Answering my own questions since 2001

Canadian Actors Equity are a Draconian Lot

Last week I sang the praises of The Syringa Tree, a wonderful play currently at the Vancouver Playhouse:

The Vancouver Playhouse has a “trailer” for the play on their website. It’s WMV, and in a silly little popup window. I moved it over to YouTube, where it belongs.

I appreciate that I had no legal right to post the video, but it’s unquestionably an advertisement. I assumed that the folks involved–the production, the actors and the Playhouse–would want me to propagate that ad to new viewers. That, after all, is how these things work.

It’s not like I broke YouTube’s servers–as of today the thing had 71 views. Of course, if ten people attend the play as a result of my little upload, that’s another $500 for the theatre company.

Today, through an intermediary, I received a request to remove the clip from YouTube. Apparently posting it there “contravenes the Canadian Actor’s Equity Agreement”.

No Passionate Users Required

Of course, I could have left it up there. And I could easily open a new account and upload it to the site. Or I could encourage each of you to grab the video for yourself and upload, like, 40 copies to YouTube. But I didn’t. I just removed it, because I like the show, the actor, the company and it’s no big deal either way.

I certainly don’t fault the Playhouse–they’re trying to be innovative. Creating trailers for their shows is a great way to do that–they just happen to be restricted in how they can share them.

I do fault Canadian Actors Equity. They’re the “professional association of performers, directors, choreographers, fight directors and stage managers in English Canada who are engaged in live performance in theatre, opera and dance.” They’re a union, and they’re a particularly backward and draconian one by all accounts. I’ve probably got a dozen stories from friends and colleagues about how their regulations have prevented artistic projects, large and small, from succeeding. It’s a really tragedy that they’ve got such a lock on the industry.

After all, who am I? I’m an audience member (a passionate user, to use Kathy Sierra’s phrase) keen enough to actually promote their members’ work. And what do I get for it? A polite slap on the wrist.

Some institutions are going to be dragged, out Herroding Herrod, into the twenty-first century.

4 Responses to “Canadian Actors Equity are a Draconian Lot”

  1. bubbles

    Hi Darren,

    Equity is not a union in the legal sense. All of their members are considered to be “self-employed”. But that does stop Equity from THINKING that it is a big tough union.

    It is not. And they would realize this if anyone bothered to take them to court for restraint of trade. But only the big fish can afford to do that and the big fish are more content to negotiate seperate agreements with Equity that are far more economically feasible than the standard contract that smaller and less powerful producers have to contend with.

    Equity also takes great delight in slapping smaller companies down because – hey – they can get away with it and they don’t give a shit.

  2. Sherry

    Hi Darren,

    Equity repeatedly conditions it’s members to not refer to it as a Union. The reason for this is a desperate attempt to avoid the court rulings against unions (like the BC film industry’s Teamsters) that state a Union cannot restrict what jobs it’s members take and don’t take.

    Big Brother Equity controls what plays it’s members may work on. When small theatre companies offer jobs to actors that pay less than what large government funded companies can pay, Equity will refuse to allow it’s member actors to work on them.

    Example: A small company pays $10,000 for rent and staff at the Waterfront for three weeks (approx.) If they are lucky, the box office will bring in $5000. And without fat government grants, they are already looking at a huge loss. But even if they offer an actor $300 a week for max 4 hours a night of work, Equity refuses to allow it. If the actor does it anyway, they are expelled from the Union.

    What Equity does is then is say, “Well, if you employ atleast 2/3rds of the cast as Equity members then we will think about it.” Then you have to add on fees, insurance charges and RSP charges from Equity. But who wants a Union making creative decisions about your casting?

    Hmmm. Putting a quota on who you can hire and who you can’t hire. Sounds like a Union to me. And it is.

    It’s a Union filled with a bunch of bitter- out of work actors who are looking to make everyone as miserable as they are. OK, not everyone, but the ones seemingly making policy.

    Actors are too low paid and afraid of being labeled as difficult to fight them. Equity is a problem that feeds on itself.

    Of course, those of the very reasons Equity is convince it is needed.

    If you want to help, then go see more shows that employ independent actors.

  3. Joe Republican

    By what authority does the Canadian Actors Equity Association make rules that can be enforced against the public ?

    Any one know this ?

  4. Ken

    Equity needs to change its policies.

    A teacher who belongs to the teacher’s union is allowed to tutor or teach privately with no union interference because that is independent of any union contract.

    Equity members should be allowed to work in any non-equity company following the same logic. Most unions will allow their members to volunteer, and in many cases work in non-union projects, without any penalty or reprisal.

    Equity is also missing an important opportunity….they would have more members if they did not try to control their membership so desperately.

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