Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.

Category: actors’ unions

November 1, 2012, by

by Aislinn Rose

Voting in the CAEA Council elections ended last night and the results are in.

Huge congratulations to five of our seven endorsed candidates in Ontario who ran as a slate promoting indie issues, improved communication between staff, council and the membership, and a re-examination of the role Equity plays within the performing arts ecology in Canada.

Those new Councillors are:


Hume Baugh

Mark Brownell

Kristina Nicoll

Vinetta Strombergs

Aaron Willis

Congratulations also goes out to the other two fine candidates elected to Council in Ontario: Nigel Bennett and Yanna McIntosh.

Here’s hoping that an Indie Advisory Committee is formed, allowing Brenley Charkow and Kate Fenton, our other two endorsed candidates to participate in a significant way. Jason Chesworth would also be an excellent addition to such a committee.

Full National CAEA election results can be found here.

Follow Aislinn on twitter: @AislinnTO

October 31, 2012, by

by Aislinn Rose

I recently had a conversation with four of the seven Ontario candidates we are endorsing in the current CAEA elections. Voting continues today until 5pm PT.

In attendance: Hume Baugh, Mark Brownell, Vinetta Strombergs and Aaron Willis


AISLINN: To get the conversation started, could you go around the table and tell me who you are, what your relationship with Equity is?

Hume Baugh

HUME: I’ve been a member since 1984, so that’s something like 28 years. I’ve done lots of different things and have worked for larger companies, but I’ve also spent a fair bit of time over the years doing smaller indie theatre and have observed for years that it’s been difficult, next to impossible in many cases to do it without interference from Equity, which is always too bad.

What really got me interested in Council is what happened to me in December when I and three other people tried to produce one of my own plays and it was a nightmare of being forced by Equity to use a higher level of a contract than I could afford to do, and just feeling like there was no way to have any dialogue, and a staff member refusing to meet with me when we reached an impasse. I was outraged.

The issue of indie theatre and the issue of the kind of communication that’s happening with the association is really what got me interested in being on council.

Aaron Willis

AARON: I’ve been an Equity member for ten years. I got hooked into thinking about Equity Council similarly to Hume, when I was starting to create as an indie theatre producer and having similar difficulties and conversations. Basically being dictated to about what should or shouldn’t happen, and then having to sign agreements that didn’t reflect anything about the way that the work was being created.

Rather than running for Council I ran for the CPAG, the Council Policy Advisory Group, in the last term, and I was co-chair of that with Brenley Charkow. Sitting on the CPAG gave me a real picture of how Equity works from the inside. At the end of those three years, I thought this is a severely dysfunctional organization that doesn’t represent its members very well at all. I thought that means it’s actually time to run for council and try to do something about it.

Vinetta Stromberts

VINETTA: I’ve been a member of Equity since the dawn of time, since the beginning of the alternate theatres. I go back to the 70s. I’ve been on Council before Policy Governance, and I got involved with fighting Equity, because that’s what it’s been, since the late 80s with the original group trying to get the equivalent of festival waivers for Rhubarb.

It was those next wave of small theatres, which was the first wave since the original theatres in the 70s. They were fighting Equity to find a way to do mostly the play development festivals like Rhubarb. The Fringe was in there too, so there was a group of us, who basically did what we did this time around, to get the indie agreement negotiation started, we invaded an Annual General Meeting and we put a motion on the floor. After that negotiation started, every time we showed up at Equity to negotiate, there was a different group of people across the table, even different staff members.

Mark Brownell

MARK: I’ve been a member since 1988. I picked up from Vinetta with the Indie in the 90s with Naomi Campbell. The Council at that time had a lot more control over what was going on and I think there was more of an indie-friendly council back then because they recognized there was a problem. In fact, I think Equity has sort of been realizing there has been a problem that needed to be solved, but there’s always somebody there to sort of block it along the way.

I was the one who initiated the resolution that passed 96 – 1. It was basically a bunch of us who invaded the Annual General Meeting… which hadn’t received quorum the last two times, by the way, so they could pass two or three years of minutes. So they were actually pretty happy. They kind of thought, oh, maybe we should engage the indie on this, even though I don’t think they had any idea or intention to fix anything… they were just happy that people were interested. Of course, the people who are interested have pitchforks…


MARK: At that time Equity was blind, deaf and dumb to anything indie. You go back to previous minutes of previous councils and they had no idea what was going on. It really hit them, it was a blind side…

HUME: About what?

MARK: About any kind of dissatisfaction within the indie. It’s been brewing for 20 years…

HUME: But there’s been so much fighting with indie artists…

MARK & VINETTA: But that’s not Council…

AARON: That’s one of the things that came up is this gulf between staff and council…

MARK: It’s huge…

AARON: I said this at the all-candidates meeting: Staff represents Equity, Council doesn’t. When the Indie Caucus started bringing this stuff up, councillors were saying “why didn’t anyone come to us?”. But nobody knows who you are, no one knows who council is, and when you call Equity you deal with a staff member. That’s who you talk to.

Talking Equity at the Annex CSI cafe

MARK: I have to mention at the Montreal AGM a couple of years ago, we put forward yet another thing that passed again. Zach Fraser was involved in that, and Sarah Stanley… it was basically a reaffirmation of my mine, and Walter Massey stood up, one of the original members of Equity, and I thought oh Christ, here it comes… and he stood up and said “we’ve been facing this problem for a long time and we need it to be fixed”…

AARON: wow…

MARK: One of the original members of Equity said that. And all the people who were against it couldn’t vote against it. They were ready to vote against it. We only had a quorum of about 50 people in Montreal, but suddenly all those councillors who were so dead set against it could not stand against this man who had actually created the union. I was shocked. It was a really wonderful night.


AISLINN: You mentioned being involved in the writing of the current indie policy and I want to talk about this notion of getting great people working in a room together on what a new agreement should look like, and then this history of these draft agreements moving behind closed doors and what comes out is very different to what went in. Do you see that happening again?

VINETTA: I don’t have a lot of faith in how they are portraying the results of the survey. If you say to people, “Hume, would you rather work for Equity minimum, or work for less?” Duh. Of course, we know what the answer is. However, if you have an opportunity to work on a project you believe in, are you willing to work for less? Yes. But they will skew that result and say, “oh, 98% of the people said they want to work for minimum… and only 78% said they were willing to work for less”.

The point is, nobody says you HAVE to work for less, but they say you CANNOT. So they are preventing people from working, which I believe is unconstitutional. And I’m not talking Equity Constitution. They’re preventing us from doing the work we want to do. And the work that charges us, that makes us better, that fulfills us.

AISLINN: There’s been a lot said about the survey and the poor questions that were asked, because obviously the preference is to work for minimum fees. But I feel there were some very clear results that came out of the survey in terms of what many artists value more than minimums, like the opportunity to work with certain artists, creating stuff that’s their own.

MARK: Aislinn, that is where your document comes in very very handy. Because we now have a benchmark. When the new Indie and Co-Op comes out we can compare the two and say here’s where it meets and here’s where it doesn’t meet the survey results.

AARON: This thing about taking stuff behind closed doors, the first I’d heard publicly at all that there was going to be a new Co-Op and a new Indie was when Kerry Ann mentioned it on Facebook.

Kris Joseph did this great job leading the Independent Theatre Review Committee and now he’s saying “I’ve seen a draft of the agreement Arden is working on”. So Arden’s doing it herself.

I think it comes down to contempt for artists, saying “we know better than you”…

VINETTA: … you mean “hobbyists”…

MARK: There’s a paternalism.

AARON: “We know better than you about how you should do your business and how you should create your art. We’re here to protect you from yourselves.” And I find that deeply insulting. There are so many artists who are entrepreneurial and we need an association that supports that and doesn’t squelch it.


AISLINN: In the survey there was a number, something around 25% of the respondents, admitted to having lied to Equity about work they had done…

MARK: That’s low… that’s a low figure…

HUME: The lying isn’t new though… it might just be increasing…

MARK: We had a wonderful AGM at Passe Muraille as part of the CPAG a couple of years ago. We didn’t really intend it, but we suddenly had a whole panel that stood up and said “I lie, I lie. You’re telling me I have to do it this way and I can’t afford it so I lie”. And suddenly people in the audience started standing up and saying “I lie too”. At that point I was shaking my head and asking, at what point are these agreements totally pointless? If people are lying, if they’re having to bend the rules every time… and it’s not just members, it’s Equity itself shuffling all these productions into the Co-Op.

AARON: Equity would like to be the gateway to professionalism. You get your Equity card and that means you’re a professional artist. But that’s not true. There are lots of people who create stuff and make a living and who aren’t Equity and don’t need to be.

Hume talking indie theatre

HUME: You also have these individual artists who decide they want to get together to do a project. Maybe one of them got an OAC grant, so now all of a sudden this person has to become an engager. Equity is constantly pitting its membership against each other.

The whole first 20 years of my career we’ve kind of accepted that this is way Equity is and you just have to fight or lie, but in December it was absolutely insane that when I was producing a show the only organization I had trouble with was my own association, that’s crazy to me. I pay my dues, and I spend this whole time being treated like a criminal, or a shifty kind of person.

MARK: I belong to four associations. Equity is the only one I don’t feel has my back.


AISLINN: You were saying before that there’s a disconnect between members, council and staff, that council is out of the loop. As four of the seven looking to fill the seats in Ontario, if you get elected, what do you want to do to change that?

MARK: Policy Governance is the biggest barrier between Council & membership.

AISLINN: Can I stop you there, because I wonder how many members know what the hell that is?

AARON: Essentially, Council cannot tell staff what is good or not good about an agreement. If some of us get on Council, people who have worked in this way and have useful things to say about what is good or useful in an agreement… all we can do is write policy that Arden will interpret to fix the thing she’s writing.

There’s this idea in Policy Governance, that Council only looks at the Big Picture, not at the details. And then Council has to speak in one voice and present a united front, as opposed to advocating for specific things that need to happen.

What I would like to do once this new indie agreement comes out, if issues come up, I will say “I think there are things that need to be changed”, even though, technically under policy governance I’m not supposed to do that.

MARK: That’s how we can represent the membership.

HUME: I can’t imagine if I was elected, thinking about doing anything else. How would you be able to sit there is somebody brought forward something you disagree with and not say “I disagree”?

Mark, Vinetta & Aaron

MARK: When the door is closed and you’re in Council, you speak your mind. The moment there is a decision made by Council, all Council is supposedly in agreement.

VINETTA: I’ve been asking around in the community and various organizations to get a sense of what others think of Policy Governance and they say it’s for the corporate world, and it doesn’t even necessarily work there.

AARON: It prevents the people who are elected from actually communicating with the membership.

Jason Chesworth [one of the other Ontario candidates] wrote a great piece on facebook about all the things he would do as outreach to membership, and under Policy Governance, he wouldn’t be able to do any of those things.

MARK: One of my biggest interests is advocacy, but under Policy Governance I can’t do it. I can only put it into policy to make Arden/staff do it. But Advocacy should be a core value.


AARON: As an organization that is not a union, but something that represents a bunch of self-employed contractors, what Equity’s role could be in helping the ecology of theatre grow is finding ways to not just defend us as workers, but to also advocate, defend and encourage us as entrepreneurs.

A trade association is a bunch of members working together to grow and prosper, and Equity could be leading that.

MARK: It all comes down to pride in membership. Equity should be bending over backwards so that members finally say, “I’m proud to be an Equity member”. Currently that’s not the case. That is Equity’s main challenge.

Follow Aislinn on Twitter: @AislinnTO

October 19, 2012, by

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.

Convergence Theatre's Yichud

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.

Rebecca Northan: Not a hobbyist

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

October 16, 2012, by

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:

  1. A new Indie Agreement that reflects the will of the membership
  2. Drastically improved communication between staff, council and the membership
  3. 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.

Click to enlarge

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.

Are you a CAEA member? Have you voted yet?

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.

Final Note:

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

Festival Policy

October 8, 2012, by

by Aislinn Rose

*Updated Tuesday, October 9th: Kristina Nicoll has been added to the indie slate, rounding off the number of candidates to 7, the same number of seats available in the Ontario region.*

Last Monday, CAEA Ontario held an all-candidates night to introduce the 20 local candidates running to fill 7 Ontario seats. Each candidate was given an opportunity to read their prepared statement and then take questions from the audience.

From those statements, 6 candidates have emerged as a clear slate of member/creators with three main priorities should they be elected:

  1. A new Indie Agreement that reflects the will of the membership
  2. Drastically improved communication between staff, council and the membership
  3. A Re-examination of the role Equity plays within the performing arts ecology

We would like to introduce you to the slate of candidates whose collective platform we are endorsing:

Hume Baugh
Mark Brownell
Brenley Charkow
Kate Fenton
Kristina Nicoll – added October 9th
Vinetta Strombergs
Aaron Willis

You can read their entire collective statement at the bottom of this post.

As Co-Chair of the TAPA Indie Caucus, and Artistic Producer of Praxis Theatre, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to our regular readers that I am weighing on this election, and endorsing an indie slate with these collective intentions. We have written extensively about Equity’s long and drawn-out process to create a new Indie Agreement, and my Praxis colleague Michael Wheeler has endorsed Equity Councillor and CPAG candidates in previous years.

As with all elections, it’s important to make an informed decision. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing more about the Indie Agreement and what I think it means to “reflect the will of the membership”. We’ll also tackle Equity’s perceived mission & mandate in comparison to the very first clause of CAEA’s constitution demanding that the Association:

“support the general welfare and advancement of the performing arts not limited to but focusing more particularly on the theatrical performing arts and those engaged in theatrical production”

As always, we welcome debate from all sides in our comments section. If there is a particular issue that you would like to see addressed, let us know, and if we can’t address it ourselves we’ll do our best to find someone who can. If you’re a member, you should also check out the already lively debates on the Ontario & National CAEA Facebook pages.

Voting started on Friday, and continues until Wednesday, October 31st. Members should have received their voter instruction kits by now, and I encourage everyone to read the statements of all Ontario candidates here. If you are voting outside of Ontario, you can find your candidates by region here. If you haven’t received your voter kit by October 10th, Equity is encouraging members to contact the national office for assistance.

You can vote online or by phone, and you have the rest of the month to do it. So if you haven’t already voted, check out the indie slate’s platform below, and then join the discussion.

Follow Aislinn on twitter for updates: @AislinnTO

Indie CAEA Nominees Collective Platform

February 28, 2012, by
1 comment

Last night, the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association held it’s Annual General Meeting. At that meeting, a Member’s Resolution was put forward by director, playwright and independent theatre artist Ed Roy:

WHEREAS Equity Member/Creators have demanded action on indie theatre issues for the last three years, expressed in the form of member resolutions at previous National AGMs, which resolutions passed 96-1 in February 2009, and 42-4 in October 2009;
AND WHEREAS the Independent Theatre Review Committee (ITRC) was formed in response to the demand for action on indie theatre issues and completed its work in September 2011;
AND WHEREAS the suggested policy changes resulting from the ITRC’s work on indie theatre issues have been debated and will soon be put in place by Council;
BE IT RESOLVED that Council require the Executive Director to deliver a plan that will directly address indie issues to CAEA members that will finally address indie theatre issues no later than October 31, 2012.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that should the Executive Director fail to deliver a new indie plan to CAEA members by October 31 2012, then until such time as this new indie plan is delivered, that Council enact policy to enable members to work under any currently existing CAEA agreement, policy or guideline (with the exception of engagements governed by a negotiated agreement) as such individual member deems appropriate including the Festival Policy, the Guest Artist Policy, the “Indie” Policy, the Small Scale Theatre Addendum or Co-op Guidelines, without CAEA staff approval and without CAEA penalty or repercussion.

The motion was voted on, with more than two thirds of those in attendance voting in favour.

We have written previously on the issues of Equity and the work of indie theatre artists here and here, and very much look forward to seeing a new indie agreement that reflects the results of the Independent Theatre Review Committee survey, which can be viewed here.

Both the ITRC and Council have devoted a great deal of time and energy to this initiative. It is now in the hands of the Executive Director to deliver new agreements by the October 31st deadline.  After four years of members bringing this issue forward and making it a priority, this is a very positive step for Equity.

November 14, 2011, by

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

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.

February 22, 2011, by

Many theatre artists would like to eat all parts of this hamburger over the course of a given year. Right now its made with mystery meat, but CAEA wants to hear your thoughts on a new recipe.

by Michael Wheeler

If you are a member of CAEA and want to have a say in how you create your own work, the most important email you will ever receive on this topic will arrive in your mailbox starting on Wednesday February 23rd, 2011.

From the “Equiflash” message sent to members last week:

Members with an active email address on file with the office will receive notification and instructions, directly from Leger Marketing, beginning on February 23. In order to speed processing and enable the kind of analysis that will be needed on the results, this survey will only be conducted electronically.”

“The results of this survey will have a direct impact on policies that will determine Equity’s level of support for small-scale and independent theatre, and this could have a significant impact on your career. We hope you’ll take the time to share your thoughts with us.”

In recent years there has been a nation-wide groundswell of discontent with CAEA’s policies regarding independent artists and their collaborators seeking to make their own work and take control of their careers.

Some examples of this discontent include the formation of The Indie Caucus (2007) which has held four separate public consultations on the topic at various Toronto theatres, Consecutive 96-1 and 42-4 votes at national AGMs (2008-2009) to address the situation, a special packed-house Regional AGM held specifically to discuss the issue (2010), and finally the creation of the Independent Theatre Review Committee (2010) to study the issue and make recommendations.

Eight months after being formed, this committee has taken a single public step:  To send you the email you will receive on Wednesday. The answers from the poll linked in the email will form the basis for the values the committee determines should inform their recommendations.

Translation: Four years after this movement started, this is your biggest chance to impact how independently created work is encouraged and made. Do you think Canadian Theatre is going awesome? Do you think we may have to reshape and rethink the way work is created and contracted in the 21st Century? Or is the current model working well?

Normally this is the stuff artists philosophize about in the green room or over beers or whatever. This survey is your biggest shot at having your thoughts impact the way Canadian Theatre is made, encouraged and how you will participate in that ecosystem. Keep your eyes on your inbox and participate in determining the future practices of your industry.

Two things to note:

1 Is your email updated with Equity? If they don’t have your latest you won’t receive the survey.

2 Check your junk mail. The email is coming from Leger Marketing, which also did a recent member survey on insurance. Some members found this survey in their junk mail presumably because it came as a mass-mailing from an unknown sender.

* The Indie Caucus takes no responsibility for members who don’t fill out the survey, are unhappy with their options as artists in five years time, complain about this fact, and are smitten instantly by a thunderbolt.

July 9, 2010, by

The Indie Caucus will host a Tent Talk in the Fringe HQ that is the parking lot behind Honest Eds as part of The Toronto Fringe Festival Saturday at 4pm.

The Tent Talk will cover: A history of the Indie Caucus and its dealings with CAEA since 2007, the results from the massive turnout at Theatre Passe Muraille for the Regional Annual General Meeting to address the growing indie theatre crisis in May, and where things stand with the newly created, but thus far completely silent, Independent Theatre Review Committee  created to address these issues.

The event will be moderated by Ontario CAEA CPAG chair Aaron Willis with three panelists:

sprout2Margaret Evans, Praxis Theatre

Franco Boni, Theatre Centre

Julie Tepperman, Convergence Theatre

All of the panelists have been members of the Indie Caucus since its inception, have had multiple dealings with Equity as both member and non-member creators, and will offer insight and advice on what the future holds in this regard for independent artists and what they can do promote positive change within CAEA.

Clearly this issue is incredibly important to all artists at different stages of their careers and there is growing anger and frustration that even after two heavily lopsided votes (96-1 anyone?), the largest turnout ever at a RAGM to address this issue, and the creation of a new committee to look into the problem – NOTHING HAS ACTUALLY CHANGED YET. Despite all of these meetings and votes, practically speaking, it is still 2005.

Below, three CAEA members who are not members of the Indie Caucus, share their hopes and throughts for reform after attending the now-legendary Theatre Passe Muraille RAGM:

Susan Coyne performs in Thistle Project's Peer Gynt. Photo by Lindsay Anne Black

Susan Coyne performs in Thistle Project's Peer Gynt. Photo by Lindsay Anne Black

Susan Coyne

I was surprised, when I was working on an independent theatre show, to hear my young colleagues talk about how reluctant they were to join Equity. They felt that joining Equity would make it too difficult for them to produce and perform their own work. This seemed very strange to me, as a longtime member of CAEA.

At the meeting, I sensed a huge frustration from the artists who spoke about the rules for producing independent theatre in Equity’s jurisdiction.  There seemed to be a disconnect between what the artists were saying and Equity’s description of the problem. For the Equity officers who were at the meeting, the problem was described as a problem of manpower:  given how small the number of Equity artists employed in independent theatre, a lot of people’s time was spent filling out an enormous amount of paper work.  This seemed slightly to miss the point.  Though I can understand that the Equity office may be shortstaffed. I would have liked to see some kind of acknowledgement that though the numbers may be small, this kind of work, with its willingness to take risks and experiment with new ideas, is the well from which we all draw.  We are all, in my experience – inspired, invigorated and challenged by seeing, and participating in independent theatre, and I hope that we can find a way to not only support and encourage these companies and artists, but make it easier for them to do what they do, within Equity.

Marcia JohnsonMarcia Johnson

The Ontario CPAG (Council Policy Advisory Group) Equity meeting was encouraging and inspiring. The turnout at Theatre Passe Muraile was more than respectable. I recognized friends and colleagues who have been doing great work in Toronto for years.
I am grateful to Mark Brownell and his team for putting a positive spin on the event. We were encouraged to think of solutions, not just tell horror stories. Mark did a great job of providing a context and the background for the struggle that a lot of Equity creator-producers face when it comes to working within the rules. His pie chart showed three-percent of work that Equity members do fall under these different creator-producer categories yet the majority of staff hours are used to facilitate them.

VInetta Strombergs chaired a panel featuring Equity members Rebecca Northan, Melissa D’Agostino and Michael Rubenfeld. They shared their obstacles, successes and suggestions. I was also pleased that President Arden Ryshpan and Executive Director Allan Teichman were invited to weigh in. It was all very conciliatory.

We all treated each other with respect and were constructive in our criticism. The many door prizes were a very nice touch. It felt like we were being rewarded for attending and making it all the way through to the end.

I am filled with hope that an easy to manage contract will be developed and not the (in the words of Ross Manson, Volcano Theatre) ad hoc system that exists now.

 performs in Volcano's The Africa Trilogy. Photo by John Lauener

Maev Beaty performs in Volcano's The Africa Trilogy. Photo by John Lauener

Maev Beaty

So I begin with a confession. I have been an Equity member for several years now. I have produced, written, acted, festivaled, deputied, worked under Guest Artist, Co-op and Indie. I have also complained, been denied, been scolded, been furious and yes, I have been helped. But I have also heard of hypocrisies and confusions that made my hair stand on end. So what is the confession? I have never been to a meeting, rally or parade. I have paid my dues and bitched in bars, but I have never actually tried to involve myself in or be an active witness of the actual machinations of CAEA.

But boy do I love Facebook. I really do. I use it for networking, education, alternative news sources, entertainment and reunions. And thanks to Facebook I finally became involved in my Association’s future. I received probably 40 reminders about the big CAEA May 17th meeting from probably 20 different sources. And it worked. I went. And I am so glad I did.

I deeply appreciated how pro-active and transparent the organizers were and how efficiently the evening was handled. As a ‘newbie’, I never felt condescended to or confused. There was minimum complaining and a lot of honesty. In fact, there was a lot of honesty about dishonesty. A major recurring theme of the evening was that producer/members frequently lied on contracts or simply worked outside them. There are many reasons for this course of action, chief among them being the hassle of negotiating the overly complex and confusing contract options, and the feeling that they were being seen as exploitative and suspicious by CAEA staff. This information came out in the evening not as a complaint, but as a clear sign to staff and council that our system is flawed and requires re-examining. Nobody WANTS to lie. But we need to change things so that’s not the easiest solution.

So – what kind of change? There were several suggestions of improvements and adjustments made that night. Below is the short list of the solutions I was most excited by:

  • Eradicate the graduated system that forces companies to have a limited number of times they can use certain contracts before they must use another.
  • Get rid of the quota of CAEA members that must be in your production when the producer/originator of the project is a Member/Engager.
  • Create a menu prototype for contracts, with choosable options for each module and then provide a sample template that matches your chosen contract to help you fill it out. (it could all be done online – colour coded menu pieces that you pick and choose)
  • Create a clear series of riders that could be easily ‘tacked on’ to that contract that deals with issues such as Touring or using dancers, non Equity or International performers without making them join the Association
  • Make the Fringe Waiver applicable to ALL SummerWorks productions.

Change is GOOD. Yes it was my first CAEA meeting but it sure won’t be my last.


by Michael Wheeler

In many of the circles I run in “Equity” is a dirty word. It is often uttered derisively, and under one’s breath. Something to be avoided at all costs, and dealt with only when absolutely necessary. For Canadian theatre artists trying to create their own work – dealing with this hostile force is one of, if not the biggest, obstacles to pursuing their craft. It is frequently uttered in conjunction with other dirty words.

I think this is a darn shame.

As an artist who unabashedly wears his progressive convictions on his sleeve, I really WANT to like the professional association that represents and fights for the workers in our industry. I think in many ways theatre artists are the canaries in the coal mine in terms of the 21st Century economy: Increasingly our labour is becoming casualized – purchased by employers who offer no benefits or job security on a contract-by-contact basis.

Although there are exceptions, like the year-round acting company started by Peter Hinton at the NAC, in general the North American trend has been to move away from providing steady work and opportunities to local artists. South of the border, Mike Daisey has articulated in great detail the huge amount of money pouring into buildings and institutions as “arts funding”, while the conditions for theatre artists rapidly deteriorates. We are experiencing many of the same conditions and we need a strong professional association to advocate on our behalf.

This is why CAEA is important to all of us. We are caught in a grander paradigm of precarious workers with no security or opportunity to create savings. CAEA has a crucial role to play in advocating and organizing against this disturbing trend in support for artists. In particular, by ensuring the best rate of pay and working conditions in successful profitable productions.

Unfortunately, like some sort of auto immune disease, the vim and vigour with which the association should be protecting artists with the major producers and funders in the country has been turned loose on its own membership. Where the energy of the organization should be going into finding new opportunities to expand and enhance our industry, significant resources are going into shutting down and intimidating member-initiated projects.

The consequences of this misguided strategy have been immense and devastating for independent theatre creators. Unlike artists in competing markets like Boston, Chicago, NYC and LA, Canadian artists have no way to get new work off the ground under a specific company name. There is the option to produce under the Co-Op agreement, but this requires every production member to be part of Equity and does not allow shows to happen under the name of a theatre company. Unable to brand themselves (a key element of building an audience), use the artists they want to work with, and raise tens of thousands of dollars to put on their first play – a huge number of indie theatre productions fail, or simply do not happen at all. It has not been an awesome era to be an emerging theatre artist in Canada.

Those productions that DO happen succeed only after long, stressful, unreasonable, and often hostile negotiations with CAEA. The cumulative effect of this extremely dysfunctional relationship is that those companies that have survived are bitter and lacking in any sort of trust in CAEA to look out for their interests. It was this situation that led to the formation of The Indie Caucus, to provide a unified voice to these concerns. This led directly to a 96–1 vote demanding a response to indie needs at the CAEA 2008 AGM in Toronto. Incredibly, this vote was ignored, until a 42 -4 vote at the 2009 AGM in Montreal to move on this issue post-haste.

All of this has led to the incredibly important, i-won’t-talk-to-you-if-you-don’t-go Regional AGM to address indie issues @ 7pm at Theatre Passe Muraille this Monday May 17th. Just as important is the recent announcement that CAEA will be establishing the Independent Theatre Review Committee to gather feedback from across Canada on this issue. If you would like to join this committee you have until just May 20th to put yourself forward. They will likely be taking nine new members. Seeing as the committee started with three Ontarians (well 2 from Ontario and one from the “dance region”) – if you are not from Ontario and you have an Equity card, your odds of making the committee are VERY GOOD. There is only one actor from Toronto so far, so there is some room there too.

Fundamentally what is missing from existing CAEA agreements is any cognizance of five dramatic shifts going on in Canadian theatre:

There are very few artists under 35 who categorize themselves solely as “actors”. We all have multiple identities now. Someone is a playwright-dancer-director, another artist is an actor-choreographer-writer, and I even know a stage manager-lighting designer-poet. These are the people creating art now. Most importantly, we are all producers. If you try to explain this to anyone at CAEA they look at you like you’re speaking gibberish. It’s like there are no check boxes to accommodate this reality so we’re just going to pretend it isn’t the case.

Where are the young people? Have you been to the theatre recently? As a thirty-three-year-old I often find myself THE YOUNGEST PERSON IN THE AUDIENCE! This is a major crisis. Who is going to come to the theatre in twenty years? We need to take drastic and immediate action to make theatre accessible to a younger generation of theatre-goers. This is going to require engaging and supporting younger and emerging theatre artists instead of persecuting them. It’s time for a Youthquake – and unlike in Slings and Arrows it is going to take more than a slick marketing campaign.

We are at a major competitive disadvantage – when other major American theatre centres have access to agreements with American Equity that allow projects to get off the ground when they are at an early stage, when no one is going to make any money off of them anyway – it makes Canadian theatre much less likely to be daring or new. Are we artists who create daring and innovative work or are we just a place for productions from other places to tour to?

Canadian theatre has really sub-par engagement with diverse communities. Both in terms of audience and practitioner our industry is overwhelmingly white. This despite Canada being home to several of the most multicultural cities in the world. How can we do our job to reflect life back to our citizenry if we only reach and look like some of the citizens? This is a crisis of relevance. CAEA has to look at this situation, take a deep breath, and decide that a quota for the percentage of Equity members in indie productions is destructive and frankly, discriminatory. The door will continue to be closed to these communities unless their participation as both audience and artists in is encouraged.

We need to start working together. How much energy has gone into this multi-year internal battle to have CAEA stop treating its younger and self-producing membership like they are commiting a crime for trying to create new work subsidized by their sweat and hard work? We have much in common and lots to work on to create art and an industry for a new generation of theatregoers. It’s time to bury the hatchet and getting on with the making of this new era in contemporary Canadian theatre. There is no desire to diminish the hard work and many gains CAEA has made for Canadian theatre artists in the past, but it is time to move on and make some gains for the future.