First of all, go here.
On Sunday Evening, at the Classic Stage, I attended the "community gathering in support of AEA Showcase Reform." Also known as the Coalition for Code Reform. In attendance were representatives from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards, The League of Independent Theater, A.R.T./New York and Community Dish. There was a lively and full crowd in attendance, with artistic directors, associate artistic directors, associate producers, artistic co-producing directors, producing artistic directors, actors (Equity and Non-Equity), playwrights, active union members, producers-with-out-additional-title-distinctions, you name it. There was even a young woman who had moved to New York only two weeks ago. It was a heartening turn-out.
As a bit of a recap: in the New York City area, the Off-Off Broadway community works quite often under the New York Showcase Code. The code outlines the ways in which theatre companies can cast, rehearse and perform with AEA members, without having to pay upwards of $400 per week, per performer, plus contributions to pension and health benefits. Essentially, the cost of the use of most Equity actors, in New York City, on that scale, is extremely prohibitive to smaller companies and so, most companies either use AEA members under the Code, or cast with Non-Equity actors.
The Showcase Code (which can be read here) was created in order to allow actors to showcase their talents to industry professionals, by way of a modest production, without weakening the union by working, on-stage for free. At least that's my take on it. The Code, therefore, was never intended to be used as it is being used now: as the rules that govern almost all productions Off-Off Broadway.
The Code has rules about length of rehearsals and when to take breaks and all that lovely stuff. It limits the ticket price to $18 for Showcase Code productions, and limits the production budget to $20,000. But the main thrust of the code, in New York, is this:
Producers under the code are limited to a maximum of 16 performances, within four consecutive weeks, of a single production using AEA members. After that run of 16 performances within four consecutive weeks, the production can not be mounted again in the New York City for a 12 months.
The effect of this is fundamental to the shape and structure of the New York theater scene.
I'd like to direct readers to this paper, which details the proposals that are being made.
I'd also like to stress a few things that I took out with me, from the meeting:
1) The term Showcase, itself, needs revision. It belies the attitude of the Code itself: that these modest productions are simply showcases for Equity actors to Industry Professionals. Suffice to say, that is not an accurate representation of how the Code is being used or the actual state of the New York City arts scene.
2) Any actual revision of the Code requires a systemic change within Actor's Equity, and can only be brought about by Equity Actors.
I'd love to hear from Equity actors (not producers or directors) about their frustrations with the Showcase Code and how they feel they could benefit from a revision. It's my personal opinion that the success of new work and the success of the actor's performing that work is linked... longer runs and a more accurate code will mean more pay and exposure for everyone, especially the performers.
But I am not a member of Actor's Equity. Are you? If so... how do you feel about the Showcase Code? What do you think of the efforts being made to revise it?
Personally, I'm more interested in solutions than simply identification of the problems. We all know that the system isn't perfect, and that it could be more conducive to the work we're doing. What steps, no matter how elaborate, need to be taken to make Code revision a reality.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.