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

Category: CAEA

February 24, 2012, by
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Last November we wrote about a Canadian Actors’ Equity Association Meeting and why, as independent theatre artists, it was important for you to attend.

On Monday, February 27th, the CAEA is holding its next Annual General Meeting. Given that little has changed for independent artists since we wrote our last post on the issue (or since we published “Why Canadian Actors’ Equity Association is important and why it has to change” in May of 2010), it is essential for artists who are members in good standing to attend this meeting and support each other on Monday night.

Here’s what you need to know, and what you need to pass along to all of your friends who are members of CAEA:

Who: CAEA Members in good standing (bring your membership cards!)
What: CAEA’s Annual General Meeting
When: February 27, 2012, 7pm (doors open at 6:30pm)
Where: Gladstone Hotel (Ballroom) – 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON
Why: To support the efforts of independent theatre artists creating new work across Canada

We’ve heard there will be a mixer party after the meeting, so there’s another reason for you to attend!

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 This engager/actor framing device Equity is using to talk about this is at least thirty years out of date.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.

March 24, 2011, by
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by Michael Wheeler

1: Billboard Tax Appeal

So if you didn’t know – the billboard tax was recently overturned in the courts. Whether or not the court appeal should be launched will be decided by Planning and Growth Management Committee (PGM) today, Thursday, March 24th, in Committee Room 1 at 10:00am. This will be followed by Council on April 12th.

More info on the BeautifulCity website, but fundamentally if you’re free this morning, your attendance is heavily encouraged.

2: Equity Indie Theatre Survey Is Due

If you are an Equity member, tomorrow, Friday March 25th, is the last day to send in your Independent Theatre Survey to the good people at Leger. It takes 45 minutes and it is worth it! Just do it. Nike. I don’t know what else to say….

My take on the survey, and why it is important is here.

3: Hashtag for Arts and Culture in the Election

The Canadian Arts Coalition has suggested coordinating information on arts in culture an almost-certain federal election through the hashtag #artsvotecan.

For those of us on the internet, but not on Twitter, who would like to follow this newsfeed, you can find it at The call to action: “Let’s build a national dialogue – one tweet at a time!”

February 28, 2011, by

Reilly Dow will illustrate the The Digital You – creating a visual representation of our discussion through graphic recording.

If you are an Equity member attending CAEA’s AGM in Toronto tonight – this year there is something a little different.

From 8pm to 9:30pm I will be moderating a discussion on the way social media tools like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube have been rapidly transforming the theatrical landscape in a panel called: “The Digital You.”

The panelists for this discussion are: Ross Manson, Maev Beaty, Marjorie Chan and John Karastamatis. These artists and arts professionals represent a broad range of social media use in conjunction with performance. I think it will be a lively discussion and I am excited to see what it looks like at the end as a graphic recording.

Hopefully we will be able to digitize and share this recording!

From the website:

Graphic recording is a powerful tool for synthesizing conversations, dialogues, meetings and events. The recorder creates large-format visuals in real time, tapping into the collective intelligence and wisdom of a group and bringing it to life with graphics.  These “murals” act as a public memory, and help participants in any meeting or conversation share complex ideas easily.

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.

January 31, 2011, by

by Michael Wheeler

* Strombo lays it down. I’ll be honest: I don’t watch alot of Strombo – what with him running concurrently at 11pm with the two greatest political satirists of our age – but you gotta hand it to him for this monologue on what will happen to internet access in Canada if the CRTC’s current ruling is implemented, what’s behind it, and how you can get involved on the side of OpenMedia.

*Someone let Richard Florida back in the building! Maybe it’s gauche to link to my own interview – but  I just suggested to NOW Magazine’s Jon Kaplan that the best thing about cultural policy in Toronto under Rob Ford was that we finally had an opportunity to move beyond the widely discreditedCreative Economy‘ theories espoused by Richard Florida that gained prominence during the David Miller administration. Guess not: Last week Florida was announced as advisor to a new City Hall panel to update Toronto’s culture plan called The Creative Capital Initiative. Something tells me we might have another ‘cultural renaissance’ on our hands. More on this as it develops – there are some smart people on the panel.

* Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) and the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT) have announced a new trial program geared at creating a reasonable way to contract new play creation.  I know, you’re bored already.  If you make new plays in Canada don’t be. The Tangerine Contract has the potential to fundamentally change the way you create work – dividing the process into four creation stages and providing the option to work by the hour instead of by the week. More news on this as it develops. Fingers crossed that this trial goes well and that artists, producers, and artist/producers enjoy working under it.

* Theatre 20 announced their intention to take the success of musical theatre in Toronto into their own hands: 20 established musical theatre artists from multiple generations have come together to start their own company that will create homegrown hits. Looks like they are getting some assistance from the Mirvishes including use of the Panasonic Theatre on Yonge St. It seems like this will go somewhere. I wonder if they will use the Tangerine Contract to make new works?

* The Tarragon Theatre opened the Toronto Stock Exchange? Yep it’s true. One good thing about theatre people is that they are very good at clapping.

* Luminato Artistic Director Chris Lorway announced he is stepping down. No word yet on what that means for the festival or what comes next. I for one am bummed about this as Chris was always quite supportive of this website and my work – even though gained some of its credibility and noteriety from a series of posts about the high degree of B.S. that led to the creation of Luminato in the first place. Proof that a structural, policy-based debate need not be a personal one.

October 7, 2010, by

In July the Indie Caucus held a "Tent Talk" at The Toronto Fringe Festival to discuss the challenges independent artists faced working with CAEA. (l-r) Aaron Willis, Franco Boni, Julie Tepperman, Margaret Evans

The Indie Caucus held a "Tent Talk" at The Toronto Fringe Festival in July to discuss the challenges independent artists faced working with CAEA. Last week a new Festival Contract was announced by the association. (l-r) Aaron Willis, Franco Boni, Julie Tepperman, Margaret Evans

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.

The Good:


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.

The Bad

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.

Click here to download the Artists’ Agreement

Click here to download CAEA’s new Festival Contract