As someone who used to follow this story quite a bit, I was surprised to come across this news item that Actors Equity, back in May, finally did revise the Off Off Broadway showcase code.
The modifications made to the Codes reflect more flexibility in rehearsal time, an increase in budget caps for Basic Showcase to reflect today's economics, and create uniformity in rehearsal time for both Codes....
For the Seasonal Showcase, the annual gross income figure at which producers must use the Seasonal Showcase Code is increased to $60,000. Performances may now be held over six consecutive weeks for all tiers. Language has been added, clarifying the performance schedule of Seasonal Showcase Code productions. Maximum ticket prices for Seasonal Showcase productions have been increased to $25
For the Basic Showcase Code, the maximum budget amount is increased to $35,000. This budget amount now excludes the reimbursement stipends paid to Equity members.
New York Innovative Theatre Awards offers a helpful visual breakdown and summary.
And to recap, the point of the "Showcase" agreements is to allow professional Equity-memeber actors to forego salary under certain strictly regulated conditions in order to allow them to work in lower-budget theatre (like Off Off Broadway) and to allow innovative directors/producers/companies to still work with professional actors even if they can't pay them, or at least pay them Equity-level salaries. (Many of the larger showcase companies, though, do pay Equity actors at least a stipend.)
So, in short, if I understand all the changes correctly, if you're putting up shows individually under the Basic Code, your allowed budget limit just went up from $20,000 to $35,000 (75%). Not bad. But pretty essential given current Manhattan space rentals alone.
Also, under the Basic, you can still only rehearse 128 hours total, but can spread that out over 5 weeks instead of just 4. (Is that much of a help?) Ticket prices are still capped at $18 and performances limited to 16 over 4 weeks.
The Seasonal Code is for permanent companies who want to produce Showcase productions year-round, not just one-off's. Poorer companies can just do a series of Basic Code shows if they want, and now AEA has allowed more companies to do that by raising the income they're allowed to take in (to $60,000--I forget what it was earlier) before being forced to run on a Seasonal contract.
But that Seasonal Code itself now has added benefits, such as allowing you to charge $25 a ticket (instead of just $20) and to run 6 weeks in performance, not 5. (Total number of perf's still capped at 20 for smaller companies, 24 for larger.)
So is everyone happy? A "small but important step," says John Clancy, head of League of Independent Theater New York, "toward their recognition of Off-Off Broadway as a legitimate sector of New York City's cultural landscape."
Other reactions in the "indie" community, so far so good. (Hat tip to bloggers Matt Freeman and Zack Calhoon for getting there way ahead of me on this.) Nick Micozzi over at Innovative Theater Awards has continuing qualms about process and openness. (Indeed, this has taken a long times since the movement really gelled two years ago.) For the record, according to Stage Directions, "These changes were the result of the work conducted by the Equity Off-Off-Broadway Committee, which is comprised of AEA members in good standing who have worked under the code, some of whom have produced Code shows."
Still the arc of history is long, eh?
Details aside, it's a significant development just for reasserting that Showcase productions can continue at all! In the present economy, where making any income off of art just got a lot harder, these contractual concessions are all many theatre artists have in NYC. Let's just hope they find some money elsewhere to eat!
For those who care about this issue, congratulations are surely do to those who campaigned so vigorously over the last few years: John Clancy, Susan Bernfield, Shay Gines, Paul Bargetto, and countless others, I'm sure, who haven't left as much of a paper trail. We always knew that any change would have to come ultimately from within Equity, and that Off-Off producers basically had no leverage. But without the pressure and cogent, reasonable arguments applied by these folks, I doubt Equity would have revisited the matter at all, at least not at this time.