Do we have fewer 'professional' (i.e., AEA signatory) theatres here in Pugetopolis than elsewhere in the country? I have been told that in Atlanta there are a couple dozen. Is this true? New York I can see, but elsewhere?
I did a bit of research, and in fact, using Atlanta as an example, there are far more "professional" companies in the Seattle area, if you include all those that use Letter Of Agreement (LOA), Guest Artist (GA) and Special Appearance (SA) contracts, that is, those that only occasionally use Equity performers, along with the more formal signatories. Based on this we have a 14:23 ratio in our favor; using only the bigger contracts as a baseline it's a 1:2 ratio, which is actually a little better than one would expect given the relative populations of the two cities (420,000 and 560,000 respectively).
But, when I do a similar comparison of Seattle versus Los Angeles, for example, we still come out pretty good. I didn't count up every single one of the smaller contracts in LA (i.e. the one-offs I mentioned above), which literally come to scores, but for example there are six LORT theatres in the Greater LA Area (not including San Diego, Palm Springs, Costa Mesa, etc.) to our three; eight TYA's (i.e. Seattle Childrens' Theatre) to our one; three WCLO's to our two; and exactly the same number of Small Professional Theatres (SPT), and these numbers include the Greater LA Area, not just those within the city limits. So, with roughly six and a-half times the population, LA proper actually has far fewer professional companies per-capita than we do.
And continuing with the LA/Seattle comparison, a lot of the smaller companies down there fall into the dreaded "99 Seat" or "showcase" theatres, that is, companies where compensation is waived in exchange for providing union members with opportunities to be seen by casting directors and other people who presumably will be able to offer them future employment.
I get asked - a lot - why Seattle doesn't have such an exemption, and the simple answer is: "who in this town that can get you jobs CAN'T see you at an audition?" 99% of the "future employment" we're talking about in LA is in the film/TV industry, not live theatre, so there's just no economic justification for Equity members here to be giving away their labor. You mentioned how hard it is to make a living in this town, well the truth is, it's hard to make a living in this industry in ANY town, even the major media centers such as LA, NY or CHI. Yes, there are a lot more opportunities to work in those cities, but it's offset by the concurrently larger numbers of people looking for work; more jobs=more competition.
This should help put things in perspective: According to the latest figures available from Equity, there are just under 16,000 active members in the New York area, accounting for about 64% of the total members in the Eastern Region, and 40% of all active members nation-wide. LA has about half that many (around 7,500) members, but there are only around 11,000 total in the West, so they account for a far larger percentage in this region. Seattle has 400 active members, ranking us 9th nationally among major cities, so given the number of signatory companies here, and the number of overall employment opportunities, things are, as you've been told Keith, pretty darned good, all things considered.