowdown, Love Thy Neighbor, 35 Miles from Normal, Outbreak, Defenseless,Misplaced. TV: "Blue Bloods", "30 Rock", "The Good Wife", "Law & Order: SVU", "Law & Order", "Unforgettable", "Leap of Faith", "Miss Match", "The Job", "That's Life" and "The Stand."