Why Sunday’s RAGM is a big moment for Canadian Theatre and why it’s got nothing to do with raising dues
by Michael Wheeler & Aislinn Rose
A-year-and-a-half ago we published “Why Actors’ Equity Association Is Important and Why it Has to Change” which at the time became one of the most read posts in the history of praxistheatre.com.
The piece concludes with 5 core points about why CAEA needs to reform its policies with regard to independent theatre that still remain true, valid, and urgent to this day:
The future of the theatre in Canada lies in a new generation of hybrid producer/artists. There are very few artists under 35 who categorize themselves solely as “actors”. We are all using the same computer software to create the script in Word, the budget in Excel and make a presentation to the board with Powerpoint. This engager/actor framing device Equity is using to talk about this is at least thirty years out of date.
The average audience for theatre in Canada is very old and this must change for us to survive and thrive. If there is going to be anyone to see the work we make in fifteen years, we are going to have to reach new and younger audiences. Unlike the fictional Youthquake of Slings and Arrows fame this is not going to be caused by a slick marketing campaign – it will be addressed when work by new, younger and more diverse artists is supported instead of punished.
We are at a competitive disadvantage with the US. Contracts like the Showcase and 99 Seat Agreement in the US make new and innovative work much easier to produce. Lots of these shows become nothing. Some become hits and tour to Canada. We are at a particular disadvantage given that our current complicated indie agreements don’t even address touring or TYA productions. Is our major contribution to world drama this decade going to be limited to exceptional remounts of Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Canadian theatre has really sub-par engagement with diverse communities. Both in terms of audience and practitioners our industry is overwhelmingly white. This despite Canada being home to several of the most multicultural cities in the world. Equity needs to wake up to the fact that when they curtail and limit indie theatre, which is far more diverse, they are actively making this problem worse.
This multi-year battle is wasting everyone’s energy and time. How much energy has gone into our multi-year internal battle to have CAEA stop treating its younger and self-producing membership like they are committing a crime for trying to create new plays subsidized by their sweat and hard work?
Yes, we’ve posted this before, but it’s still funny and, apparently, still relevant.
Our post from Spring of last year was motivated by the frustration that came from there being not one – but two consecutive votes at AGMs (One in Toronto and one in Montreal) by a combined vote of 138 – 5 to address the problems facing indie theatre.
After more than two years or stalling and delays, The Independent Theatre Review Committee was set up and commissioned a study to look into the indie issue. An executive summary of the report has recently been posted to the CAEA website, but moves to release the entire document have been met with more stall tactics.
Here are some highlights from the summary:
- In terms of the existing small-scale agreements, satisfaction levels are highest among the Festival Policy (formerly Fringe Waiver) and the Guest Artist Policy. [It is worth noting that the Festival Policy was recently changed to closely mirror the Toronto Theatre Agreement originally proposed by The Indie Caucus and presented to CAEA Executive Director Arden Ryshpan in 2008.]
- 45% of respondents had engaged fellow Equity members to work on a theatre project.
- 25% admitted to having worked off-contract
- 80% said working on small-scale projects is very important or somewhat important to their career.
- Factors more than 50% deemed “very important” included the ability to “work in a flexible schedule that permits other work or commitments”, opportunities to “work with people they admire or respect”, and the desire to “create new/original work”.
- More than 66% were willing to waive quotas of Equity vs. non-Equity members within a given show, as well as pay for a full work week regardless of their level of participation.
Equity members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of steps being taken to address significant dissatisfaction among members with regards to small scale and independent theatre creation at two consecutive AGMs, beginning in February 2008.
Deadlines have come and gone, and Equity seems no closer to action. It must be asked: how much more time does Equity need to implement the clearly expressed will of membership?
This question goes to the heart of the future of Canadian theatre. Will we see more theatre made for a predominantly wealthy, white, elderly audience created by major institutions, or will we see more theatre made for and by the vast, diverse and eclectic population of Canada?
Membership has already clearly stated which option they would like to pursue, the question now is whether Equity will listen and adapt or continue to ignore and deflect.
The CAEA Ontario RAGM is Sunday, November 20th at 7pm at the Wychwood Barns, located at 601 Christie Street. All members in good standing are welcome, and it’s recommended you bring your membership cards with you.