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