Saturday, February 16, 2013

Theatre For Thought, February 16, 2013

joel fishbane

The Canadian Actors' Equity Association recently gave Canadian artists a belated Christmas present in the form of two new policies designed to help independent artists and smaller theatres. It’s been a long time coming – for a while now there have been grumblings from both producers and artists alike concerning the older policies. These new ones, known as the Indie 2.0 and the Artists’ Collective Policy, not only succeed in addressing the most pressing issues but also demonstrate an attempt to create a system that accurately reflects the situation for the majority of Canadian artists working in theatre today.

To make a long story short, the CAEA – that’s the union that represents anglophone actors, stage managers, directors, choreographers and fight directors – has worked for years with the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres to make fair and equitable contracts for its members. The trouble is that the majority of its members don’t work with PACT theatres – they work with smaller companies or create ad-hoc groups to create their own projects. 

In order to work, many of these artists create companies or work for smaller, non-PACT theatres.

This is a necessary burden for Canadian artists, given that our country has comparatively few PACT theatres. Consider a province like Quebec, which has 11 PACT theatres or Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which combined only have 9.  Even Toronto, our theatre capital, has only 24. Some of these theatres only produce one or two shows a year, leaving thousands of theatre artists scrambling for what amounts to a small handful of jobs. In order to work, many of these artists create companies or work for smaller, non-PACT theatres. Until now, Equity has used a jumble of different policies to regulate what is essentially the wild west of Canadian theatre. 

The consequence was that, for many, joining Equity felt like a double edged sword. Membership could feel more like a burden since you were forcing your employer to go through lengthy application procedures and accept imposed restrictions on payments and rehearsals. As for member-created ad-hoc companies, there was a limit to the number of projects they could produce, preventing a young company from capitalizing on their success should they start gathering some steam. 

All that is gone thanks to the newly implemented Indie 2.0. and ACP. Flexibility seems to be the new watchword with an eye towards meeting the individual needs of each particular project. The ACP is the real champion of the day, an impressive new policy that allows a new collective its own independence. Equity’s only concern is that every participant be paid the same – even if that payment amounts to zero. And while Equity members are still required to pay weekly insurance premiums, this requirement does not apply to weeks that involve part-time or informal rehearsal schedules. 

The Indie 2.0. is the more complex of the two policies and one has to credit the writers at the CAEA – they’ve done their best to make the policies as accessible as possible (in other words, they’ve kept complex lawyer language to a minimum). The policy also has admirable provisions for revenue sharing and for a flexible rehearsal schedule. It’s still a little too rigid in some places: the policy requires theatres to either post a bond or pay artists by certified cheque, which still seems unreasonable for small theatres who don’t have cash to spare, especially if they’re relying on revenue sharing as a form of profit. Then there’s a logic gap in judging a production’s eligibility based on its box office potential. The number is calculated on the assumption that a show will sell out every performance at the top ticket price -  something which is not even possible given the number of complimentary tickets doled out throughout a production’s run.

Still, in the end, Equity’s members should be applauding these new policies: they not only reflect the realities of the industry, but also work under the assumption that artists are smart enough to judge for themselves whether or not a particular project is worth their time. This sort of autonomy is exactly what Canadian artists need, especially as we are a breed who have long thrived on unconventional ways to showcase our work.

For more information on the new policies, visit or call the National Office at 416-867-9165 or 1-800-387-1856 

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