Thursday, July 31, 2008

Building Theatres

Joe at Butts in Seats has an interesting article on building a theatre. That is the building itself


Theatre and religion...now that is an a marriage made in ummmmm something.

Artists and Managers Redux Pt 1

I was in an interesting meeting this week. There were a number of reps around a table meeting with an artistic crew who have a very fine project on offer. Well I believe it is a fine project but with what transpired I was taken immediately back to the discussions about artists in administrative roles and what they can bring to the process. {I am only going to deal with part of that issue right now}

The artists have done a huge amount of work on their project. Raised a bunch of money and pulled together a fine creative team. They were looking for a number of partners to get to the next level. And as they made their pitch I wished that they had taken the time to have brought on board a producer/administrator/GM type that could have made the entire session a whole less like watching the Rope-a-dope strategy gone bad.

Instead of a proposal that would have outlined possible time frames and critical paths, research on the best producing times, a clear and realistic budget and an overview of the current state of the industry instead it was an off the cuff presentation by people who were clearly out of their depth. The hard won knowledge and nuances of today’s producing issues could have been accessed easily by them but they choose not to do so.
And as a result instead of having a meeting that was about producing partners looking for ways to be a part of this project it was more of a …hmmmm is this something I want to really commit to, kind of session.

If ever anything cried out for the marriage of artists and administrators then this meeting was it.

Something to consider: Any good creative team should always include an administrator.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to move forward.

So what is to be done with the state things are in? The Law of Unintended Consequences has made a real hash of how independent theatres of all colours can actually operate. Multi-disciplinary theatres are even in a worse bind since none of the agreements actually fit.
One tack that is being taken is there have been conversations between a group of indies and Equity to create a Toronto Agreement that would address the particular needs of that community. It started life from the NY agreement and with much input the process has at least started. There is no word yet how it is progressing and what kind of time line is in place.
I hold out some hope for this as the people on the indy side are smart, knowledgeable and determined. I am also impressed with the new ED at Equity. She seems to have a great amount of common sense. Alas that has not resulted in any clear changes but again it is still early days.

On the other hand what if there is no movement? What if the soon to be started CTA negotiations once again result in the jettisoning of platforms that are vital to the non white theatres? I can offer this illustration.
When I last drove across the country it was early fall. And all across Saskatchewan the fields were being burned of stubble. Farmers know that whether or not you plant, rotate or lay fallow it is usually good to burn the fields and boost the nitrogen in the soil.
And so in James Baldwin fashion I offer the solution that if Equity and PACT cannot find a way to move up to 2008 and to address the issues of the non-white theatres then we as a group should remove ourselves from those organizations. 
Now that is a pretty provocative statement and a pretty final step. But really…Martin Luther King would never had had the appeal that he did if the alternative had not been Malcolm X. If there is no movement towards recognizing the needs of the changing communities then we need to absent ourselves from a futile process.
Frankly I believe that it is time to make the culturally diverse issues a part of the main stream discussions and to take it out of breakout sessions and sidebar dialogues. If not then we will be forever marginalized. 
At this point in time no theatre venues are run by a culturally diverse theatre company. None. In the entire country. And since the CTA and its sidekick agreements grew out of Equity and the venued theatres needs and desires there has been little room or progress for the rest of the ecosystem.

So maybe it’s time to burn some fields and start things over again. 

Friday, July 25, 2008

Good / Road

Imagine a time when the bulk of acting work in this country was theatre based. Ok radio drama was big as well but theatre was king. To work in this country was to be able to get your Equity card as it was the passport to better pay and some safeguards against being stuck in Saskatchewan on a busted contract. You basically had to be offered the work at a “real” theatre to get the credit to get the card. Thus many actors of a certain age spent a season touring the back woods of the Prairies doing school tours and the pay off was that red and white piece of cardboard.

Time moves on and Tax Credit movies, MOW’s, tv series and films start to be the big dogs and of course the mainstay of the performers are from theatre transitioning over. To help both unions grow, a reciprocal agreement is made and basically an unholy alliance is formed. If you belong to one association and you want to work in the others jurisdiction you HAVE to join the other association. And so it started.

Things took a bit of a turn when in the spirit of helping disadvantaged performers ACTRA decided that if you were white you needed to earn 6 credits for membership. If you were non-white or disabled then you only needed 3. This reflected the reality of the day when non-white and disabled performers had substantially less work opportunities.

With the development of fast internet technologies and shortened time lines for auditions Equity creates the e-drive to facilitate the dissemination of work related opportunities for its members. They decide, in their wisdom, that in the spirit of colour blind egalitarianism Equity would have the right to remove any reference to ethnicity, age or body type so that there would be an even playing field.

Which brings us today to the perfect storm. Consider this real life example. It is not a solitary one by any means. 

A young actor of brownish hue graduates from high school with one theatre production under their belt. They get an agent, land a couple of commercials and a small day player part in a series. Under the ACTRA rules they now join and become a full member.
A theatre company looking for a young actor of brownish hue has a perfect role for this actor and upon offering them a moderate part in their play now find out that the reciprocal agreement kicks in and the actor has to join Equity. Their agent says no way are we paying for that so the theatre company has no option but to pay the membership fee for that artist.
After a successful run of the play this actor is now a member of Equity and they have no, repeat, no training. Nonetheless they sign on to the e-drive to see what else is out there and lo and behold not a single job opportunity shows up that says that they are looking for brownish hued type folks.

Road, meet good intentions.

The actor now is locked into the associations and their opportunities for non-union work have vanished. This scenario particularly strikes the brown sectors. When a few actors in those communities get their ACTRA card and then they get to do the reciprocal dance all of a sudden they find themselves being restricted from even working with their own theatre companies. Their company's outreach and development opportunities are thwarted, since by rights, the artist should now always be working in jurisdiction and they can’t afford that. All the good intentions have in fact created a situation that retards the growth of non-white performers/theatres and communities.

And so…what’s to be done?

Stay tuned C.T.A. Part 3

C.T.A. Part 1

Or should I join Equity or not. Well that is the question for many new actors coming into the business. And sometimes one even has a choice about it but often, due to an interesting set of alliances, there are no choices.

First some background. Many times we talk of getting or signing an Equity contract. And indeed there are actual Equity contracts. The Independent Artists Projects Policy, Small Scale Theatre Addendum or Guest Artist Policy contracts are a few examples. The main agreement is the Canadian Theatre Agreement that is negotiated every three years by P.A.C.T {Professional Association of Canadian Theatres} and Equity {Canadian Actors Equity Association}. If you have your copy of the CTA handy take a look at the back cover and see how the word “Professional” is misspelled. Simple typo or editorial commentary? Who knows.

Most of the venued companies in the country are PACT members and therefore operate under the CTA. And so since this is a negotiated agreement we should stop skewing our view of it and properly call it a CTA contract. That way the praise or blame for what is in there can be evenly distributed.

Once you willingly or forcibly join Equity you can never really leave. Until it was changed a few years back Equity used your S.I.N. as your RRSP Contribution number. So theoretically if you resigned they would have to cancel your RRSP which would in effect stop them ever using your S.I.N. again as an identifier if you ever re-joined. I’m not sure the S.I.N. was ever intended to be used in such a way but there you have it. I think that then a decision was made that even if you resigned you could not completely collapse your RRSP. 10% always had to be left in. That way it stayed open, your S.I.N was still linked and operational and you were still an Equity member. Thus whatever your life choices were after that you were still supposed to operate under the rules of the organization. Real life Hotel California

In recent years the S.I.N. was de-linked and everyone was issued an Equity# but I am still not sure if you can withdraw 100% of your RRSP upon resigning.

Once you have joined Equity as a full member your work choices both broaden and diminish. They broaden because there are all those wonderful PACT houses that you are now available to work in. And diminish because if, for example, you fit into the definition of culturally diverse then your opportunities for work just dropped.

More on this in C.T.A. Part 2

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The World of Black Theater Becomes Ever Bigger

Published: February 21, 2007 NY Times

A very interesting article on Black Broadway aka the chitlin circuit. I love the comments about August Wilson and his play Fences….

One choice quote

if the audiences who go to Mr. Wilson’s plays are predominantly nonblack, he asked, then how significant could he be to black people?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Late to the Debate

There has been quite a wide ranging discussion regarding Administrators vs. Artists and I am coming a bit late to the whole thing but I thought that over the next few posts I would try to add a bit of a perspective on some issues.

Ok..first out of the chute are some of the comments from Theatre is Territory

The first is:  Both AD and GM should have a deep understanding of, and empathy with, the other's importance and aims.

Also, these should always be TWO people. DOWN with "artistic producers" or whatever.

I fully agree with the first sentence but I have some issues with the latter one. Throughout this whole discussion I am never quite sure if we are only talking about throwing stones at the large regional theatres or the entire ecosystem. For an independent theatre like us the luxury is in the idea of having two people in those positions. No one, would by choice, take on an artistic producer position unless there was no other choice. Well ok maybe you want to do two huge jobs with little recompense in such a manner that your entire life is subsumed in desperately trying to keep up. There is no time to think, to dream, to vision, to check the audit etc etc. It all gets done but you are constantly in hyperdrive. Really the absolute power thing does not sustain you when you are feeling like the Paul Simon "human trampoline" without the pleasure.

I remember saying to someone in the office after we had a 4-hour reading that the reading was all my art for that month. And yet this may be the only way for an organization to survive. Founders really are the biggest donors to an organization and the telling factor is how the organization grows after they are gone.

The biggest reason the artists were removed was because it was best for the institution. I often have to remind myself that “institution” is a nice word for “nonprofit corporation,” and the primary goal of any corporation is to grow.

It can be a nice word for non-profit corporation but it is also, at least in Canada, also a word for a non-profit charitable organization. And with every charity comes a host of strictures and regulations that determine a particular hierarchical structure that I don't believe is helpful for the arts. The entire concept of a Board of Directors hiring and overseeing the Artistic/Administration team is at best inefficient and at worst destructive. But since money, the tracking, accounting, raising and spending is at the heart of any charity the theatre is already being skewed to a particular path. And at this point the art starts to take a back seat. 

As an organization you are now on a track that, whether you like it or not, you have to meet a set of standards to receive money. And also, like it or not, how you grow now becomes an essential part of that process. You really don't have much of a choice in this. Your continued allotments from the councils are hooked to how you grow. 

So how we stop being moths to the funding flame? Well, we can accept that growth (and probably decline) is just a part of the cycle and that we still have some means to keep on track with our art and the artists who make it.

We can say:

Does my organization have a clear code of ethics that drive our philosophical ideas?

Is there a commitment to that code?

Do we have a long term plan to improve the artistic experience for performers and our audience?

Are we committed to paying artists first and paying them always above scale?

With strong guidelines woven throughout the entire corporate structure we at least have a chance to keep alive the spark that pushed us to create this whole thing in the first place.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I have wanted to write a blog for a good long time now but frankly time was short and the arts discussions were long. I read a number of other blogs regularly. They range from political to personal to arts to knitting to fountain pens. Now in truth I don't knit but The Panopticon is such a great read that I could never resist. And Franklin's 1000 knitter project is one of the nicest arts projects around.

Reading blogs helped me find plays for this season{Black Medea}  and last {Intimate Apparel}. They have sparked much debate for me and have led to great discussion points in our playwright's unit. The current discussion that is ranging over the theatresphere of arts admins vs artists was the Tipping Point for me so here I am.

Thanks to Mike over at Theatre is Territory for the final little shove.

Nsaa is the name of an Adrinka symbol for hand-woven cloth  that stands for excellence, genuineness and authenticity. I had thought of my favourite martial arts phrase of Jikishin {Direct Mind} as this blog's name but somehow the idea of thoughts, desires and words weaving together through discussion seemed more relevant. I am not that interested in this being a marketing space but rather one that can be far ranging and a little bit eclectic.

Much like what goes on in my head.