Over the past couple of months I have had the privilege of being thoroughly entertained by a number of live theatre productions performed to large degree by local casts, designers and stage crew. Some have been in the round, some have been dinner theatre, some have been in the open air, some have been extremely ambitious musical productions. All have been either non-Equity shows or hybrid Equity/non-Equity mixes, produced by local companies. And all have played to strong houses throughout their runs.
* A modern metaphor that refers to a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination. The phrase typically carries a negative connotation when applied to an individual or group.
But you know what keeps going through my mind as I join the audiences in appreciative applause?
Statements heard in the recent past like this:
“Only an all-Equity production can deliver the quality our summer audiences demand”
“Including non-equity, local actors in summer productions lowers the standard to that of community theatre.”
“We do not have the time or money to conduct local auditions.”
Are you kidding me?
(You can give your response to these statements in a poll at the end of this editorial)
Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Actors’ Equity. I understand why it exists and how it protects the professional actors and creative production talent. I am a huge fan of Arkady Spivak’s Talk is Free Theatre and his daring and innovative programming. And I am a huge fan of what Larissa Mair and Nick Baillie bring to Theatre by the Bay each summer. Both are professional Equity companies that operate in our area. But they don’t look down their noses with disdain at local talent. In fact, both offer the opportunity for local talent to be part of their seasons each year by holding well-publicised local auditions. The ‘other’ professional Equity companies don’t. And because ‘they’ don’t have any interest in engaging local talent, The Green Room has no space for them. The mandate here is celebrate the talent we have in our community, not to act as a publicity arm of travelling road shows.
And to be even clearer; I have absolutely nothing against Equity shows. I love them! Over the next week or so, I’ll see a show at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre and couple of outstanding productions at Stratford. This past weekend I saw the opening night performance of TBTB’s production of ‘Crazy For You’. And while I will be the first to say that the level of that performance was well beyond the reach of an all-local production, it doesn’t mean that all outstanding performances are the exclusive domain of all-Equity productions. That simply isn’t true.
No; what I object to is the mantra that only Equity productions can deliver show good enough for small town summer theatre. What I object to the assumption that the on-stage presence of local non-Equity talent will reduce a performance in to a grade school level. That’s a clear insult to the local talent of this region. What I object to is the disrespect paid to locals by not holding local auditions for the one or two non-equity spots when operating under the Equity rules.
Just say ‘NO!’
This mantra is false, in my opinion. Talk is Free Theatre and Theatre by the Bay prove it false. The result? Really great shows throughout the year, and huge amounts of local support from audiences and sponsors alike. And of course there is longer term residual effect of raising the bar of local community productions by their engagement and the providing of a stepping stone of those who have professional ambitions.
Sweeping up the mess is left to taxpayers
On the other hand, what happens when an out-of-town, off-the-shelf all-Equity production leaves town? Sure, it may be a slick show that thrills the tourists, but these productions won’t engage the local community to nearly the same level. As evidence. look at the number of ads in the show programmes. And when the circus leaves town, what’s left? Empty peanut shells. None of the knowledge and experience is retained when the show closes down. There’s no development of local talent, no inspiration for better local productions, no legacy other than a mountain of debt that more often than not has to be picked up by the local taxpayers.
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!
Why are some people so dismissive of local talent? Why do they want you to believe that only a (municipally) funded summer theatre production can satisfy audiences? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t get out enough. Or maybe they have an agenda of their own. Maybe it’s empire building or make-work projects for salaried municipal staff.
We have so much talent to be proud of in our region. We have buckets of high quality community theatre. We have a couple of professional theatre companies who proudly offer local and aspiring talent the opportunity to work at the professional level. All of these offer their communities a reason to be engaged, either as audience members or sponsors who appreciate the positive effect on their community.
It is said that in a democratic system ‘You get the government you deserve’. The same can be said for local culture: ‘You get the theatre your community deserves’. If you don’t demand better for your town and get proactive, you really can’t complain about the results.
The Green Room asked readers to agree or disagree with this statement:
“Including non-Equity or local actors in summer productions lowers the standard to that of community theatre.”
The poll is now closed, but here are the results:
82% STRONGLY disagreed
4% SOMEWHAT agreed
14% STRONGLY Agreed