CAEA releases new Festival Contract: It’s pretty good, but only 1/3 of the puzzle
by Michael Wheeler
With little fanfare a significant shift occurred in the world of Canadian independent theatre last Friday. With the release of a new Festival Contract, CAEA addressed about 35% of the problems indie artists face working with and within the association. Sure there are a couple of things in this new document that will never be filed under “awesome”, but in general it is such a massive improvement on what we have been working with that response from indie artists has been overwhelmingly positive.
Sincere congratulations and thanks to CAEA Executive Director Arden Ryshpan for releasing this document indie artists have been desperate for.
Anyone from an experienced member-creator to first-time fringe artist knows that filling out Equity paperwork is usually a confusing, time-sucking nightmare. The Festival Contract on the other hand could be filled out by a twelve-year-old. One page to fill out, put everyone’s name and Equity number on the form, and send it in with a cheque for the insurance. Amazing. Simplicity is possible!
Clarity on what projects the contract can be used for
Before this document there was this thing called the “Fringe Waiver”. Depending on who you talked to at Equity, what projects the waiver could be used for was an exceptionally vague. With the Festival Contract, the names of all the festivals it can be used for, and there are quite a few, are all listed at the top of page one, while the language leaves wiggle room to add more festivals where appropriate. The contract now clearly applies to many of the key venues artists use to get new works off the ground including, Summerworks, HATCH and the Annual International Anarchist Festival.
Understanding the importance of recordings to artistic development and marketing
Much of page one is full of official-type language surrounding how companies may record and document their performance. Although it all sounds quite intimidating, it’s actually great news that shows CAEA recognizes these recordings are necessary to both improve the work and have it produced outside of a festival. Now this may seem like a no-brainer, but when Praxis participated in HATCH this year, we requested from CAEA the paperwork to videotape our work-in-progress presentation of our Equity approved workshop (so we could remember what we did and evaluate our work). We received the following email in response: “Hi Michael, Thanks for the email. Unfortunately, Archival Taping is not permitted for workshops and readings under Article 57 of the ITA.” A flat refusal! To be allowed to record our own unfinished work! Exclamation mark! This won’t happen anymore under this contract.
Lack of clarity on who can use the contract
Without a doubt the most disappointing element is the vague language surrounding 1 a) of this contract, which states it is for companies “not adhered to a professional agreement negotiated with Equity”. What this means is very much up in the air: Does it mean that any company who has ever used workshop, co-op, ITA or other agreements can’t use this contract? Or does it mean that PACT members can’t use this contract as they already have their own agreement with CAEA? Option A is quite unreasonable and option B is quite reasonable.
This is made all the more confusing by the fact that whether companies can move up and down the ladder to use different contracts depending on their resources, is right now a nebulous ad-hoc state of affairs that depends more on your relationship with your business rep than any coherent policy set out by CAEA. It would be GREAT to see some clarity on this topic. If not we fear that there will be one contract for those artists that tow the line and don’t cause trouble, and another contract for companies who take very public risks to keep producing models evolving to meet modern challenges. Will we have to fill out our Fringe application under the company name “Not Praxis Theatre” this November?
Profit sharing not mandatory
One of the core elements of the Artists’ Agreement that the Indie Caucus developed over four very well attended Town Hall public consultations at theatres across Toronto over three years, was a profit sharing model that ensures that artists are entitled to a share of the profits of the work they create. It’s straight-up weird that this contract doesn’t do that stating, “Equity members may receive payment of a small honorarium for their services or participate in a sharing of box office receipts.” So technically, if all you do is sign this agreement, and then your show sells out every performance, if whoever is listed as the producer gives you $20 at the end of the run – they have not violated this agreement. My advice to artists who sign this contract is to make your own additional contract, on the back of a napkin even, that declares how the profits will be divided at the end of the run.
As well received and appreciated this new contract is, it really addresses only 1/3 of the challenges facing member and non-member creators. If you are an artist who wants to have more than 3 hours of tech time to create your art, or control your own media and marketing strategies, or qualify for Dora awards (or any other awards as this is a national agreement), this contract changes absolutely nothing for you.
These really big questions, the kind that the Indie Caucus has been consulting with the community about for the past three years, have just recently been taken up by CAEA’s Independent Theatre Review Committee (ITRC). This committee is a direct result of the massive support amongst CAEA membership to Indie Caucus proposals to find a more flexible and reasonable solution to indie issues as evidenced by the 96-1 and 42-4 votes at consecutive AGMs and the largest ever turn out for an RAGM just to address this issue.
This summer the membership of this committee was chosen with representatives from across the country. Eventually this committee will make recommendations that will hopefully be presented to CAEA membership, probably in the form of a few of options. The big question that arises from this is:
Will the Independent Theatre Review Committee consider the Artists’ Agreement contract that resulted from three years of feedback and Town Hall meetings with the theatre community – or will they ignore it?
As the committee begins its deliberations and consultations – whether or not they incorporate the very ideas that motivated the creation of their committee in the first place, will provide a clear sign as to whether it is a serious initiative to support the clearly expressed will of CAEA membership, or a smokescreen to obscure the lack of any meaningful change to how work is contracted at a professional level.