As Simcoe-Huronia summer theatre nears the season end, it is interesting to compare the programming and activities of regional organisations over these past few months. One issue that consistently raises its head each year is the cost and/or necessity of producing Equity-only productions in small town Ontario. This has been brought to public consciousness to a large degree by a fixed mindset currently occupying the heads of decision-makers in Orillia.
My recent editorial ‘Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid’ which touched on this subject resulted in several comments, some in person and some which were posted at the end of the editorial piece itself in the comment section. But if you haven’t seen those published ones, I reproduce them here for you for your interest.
Incidentally, The Green Room will shortly publish a review of this summer’s theatre activity in the next few weeks.
Rob Reid (Double R Productions/Garage Door Players)
Having seen the Garage Door Players through 10 years of productions I have to say the theatre road is a difficult one to tread.
I have always considered my productions “professional”. Actors and crew get paid. No, we are not Equity. No, we do not receive grants- municipal or otherwise. Part of the reason for that is I have not officially claimed “non-profit” statues. The hoops you have to jump through are involved and laborious. I often refer to the Garage Door Players as a “never-make-a-profit” theatre company. That fits us to a “T”. Our “profits” all go to paying production expenses- as well as cast and crew. It’s not easy to secure money from sponsors and put bums in seats. Sometimes, I’m as successful as throwing a 20 dollar bill at a slot machine at Casino Rama.
But I continue.
We have just finished a short summer run at the Gravenhurst Opera House to terrific audiences, all part of the Gravenhurst OP’s Summer Season. It was a wonderful experience.
Before or after our show I never heard an audience member question- “Are you Equity or Non-Equity”.
It’s like apples and oranges. Equity is one facet of theatre, we are the “oranges”. Equity does not automatically give you experience or make you a better actor. Only the actor can do that. Equity protects an actor’s rights. Equity allows time to pee. Time to eat. Time to rest.
In the Orillia/Muskoka area I don’t believe most people care or even know Equity. In Toronto it’s a different basket of apples- especially in the big theatres.
When we began the run of Norm Foster’s “Sadie Flynn Comes to Big Oak” our Friday/Saturday numbers were low. By Thursday they were creeping up and by showtime on Friday and Saturday we had substantial houses. Why? Great advertising and media coverage for one thing but I also believe those folks who saw the Tuesday through Thursday shows spread the word.
So, if we weren’t “professional” enough for these audiences- or “good enough”, why would they pass the word? Because we were good enough and professional enough and we did it will local actors and crew from Orillia and Muskoka.
The question I did hear several times? Why are you performing at the Gravenhurst Opera House and not in Orillia? Simply because Orillia doesn’t think we are good enough or at the very least “Equity enough”.
Geeze. Some days you can’t win for trying but we are going to keep trying and producing new shows and using the “local actors” we choose who have long resumes of successful stage productions.
As Orson Hubble says in Sadie Flynn- “A person can’t ask for more than that can they?”
See an expanded version of these comments on Rob Reid’s blog.
Andrea-Lee Burnett (Cast member of ‘Sadie Flynn Goes to Big Oak’)
How refreshing it is to read your column. As the other comments above state local talent is amazing. I was just in a most popular production in Gravenhurst Opera House. We packed them in and may I say, we sold the most tickets for a show during the Summer Theatre Festival!!! Yeah Orillia and local community theatrical efforts! May they continue and change the mindset that Professional Equity members are the only ones worth watching.
Jay Wilson (Actor)
My hat goes off to anyone who attempts to develop a professional or semi-professional company in an Ontario community other than Toronto. I understand why local producing companies hire most of their professional talent from the city, they have to, that’s where equity actors have to reside to get steady work. It is however very refreshing to see these professional producing companies employing local talent where they can. What is sad is seeing so many municipalities and presenting companies simply buying ready-made productions from Toronto, while soliciting membership dollars from unsuspecting donors who don’t realize that their money is no longer being used to produce local art.
On the flip side, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that once a community theatre (non-professional) company finds it’s audience, they then owe it to their community to begin the process of becoming an equity house and hiring artists, rather than relying on free talent. Community theatre that thrives by eliminating payroll from the expense sheet isn’t really helping the artistic community at all: in fact the opposite
Jeff Holec (former Mayor of York Region)
Well, John you have once again hit the nail on the head. As a lapsed Equity member (I cannot tell you how much they want in past dues to reinstate me) and the Mayor who oversaw the budgets of the Red Barn and Leacock Theatre I have seen who can or cannot draw the audiences to cover the costs of a short summer season. More recently, I have had the pleasure of working with Rob Reid’s & Tom Reuchel’s Garage Door Players and have seen their audiences fill the theatre. My wife, Sue Dosso, who has also worked with the Garage Door Players, and has appeared in MAT productions that sold out the Opera House.
The financial mystery that swirls around the “professional” summer production company (singular) only adds to the insult to our community – and pocketbooks.