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

Category: indie caucus

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

July 20, 2012, by

A response to “An open letter to the newer generations of Toronto theatre artists from one of the old farts

Dear Old Farts,

You are absolutely right: “The issue is far larger than the firing of one AD”.

This is perhaps why you don’t see as many young members of our arts community getting up in arms about the firing of one AD as you might like. It’s not because we’re apathetic, it’s because we’re busy fighting those bigger issues and making art.

We’re opposing our governments at all levels. There are those who wish to corporatize the arts, and those who wish to politicize them, either by cutting funding or by moving resources away from arms-length funding bodies and into community events and festivals where the risk of political or dissenting art is low. And, in some cases, not allowed.

We’re engaging in municipal processes that are supposed to be about creating new culture plans for our city, to determine cultural priorities, how money should be invested, how best to build and maintain a cultural ecology. We wrote about those consultations extensively here on While I tweeted live from many of them, I was surrounded by young, active, vocal members of our community. Though I must say, it is rather dispiriting to realize you’ve been invited to contribute to a document that was written before you arrived.

Throughout those rooms the voices present asked that the city talk about art not just in terms of financial investment and return, but about the less tangible contributions that a healthy cultural community can offer a vibrant city. You’ll not see any of those voices included in the new culture plan. When it became clear that any voices in opposition to “creative class theory” would not be included in the report, I asked that my name be removed from the “Consultation Participant List”. I was not consulted, and nor were many of the people in those rooms.

We’ve been speaking up about our own professional association that was built based on old models of making work that no longer reflect today’s realities. Young artists often find the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association to be one of the biggest roadblocks to the development of their work, another issue we’ve written about extensively. You’ll find no apathy on this topic. Younger artists have been working together for years to bring change to this important but out-dated organization, and that work is hopefully about to pay off, despite the fact that some of the old farts have been vocally opposed to reforms that would empower the younger generation of theatre-makers.

The Toronto Indie Caucus is made up of “emerging” and “submerging” artists alike and populated by some of the most driven and passionate young people in this community, and it continues to grow. The work of these artists has contributed to some highly significant votes for change within the association, the development of an Independent Theatre Review Committee, and a possible new indie agreement on the horizon. Let’s hope these extensive consultations to which we have lent our voices will actually take those voices to heart.

We have also spoken out about Luminato, our most recently created arts festival. It was not created by a collective of artists, but by two Toronto businessmen who used their connections with the government to get millions of dollars in funding to create an arts festival as a way of luring tourist dollars back to the city after the SARS crisis. They wonder why, after 6 years they’re failing to find a dedicated audience, community support or “brand awareness”, though I don’t suppose I need to remind our readership that their most recent season included no Toronto theatre artists in its lineup.

And finally, we’re fighting those very structural models upon which the Factory Theatre, and companies like it, is based. For years, arts organizations have been forced to fit into a certain mold in order to appease the various funding bodies. So we’ve incorporated, we’ve set ourselves up as not-for-profits, we’ve created our boards of directors, and we’ve gone after charitable status. This worked for a number of years while there was enough money to go around, but that’s no longer the case.

So we’re researching, we’re investigating best practices in other cities, and some of us are working with Arts Action Research in a program called Theatres Leading Change, which is all about discovering new models that are best for the work that we create, and the way we go about creating it.

When we’re asked to consult, we show up. When there are debates and votes happening at City Hall, we’re there too. When Equity tries to bully us, we get together and push for reforms. When our institutional leadership fails us, we speak out.  Also, when elections happen, many of us work our arses off canvassing, letter writing, phone calling, and video-making.

This is not apathy, but a quiet community of passionate and dedicated artists working away at changing what no longer works. I am not silent, I sit on no fence, and I am not complicit. I’m just offering my voice to a different fight.

In “The Empty Spaces, Or, How Theater Failed America”, Mike Daisey had this to say:

“I’ve gone drinking with the artistic directors of the biggest theaters in the country and listened to them explain that they know the system is broken and they feel trapped within it, beholden to board members they’ve made devil’s deals with, shackled to the ship as it goes down. I’ve heard their laughter, heard them call each other dinosaurs, heard them give thanks that they’ll be retired in 10 years.”

So yes, you’re right, this issue is larger than one AD, and those bigger issues are the ones we’re trying to tackle.

Yours in action,

Aislinn Rose

April 26, 2012, by

Where's the beef? * Fringe Waiver has been replaced by the Festival Agreement.

by Michael Wheeler

CAEA is about to change how it interacts with indie and self-producing artists in Canada.

Before this goes down, CAEA Executive Director Arden Ryshpan is engaged in a cross-country tour to get feedback on what this new agreement should look like.

The snarky part of me wants to cite the numerous concrete suggestions and even a model contract that has undergone extensive public consultation ALREADY, forming the basis for not one, or two, but three overwhelming votes by membership at AGMs to reform the way indie theatre is contracted, as well as the great work done by the Independent Theatre Review Committee. But let’s let bygones be bygones. If moving forward to the agreement membership wants means pretending none of this happened and now is the time to make suggestions, so be it.

Any Equity member in good standing who makes theatre in or around Toronto and has thoughts on this will be able to speak to Arden directly on Sunday May 6th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.  Doors at 6:00pm, meeting begins at 6:30 sharp. Light refreshments will be served. Bring your Equity card.

If you are a CAEA member and don’t want to complain for another decade about a confusing array of prejudicial contracts that make it impossible to create your own work, please organize your schedules accordingly. Last chance to make an impact. Your voice is required (again).

Don’t live in Toronto? Here are the other tour dates:

Date: Monday, May 7, Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (PT)
Doors open: 6:30 p.m. (PT)
Location: Revue Stage on Granville Island – 1601 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC

Date: Sunday, May 13, Time: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. CT
Doors open: 5:30 p.m. CT
Location: Lunchbox Theatre – 160 115 9 Avenue SE, Calgary, AB
Special instructions:
Additional Information: Socializing at the Auburn Saloon will follow the meeting

Date: Monday, May 14, Time: 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. CST
Location: Second Playing Space at the Timms Centre for the Arts (University of Alberta campus in Strathcona).

Date: Sunday, May 27, Time: TBA
Location: Prairie Theatre Exchange (Unit Y300 (3rd floor) – 393 Portage Avenue, Portage Place, Winnipeg, MB

Date: Monday, May 28, Time: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. CST
Doors open: 6:15 p.m. CST
Location: The Refinery Arts & Spirit Centre – 609 Dufferin Ave., Saskatoon, SK

Date: Sunday, June 3, Time: TBA
Location: TBA

Date: Monday, June 4, Time: TBA
Location: TBA

Date: Sunday, June 10
Time: TBA
Location: TBA

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 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.

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

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.

October 13, 2009, by

On October 5th 2009, CAEA members sent a strong signal that they weren’t joking at the previous AGM held in Toronto when they voted 96-1 to pass a resolution in support of researching new solutions and contracts for use in creating indie work. With no action taken by CAEA almost one year after the resolution had passed, members returned a second vote that explicitly details their dissatisfaction. Approximate estimates (official numbers are still not available) pegged the tally at 42 for, 4 abstentions, and 4 against.

The motion, which was submitted by Sarah Stanley, was presented to the AGM by Montreal indie artist Zach Fraser. Of particular note was the address to the AGM made by CAEA founding member and ACTRA Lifetime Achievement recipient Walter Massey, who spoke eloquently in support of the resolution.

For the second straight year CAEA membership has voted overwhelmingly to support a new approach to encouraging, creating and contracting indie theatre. All that remains is to see if CAEA staff and the soon-to-be-elected Council will choose to ignore the expressly and explicitly stated desires of membership for a second straight year.

The motion:

WHEREAS there is continuing dissatisfaction among the Equity Member/Creators with the current options to engage Equity artists, including the Independent Artists Projects Policy, Small Scale Theatre Addendum and Coop Guidelines that are available to its members;

AND WHEREAS Equity adopted a member resolution passed at the last National Annual General Meeting, resolving that steps would be taken by Equity to address this dissatisfaction by consulting with a committee, struck by Council, made up of volunteer CAEA Member/Creators whose purpose is to field concerns & suggestions, gather information and seek advice from fellow CAEA members as well as examine alternative options, devise revisions or alternatives to the current agreements and policies and report back to the Business Representatives, senior staff and membership at large, except that committee and advisory work will be initiated and guided by Council and answerable to Council;

AND WHEREAS there is further and growing dissatisfaction among the Equity Member/Creators with the lack of any tangible progress made by such committee and advisory work;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Equity deem this matter a priority and take such steps as may be needed in order to cause senior staff to prepare a full report addressing these issues to be presented to the membership at large by the next National Annual General Meeting.