The ongoing discussion around the labels professional and amateur, independent, pro-am etc. continues elsewhere and will, undoubtedly, go on. I’ve written elsewhere on this issue – here and here. Last week I noticed that Katherine Lyall-Watson revived the discussion in a post called ‘Pro vs Am‘ on OurBrisbane.com. Along with a couple of others, I had my 2c worth in the discussion which has since petered out – for the time being. You can be certain it will return.
I also noticed from the latest MEAA Equity bulletin that A Catch of the Breath by Robert Thwaites currently playing at !Metro Arts is the first to utilise the new Equity Showcase Agreement. I was intrigued to see what these terms and conditions comprise, so I got in touch with MEAA – the Agreement isn’t on the web yet – and they very quickly sent through a copy.
It’s an interesting document, and one which may sort out some of the disgruntlement over labelling, maybe set to rest the ‘taint’ of amateurism which can linger around productions not covered by MEAA awards, but which use the talents of professional artists. More importantly, it provides a way to protect its independent members from exploitation. Should there be any disputes arising from the Equity Showcase Agreement, all parties have to agree, on signing, that MEAA will mediate.
The agreement uses the word ‘Showcase’ in its title. This sets out clearly the expectation that any production negotiated under its terms is to be understood as falling outside the domain of the range of other MEAA industrial awards which cover professional engagement by actors and creatives in various parts of the industry e.g., film and televison, voice-over, and other live performance. The Showcase Agreement is not intended to be viewed as a substitute industrial arrangement; it aims to protect all parties engaged in a co-operative, independent and profit-share production during the life of the show and into its potential future – amongst other matters, it raises the issue up front of ‘first right of refusal‘ should a fully professional production be mounted in the future. That’s a good thing.
The Agreement also recognises the reality of the contemporary Australian theatre landscape where there are far more professional practitioners and opportunities than jobs ‘to fill.’ There are many who are seeking to create their own work outside the ‘establishment’ either as independent producers, directors, writers, performers or any combination of these; they also need protection and recognition as professional arts workers.
It also recognises that in this industry another paying or more lucrative job may suddenly appear for an actor or creative. The issue is addressed and, subject to the terms of the Showcase Agreement, an individual may be free to leave the production. Tough on the producer of course, but that’s showbiz. By the way, if you can get your hands on it, watch the Kenneth Branagh movie from 1995, A Midwinter’s Tale (aka In the Bleak Midwinter). It’s all about the trials and joys of indie theatre making, as well as the angst of bailing out of a show you’re committed to when the big break/big job comes along – Joan Collins is fabulous in a brief appearance as an the agent.
The template for the Equity Showcase Agreement is easy to understand and well laid out, with all terms and conditions clearly indicated for all parties. There’s a nice touch in the requirement by MEAA that the Producer of a production must agree to display the following in the programme and/or signage in the foyer
This Equity Approved Showcase Production is performed by professional actors/performers. For this season, the performers are unwaged.
I think a lot of independent theatre practitioners around town will be pleased with this recognition, and what is a very timely step forward. The mention of being ‘unwaged’ could be a spur to generous donations at the box office too! MEAA needs congratulating for producing this agreement on behalf of its members; of course, it’s another reason to join 24,000 other Australian colleagues who are proud MEAA members.
If you’re a member and would like a copy, just email the membership desk and they’ll send one through. It should appear soon on the website.