Updates: Canadian Stage Releases Timeline of Events in HELEN LAWRENCE Controversy

Updates: Canadian Stage Releases Timeline of Events in HELEN LAWRENCE Controversy


Canadian Stage has publicly released a detailed timeline of events relating to the Helen Lawrence controversy after BroadwayWorld sent requests for transparency in this matter to both the producing company and Canadian Actor's Equity. The CAEA replied that 'Arden R. Ryshpan's statement [the first and only statement available] stands as Equity's official response on this issue. Out of respect for the affected Equity members, the Association will not provide any further comment'.

The cancellation of this production has caused extreme uproar among the theatre community - including CAEA's own members, who took to Social Media to bash the union. Other equity members took to one of the many Facebook groups for their members to state that they had lost confidence in their union to negotiate contracts which would still allow them to get work. Cast members of the production took to Facebook to defend the union, citing that previous media coverage was misleading and did not reflect what had actually occurred. After our own independent review of the situation, factoring in comments from members of the cast - as well as statements from Canadian Stage - we've determined that neither party has actually done anything wrong, per se.

This comes down to a situation where it was merely not mutually beneficial for either party (the actors or producers) to be able to come to an agreement for a concession to allow Helen Lawrence to be presented in Montreal in May. The concession was not in the best interests of the actors, nor could Canadian Stage (a not-for-proft) afford to pay them for the extended break that would result because of the tour schedule while maintaining performance dates in Montreal.

Canadian Stage cannot release full communications with Equity, citing a confidentiality agreement - but they have (in their open letter) invited the CAEA to allow them to release that information for the sake of transparency. What I think we can all agree on, however, is that this isn't a simple case of missed deadlines and bureaucracy.

We have included the timeline of events below, which can be found in full via this link - along with the full release from Canadian Stage.

The official release for the timeline of events notes: "Canadian Stage respects the confidentiality of all correspondence between the Canadian Actors Equity Association (Equity), Canadian Stage and the Arts Club Theatre. As such, we have summarized the content of our ongoing correspondence below. If Equity wishes to waive confidentiality, Canadian Stage will be pleased to post all written correspondence in full as part of this response."

September 26, 2013: Email from Bill Millerd, Artistic Director of the Arts Club Theatre (ACT), to various agents confirming some casting, Helen Lawrence production dates and venues, fees, accommodations, per diems, travel and information regarding the unpaid hiatus periods with a potential of 19 weeks work spread over nine months. Schedule included one tour date noted as firm, and Montreal and other European tour dates noted as not confirmed.

October 16, 2013: Email from Su Hutchinson, Managing Director at Canadian Stage, to Equity leadership and Toronto and Vancouver Equity representatives, introducing the Helen Lawrence project and stakeholders and asking for guidance from Equity on how to approach requests for concessions and communicating with Equity members joining the production.

October 29, 2013: Email response from Arden Ryshpan, Executive Director of Equity, offering timing for first meeting. The meeting took place on November 21, 2013.

November 20, 2013: Email from Su Hutchinson (Canadian Stage) to the Equity team in preparation for November 21 meeting. Email included: a tentative Helen Lawrence production schedule for rehearsal; Vancouver and Toronto run dates and confirmed tour dates, as well as tentative European tour dates (noted as not confirmed); and a request for guidance around Banff rehearsals, unpaid hiatus between show/tour dates, contracting between ACT and Canadian Stage, scheduling red flags, details on fees and contract language and an overseas rider.

November 21, 2013: Meeting took place at Equity office in Toronto. Direction from Equity was that ACT should contract Helen Lawrence rehearsals and Vancouver run, and Canadian Stage should contract tour dates and Toronto run. Equity recommended that concession requests on hiatus weeks were to be put forth for approval by PACT (Professional Association of Canadian Theatres) and Equity, and indicated that official requests should be made once the production was registered with Equity (fully cast), the final schedule for all tour dates was finalized and a draft overseas rider was presented to ensure that Canadian Stage was following form.

Advice was offered on what would resonate with Equity management and membership and what would not, and how to approach the per diems while on tour in terms of commissary arrangements. The meeting was positive and noted the level of detail that would be required for moving forward. It was noted that ACT should proceed with concession requests for Banff immediately, and contracts for rehearsals/Vancouver run and Toronto run could be issued.

December 4, 2013: Tour itinerary sent to actors and agents, including a notation that hiatus weeks were pending a concession request and were included as part of the schedule. In September, Canadian Stage had presented a schedule that included three tentative tour cities in Europe alongside the three tour cities that were confirmed. As the additional cities were not able to schedule Helen Lawrence, a revised schedule was issued with confirmed cities (Vancouver, Montreal, Munich, Edinburgh and Toronto).

December 6, 2013: Email from Bill Millerd (ACT) requesting a concession to waive the per diem in favour of the Banff Arts Centre supplying the accommodation and meals to the cast for rehearsals of Helen Lawrence at the Banff Arts Centre.

December 18, 2013: Concession request granted by Equity for Banff with a small provision for an additional expense fee.

December 18, 2013: Email from Su Hutchinson (Canadian Stage) to artists and agents about finalized casting for Helen Lawrence and requesting form submissions for biographies, headshots, travel and emergency information to prepare for travel booking and Banff residency.

January 17, 2014: Arts Club and Canadian Stage email all contracts to agents and/or company members, including Vancouver, Toronto, and tour contracts for Montreal, Germany and Edinburgh, with a note that Equity would be asked to approve touring elements.

January 28, 2014: First day of rehearsal at the Arts Club, Vancouver. Company members were asked to sign (if they hadn't already) the contracts for the eleven weeks up to closing in Vancouver. They were welcome to sign the Canadian Stage contracts for the Toronto run but were not to sign the tour contracts as a concession request was being prepared by Canadian Stage to send to Equity. Canadian Stage followed up with discussions with agents in response to company members being instructed not to sign touring contracts, noting that the process with Equity around concession request and overseas rider could not be completed until a final tour schedule was confirmed, and meal plans and restaurants at tour destinations were analysed to set per diem rates.

March 13, 2014: First complete package of concession material sent to Miriam Newhouse, Business Representative for Equity. Package was originally sent on February 20, 2014 with an updated package re-sent on March 13, 2014. Between February 20 and March 13, numerous discussions took place between Equity and Canadian Stage resulting in welcome guidance from Equity to ensure that our requests did not have errors and were as clear as possible. Within this package were: a final tour schedule with travel dates, days off after travel, load in and detailed performance schedule; a request to have Montreal be a one week contract versus a minimum two week contract; permission to reopen the production as per clause 38:22 in less than 8 weeks between the close in Vancouver (April 13) and the opening in Montreal, and between the closing in Montreal and the opening in Munich; the overseas tour rider, hotel identification and a table listing the restaurant and commissary options in Munich and Edinburgh on which Equity would base their decision about a per diem rate.

March 14, 2014: Concession approval received from PACT to close and reopen the production of Helen Lawrence within the requested period.

March 20, 2014: Official response from Equity approving the overseas rider and per diem requests while on tour.

March 26, 2014: Su Hutchinson (Canadian Stage) emails Equity asking about timing for the concession requests for Montreal and tour dates.

March 31, 2014: Su Hutchinson (Canadian Stage) receives a letter response from Equity regarding concession requests for Montreal indicating concession was not granted. This letter included a note that Equity was willing to entertain an appeal from the theatre with proposals to "sweeten the concession". Included was a list of suggested conditions that might find traction.

March 31, 2014: Su Hutchinson emails and calls Equity, copying PACT, seeking a conversation as soon as possible to ensure response is framed properly. Su seeks the right to communicate with the company members directly. Up to this point, Su had been advised to channel all correspondence through Equity.

April 1, 2014: Su Hutchinson emails Equity and PACT, noting response to suggested conditions and asking for clarity as to how the concession requests were contextualised for the company members. In the points put forward to Canadian Stage, Equity includes the suggestion that a producer credit and sponsorship credit with the value of the unpaid hiatus weeks be included in all show programmes for the Equity company members.

In addition to responding to all conditions outlined and in a subsequent call with Equity, Equity notes that company members were presented with Canadian Stage's concession requests itemizing in financial detail the amount they were subsidizing the producers for the hiatus periods between Vancouver and Montreal, and Montreal and Munich.

April 1, 2014: Email from Equity noting that Canadian Stage can contact the company members directly. In Equity's response, they note that the company has expressed frustration with the rehearsal process and with the producers in terms of communication, and notes that Equity discourages engagers from going directly to the members with requests for easements in the agreement as this often makes the members feel quite uncomfortable or sometimes even pressured to accept the easement. Equity, however, felt that in this case as concerns were being expressed to Equity by members declining the concession request, they suggest a meeting with the cast to offer some possible solutions.

April 2, 2014: Su Hutchinson (Canadian Stage) sends an email to company members, agents, Equity and PACT, answering questions from the company that had been conveyed to Equity, noting the response to the suggested conditions and noting availability and desire to meet in Vancouver for a full company meeting to hear all concerns. Within this note, the request for a one week contract for Montreal is withdrawn; the per diem amounts are clarified including the complete overview of options in each tour city and recognizing the concerns expressed by cast members regarding the technical and rehearsal process undertaken in Banff.

April 4, 2014: Su Hutchinson meets with Helen Lawrence company members in Vancouver to hear their concerns and to address their frustration with the process and the communication from the producers. A full discussion about concession requests is engaged. Su reiterates the notes in her response on April 2, and offers additional payments for technical work. Due to confusion and concern about the nature of communication around the concession requests and the Equity process, Su sends a complete overview of the communication with Equity to company members and their agents against a timeline and reiterates the offers made at the meeting.

April 5, 2013: Equity communicates with company members asking them to consider the appeal made for concession requests for which now there is one remaining request: the ability to re-open the production within 8 weeks of closing in Vancouver for the Montreal dates and between Montreal and Munich. (Canadian Stage is not privy to this correspondence).

April 6, 2014: Equity emails Su Hutchinson noting that Equity is not able to approve Canadian Stage's appeal to re-open the production in Montreal.

April 6, 2014: Su Hutchinson emails Equity and PACT seeking a conversation about next steps to salvage the Montreal dates.

April 7, 2014: Su Hutchinson, Canadian Stage colleagues and Equity leadership have a phone conversation. Equity asserts that they have remained neutral in their communication with members, as is their mandate. Canadian Stage asked if the concession requests had been contextualized in financial terms, that is, the equivalent of contract fees per concession week. One Equity representative on the call suggests that they would never contextualize the concession requests in financial terms, while another representative quickly notes that is what had been done. Canadian Stage further asked is it true, that if Canadian Stage had applied for concession requests at the start of this project in the fall of 2013, the potential cancellation of Montreal would not be an issue because Equity and PACT would have approved the requests before contracts were issued. One Equity representative on the call notes that the concession requests could have come in before any contracting for approval by an Equity committee assembled by community experts even in advance of casting, while the other notes that that the direction given to Canadian Stage and ACT was to submit only after the final tour dates and casting was confirmed.

April 10, 2014: Official note of cancellation of Montreal dates is sent to company members, Equity and PACT.

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Alan Henry

Alan is a third year undergraduate student at York University, in Toronto. He has had a passion for the performing arts ever since he saw the original production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Princess of Wales Theatre. Alan has eleven years of intensive dance training under his belt, and in 2006 was the Canadian National Ballroom Champion in his age category. As a performer, Alan has been seen on stage at the Bathurst Street Theatre (now the Randolph Theatre), The FLATO Markham Theatre, The Leah Posluns Theatre, The Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts, and many more.

Alan first started blogging about theatre in 2011 with his now defunct blog, Broadway Toronto. In March 2013, Alan joined the team at BroadwayWorld Toronto and continued his foray into arts journalism. In February of 2014, Alan became the Senior Editor for the Toronto division of BroadwayWorld.com – and since then has expanded the regional coverage to include much of Southern Ontario, as well as many of the smaller professional theatre companies in the city.

A long term theatre fan, Alan is grateful to be a part of the Toronto arts community in any capacity.

“I’m incredibly fortunate that I’ve found a way to be involved with our arts community in the position that I have. The Toronto theatre community is made up of some of the kindest and friendliest people I know – and I look forward to serving the community by continuing the high standard of coverage expected of BroadwayWorld.”

Twitter: @alanhenryTO | Facebook: Facebook.com/AlanHenryWrites

Email: alan@broadwayworld.com | www.alanhenrywrites.com

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