Why it’s time to put the Equity Co-Op to bed
by Aislinn Rose
This is a continuation from Tuesday’s post about what the new Indie Policy should look like, and how that policy would reflect the will of Equity members. Today I’m arguing why the Co-Op Policy should be put out of its misery, based on the same final report I referred to on Tuesday, created by Equity’s Independent Theatre Review Committee.
Traditionally, the Equity Co-Op Policy has been used for collectives made up of members to create their own work. All members of the collective are assumed to be carrying equal weight and responsibility, and therefore any split of the box office is divided equally among participants.
So why put an end to the Co-Op?
Simply put: it’s irrelevant and unnecessary.
As I wrote in Tuesday’s post, the ITRC Final Report revealed that the Festival Policy was the most popular policy among members, engagers, AND staff. While more than half of the members and engagers expressed some level of satisfaction with the Co-Op Policy, the level of satisfaction is much lower than for the Festival Policy, particularly among members. Stated issues included:
- Difficult application process
- Three production limit rule
- Quotas of member vs. non-member participants
- Co-Op roles & responsibilities being rarely equal for equal shares
The “three production limit” means that collectives who’ve gained acclaim and reputation for their work under one name are forced to either change their name or use another agreement they (likely) cannot afford when it’s time for a fourth production. Another complaint is that collectives who have “graduated” to another agreement like The Indie, were not allowed to then move “back down the ladder” to the Co-Op. It is a policy that assumes a theatre company that has money once will have it in perpetuity, or it should die.
These kinds of restrictions have resulted in some companies having to invent new identities for themselves, while others have fought those restrictions in order produce under the name for which they are known. After all, Convergence Theatre does not get to be called “The Best Site Specific Theatre Company in Toronto” by NOW Magazine if they don’t get to be called “Convergence Theatre”.
According to the survey, some members see the Co-Op Policy as outdated and needlessly complicated, and that it doesn’t reflect the way theatre is now made. The final report also indicated that Equity Staff themselves find the Co-Op Policy labour-intensive, and agree that Co-Op projects are not often true collectives.
SummerWorks 2012 provides two examples of different creation and company models: Terminus, produced by Outside the March, a pre-existing successful company in Toronto, and Iceland, produced by The Iceland Collective, which was created for the purpose of putting on that show. They were two very different projects, created by two very different company models, one with an existing text and one with a new text, both of which used the very simple Festival Policy to produce their work and engage CAEA members. Both productions have been picked up by established companies for FULL EQUITY remounts in the 2012/2013 Mirvish and Factory seasons.
This is the beauty of the festival policy, as well as the new Indie Policy I am recommending. Rather than having a document that demands you fit into a certain mold or model, you have a document that asks who you are, how you’ll make your work, and whether all the members have signed off on that agreement. It fits to your model, not the other way around.
For those who think Equity should stay out of small-scale theatre entirely, I would argue that a signed contract with agreed-upon terms assures that everyone around the table, everyone working in the room, acknowledges that work as a professional pursuit, whatever the reasons of the individual participant, and ensures that members are protected while engaging in that pursuit.
Any new agreement about to be revealed by Equity staff that continues to include minimum fees, does not not allow members to determine payment & working conditions amongst themselves, or persists in administering the outdated and irrelevant “Co-Op”, is a proposal that does not reflect the will of the membership, and instead reflects the will of an organization saying “we know best”.
What say you?
Follow Aislinn on twitter: @AislinnTO
Great to have specific examples. I completely agree that the current process at Equity is backwards. Staff decides what agreement or contract and “gives permission” for their members to work. That scenario, by its very nature, promotes a view that members are basically not capable of deciding for themselves what is best for them. Since Equity members are declared professionals, it would be nice if the organization that represents them gave them some respect regarding their decision making abilities, especially when it comes to their own careers. There are many reasons why an Equity member might want to do a fringe show or a collective or a profit-sharing collaboration. This was demonstrated in the ITRC survey to the extent that it became onerous to actually collate a lot of the free form answers. Why should the burden of sorting through those reasons be placed on the staff? No one is twisting anyone’s arm to do a show for less money. But if you want to do it, and get the chance to own a piece of the action, why should you be prevented by the organization that is supposed to support you. Why should artists have to fit into pre-ordained boxes when true artists (especially if professional career artists) rarely like to be put in a clearly defined box. Let the adults get into a room and decide for themselves. Then file their agreed to parameters with the office and pay the insurance.
Thanks Vinetta. Your comment really gets to the core of the issue for me: that adults in a room can decide together how they want to work, and the reasons they want to work in that way. They certainly don’t need a paternalistic organization to “protect them” with a “we know best” mentality.