Canadian Stage Announces Cancellation of HELEN LAWRENCE in Montreal Due to Dispute with Canadian Actors Equity
The Festival Transamériques recently announced the cancellation of Helen Lawrence by Stan Douglas because an agreement could not be made between the producers, Canadian Stage, and the Canadian Actors Equity Association. The play was set to be the opening piece of the festival in Montreal on May 22, 23, and 24 at La Place des arts' théâtre Jean-Duceppe.
Many in the theatre community, including many Equity members, voiced on social media their concern that the union was not actively representing their best interests, after a detailed article appeared in The Globe and Mail covering this issue. But was this bad for the artists involved?
Following my attempts to contact all parties involved, and my own investigation into this issue - we've determined that the situation may not be as black and white as it first appears.
The Globe and Mail reports that at the main issue in negotiations was that the production would have had to pay the actors for eleven weeks of performances to cover the three performances scheduled for Montreal - and that Canadian Actor's Equity was not willing to make a concession to allow an alternative arrangement.
Cast members from Helen Lawrence have been quick to respond, defending CAEA and attributing some of the backlash to misinformation. Helen Lawrence cast member Gerard Plunkett took to Facebook to raise his objections about the facts presented in the media: "That statement is totally incorrect. [referring to the main issue addressed in the Globe and Mail article] As an Equity member I'm truly saddened by the misinformation contained in this article. Our union is there to protect us from exploitation by those who would surely do so if given the chance. Equity did its job and did it well."
Another unidentified female cast member of Helen Lawrence posted online "I think some of you need to slow your roll and maybe think about whether you're in any kind of position to weigh in on this Equity issue in any informed way, given that a good number of you have no idea what you're talking about. You've read one article and maybe talked to a few friends and it's that easy for you to jump on the blame and shame bandwagon. I'll tell you this--it's not black and white, everyone involved is extremely upset about the FTA cancellation and as there were many factors that led to this decision. I think it behooves no one to be placing blame on anyone, least of all Equity. Equity may not be perfect and you are entitled to your concerns but please do not use this particular event to propagate your personal agendas because again, you don't have all the information and in this case Equity has been anything but negligent. EVERYONE involved has worked their asses off to bring this monumental piece together and i'd rather we celebrate that than engage in dramatic and divisive gossip." This quote was re-posted on Facebook by Studio 180 co-founder Derrick Chua.
A release from Canadian Stage reports that "after several months of negotiations between the producer of Helen Lawrence (Canadian Stage in Toronto) and the actors' union (Canadian Actors' Equity Association), no agreement was reached to ensure the presentation of the show in Montreal for the opening of FTA."
I reached out to both Canadian Stage and Canadian Actor's Equity to try and shed some light on why an agreement could not be reached.
Canadian Actor's Equity released a statement yesterday stating: "Canadian Stage's request for an easement to contract terms was received by Equity only after the Helen Lawrence engagement was already underway. Most concession requests are dealt with long before contracts are negotiated so all parties understand the terms in force when signing the contract."
"Late easement requests place an Equity member in an untenable position as the artist is essentially asked to accept a reduction to the negotiated terms of their contract often for little or nothing in return. The concession process is a serious matter for the Association. It involves consultation with Equity staff, the producer, the affected members and senior members in the Equity community."
"We confirm that the concession process for Helen Lawrence was handled with utmost care and consideration. Equity stands behind all its members and believes that the freely negotiated minimum terms of our agreements should remain in force until a member receives a satisfactory quid pro quo in exchange for reduced financial provisions. Unfortunately in this case, Canadian Stage was unable to offer such satisfactory terms and had to make hard choices as a result. Equity's regret in this matter is that if Canadian Stage had asked for the concession before contracting the artists as is appropriate, all of this might have been avoided."
Canadian Stage only sent a news release announcing the cancellation and advising patrons to seek a refund.
As we don't have all the facts, it doesn't seem fair to immediately blame either Canadian Stage or the Canadian Actor's Equity Association. Based on the information available - it's evident not all the working performers involved were in favour of the concessions Canadian Stage was after. I think it's safe to assume that this is just a case of stars not aligning - for I'm sure it's not that Canadian Stage didn't want to give their actors the best deal possible - but that they simply couldn't afford too being a non-for-profit.
I've invited both Canadian Stage and the CAEA to share more details so that the theatre community can better understand what has occurred. Canadian Stage has communicated with me through their press representative and stated they will be providing more information and releasing a statement. They are currently "working to finalize the details of what they are able to share more widely (working to respect all parties involved)."
I've also contacted the executive director and communications director of Canadian Actor's Equity, and I have been advised that they will not be commenting further on this matter - and that the already released statements "stand as Equity's official response on this issue. Out of respect for the affected Equity members, the Association will not provide any further comment."