changes to the Showcase Code

You might know that Equity is re-evaluating the Showcase Code.  I’m on the subcommittee, so if you’re an actor (Equity or not) who works regularly under the Showcase Code and you’d like your voice heard, here’s one way:  Drop me an email at showcase@michaelbell.net.  What about the Code works for you?  What doesn’t?  How could it serve the needs of Off-Off-Broadway actors better?

(Of course, the best way to be heard is to participate in your union. Call Equity and say you want to be on the Off-Off-Broadway committee. Easy as that.)

12 Comments

  1. RLewis said,

    November 3, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

    Michael,
    I was at the OOB committee brainstorming meeting last month (a non-voting member), and certainly am interested in showcase reform. If you should need help in your work on this, feel free to let me know.
    Thanks,
    Ralph

  2. Brian Fuqua said,

    November 3, 2008 @ 7:18 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Great thing you’re doing, and it’s much appreciated, as I’ve toiled long and hard on helping to establish new contracts and rights for actors (The Jekyll and Hyde Club here in town was the first of its kind).
    Anyway, although I’ve been in Equity and doing showcases since ’87, admittedly I’m not super-knowledgeable of all the restrictions, specifically rehearsal and show run restrictions. But what I found most frustrating was the lack of rehearsal time allowed and, even more, the fact that you can’t extend a show if it’s finally finding its audience (especially considering how long it takes reviews to drop!).
    Thanks man, and hope you’re well.
    Bri

  3. bill fairbairn said,

    November 4, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

    Hi Michael,

    I did Lear with boomerang theatre, outdoors on weekends in several NYC parks. Since no one is around on the July 4th weekend we wanted to be dark on that weekend and add a weekend on to the end. BUT that violated some showcase rule. So AEA would not OK that request so from 12 performances we were down to 10. It happened to be the rainiest July in history and we were rained out for two weekends so we had only six performances because they would not let their members who wanted to work add back two weekends.

    The producer tried but AEA would not give us any more. Their mission says they are in the business to help their members. Well their members had worked very hard on preparing that show, traipsing out to Brooklyn and all over, building audience for live theatre, staying fresh in their craft. No one made any money – not cast or crew – all volunteer. So it was not as though the union was protecting us from rapacious producers. Everyone connected to the production wanted more performances but NO.

    The mission statement was not honored in any way. The only conclusion that I can draw is that the bureaucrats who run the union are in it for their own job security not for their members.

    Most likely the argument is that they must be consistent in applying the rules and that one exception leads to another. The refrain was always “Well you can appeal” Right and it would be winter before that had any effect. Consistency is the refuge of small, insecure minds.

    Sorry for the rant but I still rankle three years later.

    Flexibility and quick decision making is important. More rehearsal time, more budget allowed to stop all the subterfuge,(does anyone think that the budget restrictions are not violated?) more performances allowed, if a showcase can get reviews and build an audience 16 performances are over with and all the work is gone. I do not know of any producer who would stand in the way of an actor who got a paying gig and needed to leave a showcase production. So where is the harm?

    thanks for your efforts.

    Bill Fairbairn

  4. Michael said,

    November 4, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

    Thanks to everyone who has given feedback so far. I’m reading everything I get. Remember you can email me (showcase@michaelbell.net) if you’d prefer.

  5. Heather Cunningham said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

    Hey there, we haven’t met, but I came across this thanks to NYITA.

    My biggest issue as producer is that $18 is not a sufficient enough ticket price for me to pay for my productions as they are, and we are not paying anybody. I’m talking rent, postcards, costumes/scenery/props. Retro Productions does full productions on half a shoestring as it is and we can not raise enough money in this economy to make up the difference that the $18 ticket price leaves. When was the last time the ticket price was reviewed?

    I do 16 performances in a 41 seat house and my budgets have yet to exceed $12,000. I would have to sell out every seat at full price to make back the budget, and as we all know, comps for press and industry prevent that even if I could sell them all.

    Thanks a lot!
    Heather Cunningham
    Producing Artistic Director
    Retro Productions

  6. Marcus Geduld said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

    Hi. I’m the artistic director of Folding Chair Classical Theatre, a 501(c)(3) corporation that produces Showcases. I’m pretty much exclusively a producer and director, so I’m not an AEA member. But I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with union members for a decade, and I have some thoughts about Showcase reform. Thank you for giving me a place to express them.

    As others have pointed out, the $18 ticket-price makes it difficult to recoup costs. This seems particularly unfair when shows are often produced by AEA members themselves (admittedly this is not the case with my company). It’s sad that a bunch of union members (who are currently out of work) can’t get together and put on a show without losing money they can ill-afford to lose.

    And even though my company isn’t run by an AEA member, it’s sad that it can’t put on a show without losing money. The only we way we’ve found to recover costs is to dip into our own pockets. That means that in order for our company to survive, my co-producer and I have to donate thousands of our own dollars. One day, if we can’t afford to do that, we’ll have to put an end to the company. That will be too bad for us, and it will also be too bad for the many AEA members we’ve cast over the years.

    I completely understand and agree that we should not be making a profit. If we’re making money, then the actors should get their fair share of it. But the balance shouldn’t tip so far in the opposite direction that our only other option is to lose a huge amount of money on each show. Ticket pricing should allow us to at least get close to breaking even.

    By the way, we not only lose money producing our shows. We also lose money when we spend (what is to us) a small fortune promoting our actors. To be honest, reviews don’t do much for our company. We usually get good reviews, and that’s nice, but they come in too late to attract audiences for a four week run. Still — once again out of our own pockets — we often pay three thousand dollars to hire a press agent. We do this to help out the actors. We do it because they are our collaborators and friends, and we want to further their careers. AEA should realize that many producers are like us. They like their actors. The want what’s best for their actors. Help us help them.

    Rehearsal time is the other big problem. My company produces classics. Our actors mostly work full-time day jobs. That means we get a couple of hours each night, for four weeks, to rehearse “Hamlet” or “King Lear.” That’s not sufficient. Of course, we could produce less ambitious shows, but doesn’t it help AEA members to show themselves off in great roles and difficult plays?

    My suggestions are as follows:

    1. AEA’s main concern should be that if companies make a profit, they should give the actors a fair share of that profit. I don’t know what that share should be. You have people who can figure that out.

    There should be no set ticket price, but companies should have to account for their budgets, costs and ticket sales. If a company only spends $8,000 on a show but takes in $20,000 in sales, they should have to give a portion of their profits to the actors.

    A loophole here is that a company could claim that they need to charge $100 a ticket to pay for their $10,000 sets. So there should be a cap on production budget.

    Showcases should not be allowed to spend over a certain amount on their shows (though this amount will have to be adjusted regularly to meet the demands of the economy). But as-long-as they can show that they didn’t overspend and that they didn’t make a profit without sharing it, they should be allowed to charge whatever they want for tickets.

    2. Under the current code, an AEA actor can pull out of a Showcase at any time, including on opening night. So why dictate rehearsal lengths? If I tell an actor he’ll have to rehearse for five years, he can just say, “No way.” In fact, he can say, “Sure, no problem” and then quit after the second week. So why micro-manage the amount of time companies can rehearse?

    Here are two sub-suggestions about rehearsal time:

    a. since actors can quit whenever they want, don’t set rehearsal-time maximums at all.

    b. if that seems unreasonable, extend the allowed time-limit to two months. This should at least allow companies to explore more experimental or difficult works.

    3. I highly suggest that you allow performances to run for eight weeks instead of four. If necessary, insist that union members be paid that $10-per-extra-show stipend (or however much it is) that you currently demand if the number of performances go over 12 (or 14 or whatever it is).

    Shows need time to find an audience. I’ve heard AEA members complain because we had to close a show right when people were becoming interested in it. They’ve begged me to extend the run. I’ve had to say, “Sorry, your union won’t let me do it.”

    It generally takes a week (at least) for a review to appear. That means that if you run a show for four weeks and reviewers come during the 2nd or 3rd week, the review appears just when the show is about to close. That doesn’t help anyone.

    4. Finally, please clarify the “travel allowance.” I’ve had to pay it to actors who get unlimited-ride Metrocards from their employers. I once called AEA to ask about this. I was told, “You should be grateful that you get to work with our actors without paying them a salary. The least you can do is pay them a few dollars a day for their work.”

    I said that I absolutely don’t begrudge them a stipend for their work. I am happy to pay them what I can, but this particular payment isn’t called a “stipend for work.” It is called a travel allowance. Why am I paying a travel allowance to people who don’t have travel expenses? I’ve actually had actors tell me they need their travel allowances so that they can buy beer.

    I guess I’m literal minded and a stickler for honesty, but please, AEA, either make the travel allowance an ACTUAL travel allowance, and require the actors to at least sign something saying that they have legitimate travel expenses, or openly call it a stipend. Don’t use a travel allowance as a general stipend. If actors deserve a stipend, write that into the code.

    I would like to say once again that it’s been — and continues to be — a joy and privilege working with New York’s great actors. We’re all in this together. Let’s do what we can to ensure that people can work and work well.

  7. Danielle Montezinos said,

    November 16, 2008 @ 2:00 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you for your hard work in addressing this matter.

    I feel the NY Showcase code is completely out dated and not relevant for NYC AEA members , such as myself. I have lost work on showcases simply because I am a union member and therefore come with restrictions. The LA 99 seat code is more up-to-date and amendable to actors who are looking to just perform and practice their craft. I think as New York Union actors we should be at an ADVANTAGE rather then disadvantage and if we implement something similar to the 99 seat plan that would generate more performance opportunities for us.

    Producers currently do not want to be locked into restrictions like number of performances per year, rehearsal hours and other restrictions that would make their show have to sit in “the can” for a year or two before it can move on just because they used AEA actors. This makes non-union actors more desirable.

    I do think there should be some measurable restriction on rehearsal time but it should be dependent on the type or show. A one act may take less time to rehearse then a fully staged new musical or Shakespearean piece.

    In LA they have it right. Look to that contract and bring something like that here. It’s sad when AEA actors have more stage time in LA then in NYC….isn’t NYC the Theater town???

    If I want to volunteer my time to grow as an actor in between pay gigs, that’s my purgative, not the Union’s. The Union needs to figure out a way to make that “legal” and not punish actors who simply want to work and explore their art..

    Thank you again for your help in this matter.
    Sincerely,
    Danielle Montezinos

  8. Edward Einhorn said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 11:44 am

    There are so many ways in which, i think, the current showcase code hurts the actors. It was made at a time when the reality of OOB was very different from the current reality. I speak as someone who has worked nonunion as an actor and has also produced under the code – but I am limiting my comments to the actor’s perspective, because that is what should matter to Equity, of course. Here are some examples of ways I think it can be improved:

    The currrent number of performances, espeacially the 4 week limit, is extremely limiting, espeacially considering the way New York press works. By the time a reviewer has attended and a review is printed, even if it’s good, the show is near closing. Small budget shows need time to pick up momentum, and its that momentum which will help bring in agents, producers, and others who can help the actors career.

    The restrictions on how quickly a show can be revived also are restrictive, for the same reasons.

    The restrictions on videotaping are also counterproduction to the actros’ interests. There is a distinction, I think, between using the actors’ performances in a commercial sense and using it as a record, which can then be shown to other institutions and can lead to other productions (which hopefully will also come with a budget that can pay the actors).

    Using excerpts as guerilla marketing is also a modern day possibility, with things such as YouTube. It sspreads around the show, making iot more likely for industry to come, and if it showing a good performance, it promotes the actor.

    The rehearsal time is restrictive as well. A 4 week rehearsal period for a large show such as a musical is almost prohibitive, if the actor wants to also be able to work at a day job, as many need to. So the choice becomes between risking losing the day job, not doing the show, or possibly doing the show with an underrehearsed performance. A more flexible rehearsal schedule, calculated based on hours in rehearsal rather than number of weeks, would allow actors to also work around their own schedule with greater ease (and possibly make money, when working on a non-paying gig)

    And limiting the budget to $20,000, when many rental are almost half that, limits the actor to a show with an underfinanced set, costumes, and publicity.

  9. Chance Muehleck said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

    Michael,

    Just want to add my thanks and support. I’m both an Equity actor and independent producer, and Equity’s sadly outdated Showcase Code serves neither of my interests. The League of Independent Theatre has collected some great ideas regarding reform, including using the LA 99-seat code (mentioned above) as a model. My company, and many others in NYC, are making collaborative, process-oriented work. In many instances, we actually treat our artists more fairly than the rules of the Showcase Code proscribe.

  10. Gregg Lauterbach said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

    A major restriction that MUST change is the prohibition against videotaping performances. Especially for new works, it is vital that writers have a record of the performance so that they can go out and sell the script to the next producer and create more work for actors. It’s so much easier to SHOW someone a great new script than ask them to read it.
    Also, on repeated viewings, it is much easier for creators to see what does and does not work. This cannot always be done in a short rehearsal time and short performance run.
    Videos would have the added bonus of creating a record for performers’ and directors’ resumes as they search for their next job. Everyone asks for video clips these days from agents to casting directors to producers. Actors who work primarily in theatre are at a distinct disadvantage to actors who manage to get cast in student films or indies. And increasingly you often need a video reel before you can even get cast in those.
    Yes, there will probably have to be limitations as to what can be posted on-line or what kinds of written consent will have to be obtained before such postings are made, but this really is a vital issue and I’m sure the details can be worked out.

  11. Erika Iverson said,

    November 24, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

    I am the development director and one of ten actors that make up Magis Theatre Company: http://www.magistheatre.org. We started out as actors wanting to train together — many of us MFA graduates of Columbia University — and after a couple of years decided to form a theatre company and make work together. So essentially we are actors producing ourselves.

    Our goal was to do one production a year — and with all of us learning the ropes of fundraising and producing by the day — that is a lot. One of our biggest challenges in as actor/producers has been dealing with the union. Because most of us are Equity, we have had to try to squeeze in our productions to meet code dodging bullets as we can.

    The first show we did in the summer of 2005 was Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale.” It started out as a showcase but we realized that our last two weeks — which were moving from an outdoor stage to indoor was going to make too many performances and we jumped into mini-contract code without knowing what hit us. I had to borrow what to me was an enormous sum of money to meet the bond and run out and get a tax ID and all sorts of things that I didn’t understand at the time.

    For the next show which we developed over a year, an adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce,” we hired a general manager — also an MFA Columbia person and a friend of ours — who had worked for Equity in the past. She managed to negotiate an LOA contract for us which made our budget a little more manageable than a mini-contract but was still really nerve racking and forced us to beg money and lend money back to ourselves a number of times. We took a big risk on this show and though it paid off, it felt like Equity’s demands made our work harder than it needed to be.

    Our third and most recent show, “The Witlings,” we decided to be as simple as possible: Showcase Code. By the rules. We kept the number of performances within code and made it through with very little financial issues only because we lucked out in raising a decent amount to meet our budget. The sad thing is the box office return was very small and the audience numbers did not have the time to grow by word of mouth because of short run. Also, the showcase budget was so unrealistic that it was nearly impossible to pay standard designer fees etc.

    I do hope we will be able to amend the showcase code. I understand that Equity doesn’t want producers to screw actors over, but we feel like sometimes we have to keep shouting “We are producing ourselves; I promise, we aren’t trying to screw ourselves…”

    Thank you so much for considering this issue. I feel that it is crucial to the ongoing production of theatre in New York.

  12. Michael said,

    December 28, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

    Thanks to everyone who sent me emails and posted comments here. I have been able to share people’s feedback with the subcommittee, and I think that has been extremely helpful. We’re still meeting and probably will be for awhile, so comments and emails are still welcome any time.

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