Houston now has one more Equity Theatre in its ranks: 4th Wall Theatre Company, a company which has received a number of Houston Theater Awards for its actors, directors, designers and artistic directors since it was founded.
Those co-artistic directors — Philip Lehl and wife Kim Tobin-Lehl — were on hand Thursday to receive official recognition from the Actors Equity Association from Los Angeles- based union representative Christa Jackson, with actor and Houston Equity liaison chair Joel Sandel on hand.
"It is a great step for us and an important one for Houston in helping promote our theater scene and in paying artists and to continue the ever increasing professional opportunities for artists here in our great city," Tobin-Lehl said before the ceremony.
"We look at the theater size, the kind of productions they do," said Jackson. "We work with each theater to find the appropriate agreement for them. It doesn't do anyone any good to make them an Equity Theatre if they are not financially sustainable.
What the recognition means for Houston audiences is that the actors they see on stage are professionals and are paid a certain minimum standard. 4th Wall has been meeting those standards — joining Theatre Under the Stars, Alley Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, A.D. Players and Main Street Theater as the official equity houses in Houston.
"What we do as a union is we negotiate minimum salaries, working conditions, work rules," Jackson said. "The great thing about 4th Wall is because it is founded by two Equity members who understand the importance of paying actors to do this work, they have always been willing to pay our members and have worked consistently each year to pay more and work longer, rehearse longer, have a longer run and they're fully committed. They have been on a full Equity agreement for two years and they have their own space and it was time. They're doing everything right and they're treating our members well and we only give these plaques out to theaters that meet our standards."
With the plaque and recognition, 4th Wall has also been granted the right to operate an internship program under the auspices of Actors Equity which provides a way for young actors to get professional training and to work toward their own Equity card, Jackson said.
"Houston needs to support these theaters because they are doing the good work. They are actually keeping the talent and the artists in Houston," Jackson said. "With more equity theaters and more work is just going to mean more artists and we all know how much artists contribute to the community."