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QUESTIONS ABOUT THE NEW SHOWCASE CODE
FROM: Nick Micozzi
Today's publishing of some long awaited changes to the Showcase Code should be taken as good news. And with a grain of salt.
First, let's be clear: The issues between AEA and Off-Off-Broadway are very tricky. There are many stakeholders from different points of view. There are lots of very passionate opinions and very few clear, undisputable facts. If it were easy, it wouldn't be an issue, and we'd be focused on other things. But at least these changes are a signal that Equity understands that there is value in OOB, that things have changed.
Now, obviously there is more to do in working together to create economically sustainable theatre Off-Off-Broadway. In speaking for myself as a human being and a New Yorker - NOT on behalf of the IT Awards, the Innovative Theatre Foundation, nor any particular company - I am still troubled by a few things:
First, producers and the community at large should fully understand that Equity faces considerable complexities including labor laws, legal considerations, unemployment, overhead costs, the competitive theatre environment, and other issues that make navigating these factors much more difficult. It’s not easy, and folks at Equity have worked very hard to come up with agreement on these Codes.
Second, in turn, there is the murky process by which changes are made in AEA. I understand why clarity and consistency is important, as well as the priority of members' interests, but i don't see why there can't be more transparency in the dialogue and decision-making process. Why wouldn't the Union want to hold public forums on the issues affecting OOB? Or at least focus groups? If they already have or plan to do so in the future, that would be nice for the community to know.
Next, there have been some considerable efforts by various stakeholders to come to the table with ideas. There was the ART/NY whitepaper, followed by various new or altered code models, by folks such as Paul Bargetto and others, offered as starting point tools for use in the discussion. But it's not clear what happened with those artifacts. I’m told they were considered by the Showcase Committee, but what level of discussion came from those artifacts? Were the authors/sponsors asked to talk about them? If so, to what degree? And if not, why not?
And most important and striking to me: Why - as i understand it from numerous Equity members that have experienced this – would AEA consider actors who produce their own OOB shows to be conflicted and therefore prohibit them from participating in the discussion? These are the folks who know the most about the issues in creating healthy OOB. There's no winning endgame for an indie producer to mistreat or take advantage of their actors. Yet it seems there are some members of Equity committees that believe these artists (because they are actor-producers) wouldn't want to pay their friends, and themselves fairly, or help support their own pension and health fund, or otherwise support their union. That is just frankly unthinkable to me. I know many actor-producers, and every one - without exception - does everything they can to make sure artists are treated the best they can, paid as much as they can, and truly have the artists best interests at heart. And anyway, there are easy, effective, low-cost corrections for “Bad Apples”: bad reputation, Equity can restrict production, Actors can always leave showcase productions at any time, etc. Further, actors who do not have experience producing are simply not aware of the intricacies and external limitations a production faces. Just like serving on a committee, it’s a lot more complicated that it may seem from the outside. But the bottom line again is transparency - what could be wrong with more informed voices in the room? You don't have to agree with another's ideas, but at least you've heard them. Knowledge is power. Debate is healthy. Get everyone at the table - it's a truer model of the real world, from which you make more informed - and ultimately wiser decisions.
Again I'm asking as a human - speaking for only myself - who has a vested interest in the sustainability of this theatre, and a very strong desire to be able to pay actors a respectable, living wage. There is a long way to go to get there, as there are many very influential issues far beyond AEA-producer relations. But I believe that Equity and OOB producers are both better off working as allies and partners. OOB was built by Actor-Producers, and now it's a scene that's 40,000 strong. Equity has reached out with these changes. It's up to all of us, now, to work together to keep strengthening relationships and offering outstretched, open hands.
We can keep people in the city at relatively low wages. Many people who work in finance as administrators and personal assistants would jump at the chance of working in an arts organization even if it means taking a pay cut. I know people who have made that leap from 50-60k working in the financial sector to 30k working for non-profits (back when finance work was plentiful) and were quite happy about it. Now those finance jobs are no longer secure and departments are being cut for efficiency.
For the amount of money it takes the government to sustain a person on unemployment they can almost sustain them in a non-profit job that will in turn create more local spending.
I think this is the direction we should be pushing in, I don't think corporate funding is going to be any easier. However, the government has money they need to spend, we just need to talk them into spending it our way.
On May 13th, The Field and Galapagos Art Space are sponsoring an event called The New Economy Smack Down. They have assembled a double panel of "cultural stakeholders, entrepreneurs and gatekeepers" to participate in "lively debate, truth-telling, and prophesizing" about art and its place in the new economy.
I certainly hope they will be discussing the Mayor's plan for not-for-profits in NYC (see previous posting).
It looks to be an interesting conversation and perhaps some solutions and suggestions will arise from this.
Check out the Field's website for more information.
Wednesday, May 13, 7pm
at Galapagos Art Space
FREE with RSVP, plus cash bar!!!
Also check out the Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists blog.