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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.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Code Reform

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.


Anonymous said...

I think workable revisions to the Showcase code to better benefit actors and new work would be great.
One point though, perhaps for the benefit of casual readers (who haven't followed your link to read the source material of the Code itself). Regarding this point:

"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."

Is not entirely accurate. The production can transition to a contract production. To be fair, the talent costs (and right of first refusal offers to the Showcase actors, some of whom you may not feel like continuing with) end up being prohibitive to nearly all small companies, so from a practical point of view it is like "can't", but it is still not a complete summary of how it works.

Of course, I would guess most of your readers know this anyway, or if they are interested in the issue, they should follow your link to read the code itself as well as the proposals.

Anonymous said...

And as for ideas for revisions, I don't have any that are better than what the White Paper is suggesting, which is why I added my name to the petition, for what it is worth and would vote to ratify these changes if they get far enough for me to be allowed to.

Anonymous said...

The other significant requirement is that the space much have workman's comp insurance, other insurance . . . so that means you couldn't stage something in your garage using Equity actors unless you also pay for insurance . . . which is costly . . .

Most rental spaces have insurance already, which is yet another reason why rents are high.

Freeman said...

Good point, Dave. More accurately, the production can be transitioned to a contract production, at exponentially greater cost. More accurately, it cannot be produced as a Showcase production for another year.

Eliza said...

I was surprised to learn, while designing a show for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival a few years ago, that the Showcase Code does not extend outside of NYC. This means that it is really hard for anyone to produce a small show with willing Equity actors regionally.

I haven't read the proposed changes, but this seems to me something that should be remedied. I guess from Equity's point of view, the talent scouts are in New York. But doesn't this hold back young artists (and therefore the development and growth of companies) regionally?

Zack Calhoon said...

I am a member of Equity and was invited to some of the early meetings of this movement. I wholeheartedly support it, and pray that Equity reconsiders position on the Showcase code. It seems like more and more the only people who are being protected are the actors working under a Production contract aka Broadway performers.

Thanks for the post, Freeman.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of AEA, and I also co-run an OOB theater company. I am not in favor of revising the Showcase Code, because I believe that there should always a lowest rung for those just starting out.

For actors who want to showcase their talents and not become producers themselves the Showcase Code is good; and I'll bet that the majority of folks who use the Showcase Code do it once and never again.

But for those like myself who have used the Showcase Code for a decade or more (which it was never intended to do) there does need to be something else.

I believe what needs to be revised is the Tier Code, and there is some good stuff about that in the White Paper. The Tier Code is the newest, the most untested, and the most in need of change. It should have had a 5 or 10 yr evaluation period from the start, but I doubt that happened, so maybe this is the time.

The Tier Code assumes certain things that are easier to see as not in reality today: that all ongoing producers do 'seasons' of shows; that all ongoing producers have their own theaters; and that all ongoing producers adhere to a B-way bound growth model. So, I see more room for mutually beneficial change in this Code than in the Showcase Code.

I've attended a couple of these League meetings armed with my question about the Tier Code, but don't know if this is a big group question when Q&A time goes by so fast. I've also attended several past meetings of AEA's Showcase Code committee, so I think I have a grip on my union's concerns as well as it's own problems.

I believe a committee of Code-interested AEA-members and this White Paper would have a great opportunity to help the union and the Indie theater community. good luck.

Anonymous said...

I know that Freeman asked only for Actors to respond, and I am a producer...so go ahead and boo me for throwing this out there...but I just wanted to address something in Joshua James' comment:

That is about insurance. AEA does NOT require that you carry Worker's Comp insurance, but that you carry some form of it that can include Volunteers Insurance (which is much cheaper, our annual policy is under $200). No theatre space that you will rent will cover you for Worker's Comp included in the rental (you may get General Liability coverage included in your rental, but even this is rare.)

The insurance requirement, in my opinion, is one of the few things that is really terrific about the Code, as it forces producers or producing artists to protect themselves and their actors.

What would happen if an actor was hurt during your production, Mr. James? Do you expect that their medical costs would be covered by their own health insurance? I don't ever think it is safe to assume that artists of any level have their own insurance coverage. Would you pay for their medical expenses out of your own pocket? I can guarantee that this will cost more than a Volunteers Insurance policy. For all of these reasons I believe that this one particular portion of the Code is not an issue to be addressed, and is not at all a reason that the Code makes it difficult to produce OOB work.

Sorry, I will get off my high insurance clad horse now...