What the new Indie should look like
by Aislinn Rose
Last week I wrote about the CAEA elections and introduced you to the seven Ontario candidates running as a slate with three main areas of concern:
- A new Indie Agreement that reflects the will of the membership
- Drastically improved communication between staff, council and the membership
- A re-examination of the role Equity plays within the performing arts ecology
This week I want to focus on the first item of their collective agenda:
A new Indie Agreement that reflects the will of the membership.
This is an important distinction to make: an agreement “that reflects the will of the membership”. For years now, Equity and a good number of its members have been at odds when it came to how independent theatre ought to be made in this country. These two articles offer quite a bit of history on this issue, including the votes by members to demand a new agreement, and the creation of the Independent Theatre Review Committee.
The ITRC conducted a nation-wide survey of Equity members, which resulted in an excellent final report, summarizing the responses from artists and engagers alike, and offering several key recommendations. When it comes to “the will of the membership”, that information is readily available, and I applaud the ITRC for their efforts in compiling the data.
Below I offer you my own recommendations of what the new Indie policy should look like, and exactly how that policy addresses all of the major recommendations put forward by the ITRC. I have also used the information in that report to argue for the death of the Co-Op agreement. These are my personal views based on my understanding of the final report and my work as an independent theatre producer working with many Equity members and several staff members over the past few years.
This is what the new Indie should look like:
1) The new Festival Policy should be put forward as the new small-scale theatre contract. You can see the current festival policy at the bottom of the post.
I recommend not calling it an agreement, as there is currently no bargaining organization that exists in the way that PACT bargains on behalf of its companies for the CTA.
2) An “agreed upon terms” document, similar to the one included in the Tangerine Project, should be included as an addendum, allowing artists to bargain on a per-project basis, key terms including project ownership, first right of refusal, etc. An additional section could be added regarding agreed-upon fees, where artists & engagers opt for either a share of profits, or a set minimum fee, as determined by the group. Again, this would be on a project-by-project basis.
Let me be clear: the only role Equity would play in the creation of this document would be to ensure it has been filled out and that all participating members have signed off. At that point, it goes into a file.
3) Finally, a jury of peers (mostly members, with some non-member engagers) should be created (perhaps via the new CAEA Indie Advisory Committee) to assess contracts that may bleed into the harder to determine engager category.
There were some contradictions within the survey results regarding which engagers should be allowed to use the new Indie, based on project budget, and or a company’s core funding. Such a committee of peers could assess these situations should they arise. It is essential that the committee be made up of peers as those peers are actively working in the community and have the best sense of who these companies are and what their resources might be.
Notes on how this policy addresses the ITRC’s Overall Conclusions and Major Recommendations:
ITRC Conclusion #1: The survey revealed that of the small-scale agreements, only the Festival Policy is well liked by members, engagers and staff. That is telling. The main recommendation in this section was that the current agreements should be replaced with a new agreement(s). It is my assertion that this version of the Indie could replace all of these agreements, providing artists and engagers with a high level of flexibility allowing for a variety of creation methods and company models.
ITRC Conclusion #2: Members and engagers highly value small-scale theatre, and this view is also supported by comments from staff. This version of the Indie would confirm and validate the importance of this work, by recognizing the financial challenges that companies & collectives inevitably encounter. It would confirm that Equity does not consider artists who engage themselves in this kind of work as “hobbyists”.
ITRC Conclusion #3: The majority of dissatisfaction appears to stem from concerns about lack of flexibility, administrative red tape, and adversarial relationships with staff. Many members feel the need to lie to CAEA or do their work in the shadows. Staff are concerned with the amount of work required to administer the current agreements. This one seems obvious. The Festival Policy is the most popular agreement among both artists and staff. It offers an incredible amount of flexibility and essentially only requires filing on behalf of Equity staff. The addition of the Agreed-Upon Terms ensures a more professional level of engagement in that the terms are created while working toward a future for that individual project. This kind of agreement would likely improve satisfaction levels with Equity’s role in small-scale theatre, which is currently quite low.
ITRC Conclusion #4: Members & engagers agree artists should have safe working conditions, and an adherence to Equity’s standards of professional conduct. The protections members were most willing to waive included the quotas of Equity vs. non-Equity members, how artists are paid (cheque, money order, etc.), and pay for for a full work week regardless of the level of particupation. The use of the Festival Policy and Agreed-Upon Terms offers the security of safe working conditions by ensuring that artists are insured while working. While insurance costs may be somewhat burdensome for companies and co-ops, I believe those costs are minor in comparison to alternatives offered in current agreements, and really, who doesn’t like to be insured?
The Agreed-Upon Terms document then allows the collective of artists/engagers to decide amongst themselves how artists will be paid, the periods of engagement, etc.
According to the survey, members and engagers were very much in line with one another regarding which protections & benefits were most important, and which were less important, which indicates that members & engagers are capable of coming to agreed upon terms amongst themselves.
ITRC Conclusion #5: Members & engagers value flexible terms of engagement in small-scale theatre work. While members value compensation for their work, the survey indicated a strong willingness to take part in projects where fees are paid as profit-shares, or percentage of gross revenue. Members & engagers were in STRONG AGREEMENT that profit-sharing models are acceptable in lieu of minimum fees, including equal splits or profit-sharing where participants receive multiple shares for multiple jobs on a project.
As I’ve suggested above, compensation should be spelled out very clearly within the Agreed-Upon Terms addendum in order to address options of equal splits, profit share, and/or multiple shares for multiple roles. Again, this allows members and engagers to determine these factors amongst themselves without Equity interference.
ITRC Conclusion #6: Most respondents were in agreement that non-profits and ad-hoc groups should have access to the new Indie. While I think the vast majority of companies and ad-hocs wishing to use the new indie would be clear-cut in terms of their eligibility, the CAEA Indie Advisory Committee (as mentioned above) could be of assistance in determining eligibility with projects in the grey zone: projects with budgets over $50K, as were noted in the survey.
Members & engagers regarding both also felt there shouldn’t be any restrictions based on past productions or other agreements used, and that the engager can be a member or a non-member. This is significant considering most current small-scale agreements include restrictions on the number of times a company can use them, or include a “ladder” system wherein a company that has used one agreement can no longer access another, etc.
The process should not be seen as an “application” for permission to Equity. Members and engagers need only follow the guidelines set out in the Policy, including their own agreed-upon terms, submit the required paperwork to Equity, and then get on to the task of making theatre.
In turn, Equity staff would receive the paperwork, ensure it has been sign-off by all members involved, receive the appropriate payments for insurance, and file the paperwork accordingly, allowing artists to get on to the task of making theatre.
Stay tuned for the conclusion to this post later this week: Why the Equity Co-Op should just die
Follow Aislinn on twitter: @AislinnTO