The Playgoer: Showcase Code Reformed!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Showcase Code Reformed!

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.

Rejoice, downtowners!

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.


thecontrarian said...


Might you save me some digging about by telling me if this showcase code is applicable in other regions of the country, or only applicable in NYC? Thanks. -Tom Loughlin

RLewis said...

While the recent revision is much needed, it's really only a couple of small changes, so I don't know if I'd go gettin' all bubbly. These, essentially, cost-of-living increases do not come close to addressing the needs of the community where more Actors work than any other nyc sector (not that I have anything against Singer/Dancers or Dancer/Singers).

Edward Einhorn said...

I have to agree with Ralph, here. The Showcase code may be slightly improved, but it is still one of the most damaging realities in independent theater, damaging both to small theater companies and the actors within it that Equity is supposed to represent. I don't want to make the perfect the enemy of the good, but maybe it should be the enemy of the the not-quite-as-awful.

Not to take away from the efforts of all the folks working on code reform. If only they didn't hit a wall of fear from committee members who have no understanding of the current New York landscape or how to help progress the careers of the actors who are working in it.

Tom, the showcase code is only applicable in NY. Other cities have either their own codes (all much better than NY's code) or no such code at all.

Anonymous said...

unfortunately the showcase code was never meant for nor should it be used for inexperienced producers to latch onto unsuspecting AEA members who spend years paying their dues. the showcase code was intended and should go back to its origin of use by only AEA members. producers can get thier experience in other ways. and actors who want to work their craft should learn to search within the union as there are many other members who want to direct and of course stage manage. this showcase IS NOT and nor should it be a tool for producing. personally i say ban all the festivals unless they pay. ban the showcases unless they pay. would you work for free as a doctor, lawyer, vet, politician. this is unethical and anyone who stands behind it is a unfit member of AEA

Isaac Byrne said...

Hey there Anonymous,

For the record, the showcases are required to give at the minimum a stipend for travel expenses to Actors. Some productions offer more than the minimum stipend.

Seasonal Showcase producers are required to give AEA members a percentage of their profit.

That's pay.

IF you think that only allowing AEA actors who decide they want to direct or produce a show is a good way to "showcase" AEA actors or members, I'd say the quality of this "showcase" would be even more in question. As would level of treatment afforded to other AEA actors. Any director or producer that wants to have a career understands their reputation must be protected. Not sure an AEA actor who decides to try their hand at directing or producing would have anywhere near the same concern for how they treat actors in what may very well be a side project to their career.

Festivals that use AEA actors have to operate under the showcase codes an therefore have to pay their AEA members a stipend.

If AEA members are not getting a stipend then they should report the producers to AEA.

The reality is that there is not enough work for AEA members. The cost of producing in NYC has skyrocketed at ever level, and therefore so has the risk associated with casting unknown actors, unknown directors, and unproven material.

It costs roughly 4,000-5,000 a week to rent a 99 seat theater.

That's 16 to 20 grand before one single production expense is spent on anything other than rent. That meant that the previous budget cap of 20,000 would not allow AEA actors to perform in productions at larger better higher profile off-off theaters. They would be stuck at the smaller cheaper venues.

The showcase code is now the only way for many AEA members to get the experience and the exposure they need to grow as artists and in their careers.

That was always the original intent of the showcase code.

What's broken is the limitations the code places on producers--in a well intentioned but decades old attempt to protect members--that prevents well produced showcases from gaining enough exposure to actually help AEA members working in them.

It also does not allow any way for these showcases to gain enough momentum, publicity, and financial success to grow into larger shows, which is a problem today because the high costs of producing has pushed producers of newer, riskier productions to this level--and now these outdated restrictions keep them at this level instead of allowing them a clear and fair path to the next level. These restrictions PREVENT these smaller productions from PAYING THEIR ACTORS.

No one wants to "NOT pay" actors.

Nor 'is the showcase a "producing tool."

What it is and always was, is a recognition by AEA that there simply is not enough union work to provide all of its members with enough opportunities to grow artistically and be seen in larger roles.

It's limitations that are designed to protect its members are now outdated and are actually counterproductive to its members being well "showcased."

Membership by the way, used to actually mean more than just "paying your dues" working in summer stock choruses and children's theaters--it used to have skill requirements and you had to audition to get in.

Frankly there's not much difference skillwise between AEA and non-AEA these days.

To sum up this longwinded comment that you'll probably never read...

The AEA Showcase Code has a choice:

Grow or die.

That's the way life works.

If you're not growing, you're dying.

As someone who values AEA, I'm glad they're trying to grow.

Lefty Costello said...

Hello from the end of 2014- NOTHING ELSE HAS CHANGED. The Showcase is still a dinosaur.

Lefty Costello said...

There are idiots online, but 'anonymous' above is probably the biggest one I've ever seen. He'd be the one saying "The coal miner unions give you work. Be happy. If they say the mines are safe- GO IN!" 5 years after this post was made, the showcase code, even with this itsy bitsy modification is archaic. A revolution is on the horizon.