Saturday, July 26, 2014

Times, they are a changin'

Contributed by Nat Cassidy

I told Sean I would write a post to add to this week's discussion of the Equity Showcase code. I was looking forward to contributing because it's a subject I'm really passionate about, and also because Sean promised he'd read two of my scripts in as many weeks but I knew he wouldn't be able to and this was a great opportunity to make him feel guilty for that.

The problem is, I'm a playwright in the middle of a bunch of rewrites, every application in the world is apparently due by August 1st, and I'm also working a day job that is feast or famine when it comes to tasks to be done, and we're feasting like fools at the moment.

Thankfully, all the posts on this subject have already been fantastic, so I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said. I thought, then, what I'd do is, as an Equity actor myself, lay out some things I love about the Showcase code.

I love regimented breaks. I love rehearsal periods that are clearly defined in order to maximize efficiency and not waste people's time. I love travel stipends. I love feeling like I have a card to play in case I start to feel taken advantage of. And I'm not going to lie, I love the secret meeting we have to elect the Equity Deputy as soon as everyone else leaves the room SO THEY CAN'T WITNESS OUR MYSTERIOUS AND ANCIENT RITES.

I'm a big believer in unions. I think it's naïve not to be.

But here's what scares me.

When an Equity actor was recently asked to join the remounting of a Showcase-approved production she did last season, one which was finally getting the chance to capitalize on much acclaim and industry attention, one which was still going to abide by all the rules of the Showcase except that it wanted to perform only once a week for a longer period of weeks allotted (which made perfect sense for that specific show), the union wasn't just resistant. It was monolithic.

This wasn't a cash grab on the part of the producers. It wasn't a case of an actor being asked to do something she wasn't wholeheartedly excited to do. And yet this dues-paying Equity member was made to feel terrible just for even asking, and it took days and days to finally even get to personally plead the case to someone, because every time the subject was broached, the response was just a firm, unyielding NO WAY. So her options were either: scab under a fake name ... or pass up an opportunity that, you'd think, is the desired endgame for every Showcase production.

I try to take every opportunity to give someone the benefit of the doubt. I don't like to think our performers union is somehow blind to the realities of what it's like to be a performer. But I fear that, at best, they've become bound by their own dogma and, at worst, they're easily annoyed by the complaints of the people who bring the least amount of money to the table.

You know, the people who need the union the most.

Another quick anecdote: it's also NYIT Awards Nomination Announcement time, which is fraught with all kinds of emotions, from elation and giddiness to bitterness and resentment. I'm sure whomever is checking the official NYIT inbox gets all kinds of passionate e-mails expressing a whole array of emotions and probably more than a few four-letter words. I'm sure it'd be really easy to get annoyed by a lot of them. But a couple years ago, after actually listening to what the community was saying, good and bad, they asked: "Should we split categories up into premieres and revivals? Should we include an award for stage management? What else can we do to address your concerns?" I'm sure there are still plenty of issues some people might have with the New York Innovative Theatre Awards, but you can't deny that they have a track record of trying to address them.

We've been having this "we need to fix the Showcase Code" discussion for at least a decade (that I've been aware of – it's probably been way longer than that), and that was even before we were up against people being able to watch movies in the palm of their hands and before you had to figure out every conceivable way to advertise your show on social media, which includes video. The times are gonna continue to change around us and I don't want my union membership to become a liability.

We can detail all the things that are wrong with the code itself. But we're not gonna get anywhere if the union doesn't want to really listen.

So I'll close this post with a plea. It's a heartfelt plea, because I'm going to be repeating it to myself over and over again while I try to meet my own deadlines for these rewrites and applications and all the other things I'm doing for little-to-no money in the hopes that they lead to more and more opportunities to showcase what I'm passionate about.

Equity, you gotta move faster.

If you don't you're gonna get left behind. And that won't be good for any of us.

Sean Williams is curating the blog this week in honor of Indie Theatre Week.

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