Coming soon to a theater near you...

When Cassie and I took on Crowded Fire we began an overhaul of the website. In conjunction with our terrific Managing Director, Erin Gilley, and our Board Member Extraordinaire, Julie Baum (who also serves as graphic designer), we set about changing a great deal of what we had up there. One of the key components of our new approach was video. We wanted to be able to advertise our shows in a way that we thought would be appealing. A way in which we are used to responding to advertising. Little commercials, if you will.

Well... it seems we're not alone. Not that we thought we would be. Here's a link which describe's The National Theater's (London) new Youtube page... which can be found here.

Now all of this is a terrific idea... except Crowded Fire isn't technically allowed to show video with actors from actor's equity in them. We managed to get around this for our current show , but if things don't change for us, we won't be able to use clips from our shows to help our shows. On other equity contracts, theaters are allowed... either that, or they are simply doing it anyway. But because we are on a waiver, they are loathe to make an exception for us.

That's actually the part that bothers me. We are expected to grow into an equity contract without the benefit of an accesible and (relatively) cheap marketing tool. Other, larger, wealthier, companies have access to this same tool... and the money to access other forms of advertisement, but we are hamstrung. Which, of course, makes it harder for us to grow. Catch 22.

Hopefully we can get this resolved. If for no other reason than we would also like to do some multi-media work. I'd hate to have to shut equity actors out of a production in which we use video as an integral part of the plot.

But mostly, I want to be able to share our work with as many potential ticket buyers as possible. And to sell as many tickets as possible. So we can pay as much as possible. To everyone.


Anonymous said...

AEA are motherf#%*ers. They have no concept of the world outside of their rigid rules. I know many companies, actors, playwrights, directors, etc., who have many many complaints against Equity, but nobody will say anything because Equity is like this cabal that won't listen to you and won't acknowledge that some of their rules are archaic, ridiculous, and, frankly, childish. I'm glad they're out there protecting actors, but they seem to be more concered with protecting the outdated rules and guidelines that just don't cut it in theater today.

D said...

Or, to put it another way, AEA guidelines for waivers - BAPP or, in NY, the showcase code - are often problematic for producers AND actors and more or less everyone involved in a production.

I had a little AEA-related rant on my blog not too long ago and I've had an ongoing discussion with various friends about the challenges of the showcase production in NY. There is a petition online and a meeting scheduled for some time in July for Equity members and showcase producers to get together and discuss ideas for revisions/amendments to the showcase code.

I'm interested to hear the ouctome of this situation, Cassie and Kent.

Kent said...

Yes... It is problematic to say the least. I know about many of the problems in NY and there are very similar issues in SF. Our local rep, Joel Reamer, is very sympathetic but there is only so much he can do. Ultimately, it's up to the membership, but I'd be willing to bet a whole lotta money that most of the members have no understanding of what the issues are... or why they are important to producers.

As someone who belongs to a union, (SSDC), I beleive it is important, but somehow things need to be leveled so that the art form can thrive.

Cassie Beck said...

We aren't the only ones talking about this!

Enrique said...

That's so lame. The theatres with the resources to do mass marketing are allowed to use video but you guys aren't? WTF?! Would it help to try and have a "town forum" of sorts for Equity members and producers to talk about the issues in this?

Prince Gomolvilas said...

Hey, I'm the one who left that original comment about AEA being motherf#%*ers. I didn't sign it because I'm afraid they might try to come break my legs. But now that the theater industry is after me anyway, I don't care.

RE: "Our local rep, Joel Reamer, is very sympathetic but there is only so much he can do."

That's what I mean by cabal. Even local delegates have trouble getting through to big daddy. Oy.

Craig said...

I'm a member of AEA. And here is my essay:

I feel for both sides. I think video should be used to help market to a new audience. If the theatre is going to survive into our new culture of entertainment we need to get young people in the seats. And young people respond to other media first.

But on the flip side, AEA is present to protect the interest of the actor, including the use of their image for publicity. AEA allows production shots to be used on brochures and printed materials without paying members extra, but they do require payment to actors for use of a TV commercial. The internet video seems to be that vague area between small market publicity and commercial: do you allow it like you do publicity photos or do you require payment like a TV commercial? But regardless, you are not on a contract with AEA so they are less sympathetic. They probably figure that they are allowing members to work for little or no money as it is, no payments into the failing Health and Pension plan, why should they give any more without something in return? If you gave the incentive that within 5 years you will sign to an MBAT agreement or a full BAT contract, they might be nicer.

Ultimately, and at times unfortuantely, AEA's job is not to promote theatre but to protect the actors and stage managers they represent. You would think protecting members would include promoting theatre, but there is a line between what they see as promoting theatre and abusing members. And allowing small companies to use members without any incentive to the union and it's members seems to fall in that latter category.

As to a soultion, I think the best thing to do is to have the AEA members who work for you, and hopefully agree with you, write on your behalf to the local branch that negotiates the Bay Area contracts and tell them that this is important to members and not just producers, no matter what contract or code. But I'm sure it will come with strings attached, like signing to a contract within 5 years. Or maybe something as simple as using the AEA logo and names of members in the video to spotlight the union just like they do with a BAPP or showcase code program.

Regardless of where you land on this issue, we're in the business of making theatrical art. I personally feel it is not in anyone's interest to hate the union OR producer. You're not going to satisfy either side, but our goal should be to make the best art we can using the rules in place. If there is a problem with a rule, whether with the producer or the union, take action to make change. So thank you to Cassie and Kent for having the debate. By doing so we will hopefully make change. Love you guys!

Kent said...


I agree with much of what you say... I have two problems...

1. If Equity doesn't help theater's of any size promote their shows, then they are not protecting actors. Tickets need to be sold in order to pay a living wage. Actors sign contracts to do a show, knowing the content and kind of show it will be. They are agreeing to appear onstage in a show. If they are uncomfortable with the image that presents... they don't have to sign the contract.

2. Most of Equity's policys are set by members who have no idea what the issues mean. For example, SF is the only place in the country where equity contracts are based on budget size not Box Office. These numbers haven't been adjusted in over 5 years. Commercial rental rates have risen substantially in that time. That affects budget size, without necessarily affecting attendance. Most SF members don't know/understand or care about the differance.

But it affects those of us who are trying to deal with the union in a reasonable way. Were CF to go onto an MBAT tomorrow our budget would have to increase 33%. Right now, there is no graduated way to go onto an MBAT... so we are back to square one. We are expected to grow into an MBAT... but are not given the tools with which to do it.

It's a problem. And it isn't the theater community that is holding up the conversation.

Kent said...


Are you still out there? Do we need to put your face on some milk cartons?

Prince Gomolvilas said...

I am actually alive and well, and my rant against Equity continues here.

...As for the dialogue here:

I don't understand how an internet commercial OR a TV commerical for a play that an actor is IN hurts that actor in any way, shape, or form. What exactly is AEA protecting actors FROM?

Far be it for a commercial to bring in more audiences, thereby giving actors more exposure.


magic marker said...

AEA protects an actor's image and performance. Image and performance are unique to the individual actor just as a script is unique to a playwright. Copyright laws are in place so that an author's work is not used without permission. If Time magazine uses a selection from a play, you'd be stoked about the exposure, but you won't give them cart blanche with it because you should have control over how your work is promoted and sold. If they publish too much about your play, people may be turned off from seeing it because they know too much. Whatever. And if someone produces a play without paying a royalty, authors lose money and more importantly lose control over their work. AEA controls an actor's image in a commercial like an agent or the Writer's Guild seeks royalty or permission of an author's work. That's the protection AEA offers. That's also why AEA and SAG and AFTRA have rules about no two actors having the same name. Your image and performance are your product. The unions do what they can to assure that you have some control over that product. Yes, promoting your work is great, especially with video. But you should be able to control your product at the same time. Hopefully that answers the protection question.

And remember in all this that AEA doesn't just set guidelines that producers must follow. They negotiate all this stuff with producers who sign the contracts. So producers have approved these rules to a degree. Whenever we re-negotiate a contract, AEA actually sends out a survey asking opinions from members about what is important to fight for in the negotiations. Again, I'd say get members to ask for different rules converning video use. Bad rules can be changed or modified.

Michael said...

Life isn't necessarily sunnier this side of the MBAT (from a Managing-Artistic Director). The major problem that I have encountered in my dealings with AEA in the Bay Area is that the "goal" is to get us all to the BAT contract. I have been told by our West Coast rep that MBAT was never intended to be a permanent contract. BAPP is intended to be used by companies on a "one-off" basis - meaning those who occasionally want to work with union performers. This being the case, the union has little interest in negotiating with producers at these levels. Your best bet is to get members of BAAC to take up your case. If nothing else they can raise visibility to your issue within the membership.
All this having been said - I have great respect for Joel and Morgana and the work they are doing on behalf of Bay Area artists. I'm pro-union. I just wish there could be a few more exceptions made for smaller budget companies wanting to employ talented professionals.

Cheshire said...

Impact is dipping its toes in the video promo department as well. However, we're on a BAPP for the current show as well, so we couldn't show our AEA performer. Fortunately, that meant more burlesque girls for everyone.

Anyway, add me to the list of people who hope that Equity's relationship with small theatres improves, in this and other ways. Kent, your responses to Craig above are spot-on. I'm absolutely sensitive to the need for a union to represent actors and stage managers -- I just think Equity could be doing a lot more to help actors thrive in the Bay Area by understanding the needs and limitations of small companies.

Kent said...

Craig - Yes... you are right about image protection. It is your product. The problem I have is what I stated above: The marketing of a show is inextricable from the producing of a show. Therefore, if an actor chooses to do a show, then they are explicitly stating they have no problem with their image being used in said production. Really, its not about protecting your image, its about money... mula... greenbacks. That's why they don't give a hoot if larger theaters do it. They are just as likely to abuse your image as a small theater is. So to claim otherwise is facetious on Equity's part. And again, the more restrictions Equity puts on Marketing a show or a company, the less work their will be for everyone.

Copyright laws all have fair use exceptions. And ways to move around for citation purposes. That's really what we are talking about when we talk about a 30second website commercial. Or a photo on a brochure. Plus... who really owns a production? The producer? The Director? SSDC would say that the director does. Producers would say that they do. So we are in REALLY mutable territory here.

Leave it to Micheal to put his finger on the REAL problem. Equity sees no place in a theater ecology for small, sustainable theater companies. In Equities view (in the Bay Area anyway...) Companies must either grow or die, or never use equity members. When your A.D. is an Equity Member (CF and Center Rep) that creates an untenable situation. for our part... because of the kind of work we do, we likely will never be able to move to a BAT. If we can - great! But we meet all objective criteria for a BAPP and are being told we can't have anymore. BAAC is appearantly split on this issue.

Upshot: Something has to give... or CF dies. Who does that serve?