Every week we will be posting a whiff of provocation and inviting you to join the conversation in the comments section below. You may respond to the original subject or to previous postings. Play nice. CPC and CharPo contributors will be joining the convo from time to time.
Though Montreal Shakespeare Theatre Company's Titus Andronicus has closed, commentary lives on. One snarky anonymous comment following our review read, "I hope everyone who paid 30 bucks is glad the actors an [sic] crew saw none of it." The company's boss, Ace Lopes, responded in a long comment which included this statement: "With a cast of over 30 people and theatre rentals being what they are...does anyone really believe that there is any really [sic] money to be made?" Indeed... But... Is Montreal English-language theatre, outside of the main houses, forever to rely on the kindness/enthusiasm of its collaborators? Discuss.
The Fact is it behooves all Montreal artists to pull in new audience members, especially for independent companies. The audience in Montreal does exist as we see with all ticket sales of shows brought in from outside to Place Des Arts, and even Schwartz: the Musical. We also need to start having theatre tourism, and build up a reputation of putting on quality shows so that when 'Susan' and 'Tom' from Ottawa or Vancouver come to town they want to take in a play as well as visit Old port.ReplyDelete
This is a big job and it will take all Montreal artists to do so, from the big companies like Segal and Centaur to the small independents, but if we don't come together to make Montreal theatre count, we can expect a decline in attendance and quality as our talent leaves the city for greener pastures.
But we have been talking about this growth process for generations now! Is non-paid work a form of showcase or apprenticeship? And THEN the artist has to decide to stop doing it, get a real job (theatre/film or starbucks) or leave? I've seen an awful lot of good young artists give up and only a few advance into the warm embrace of salaried theatre.ReplyDelete
We're blessed with an abundance of talented performers in Montreal. Increasingly, we've been losing way too many to other cities. Why?Understandably fed up being underpaid or not paid. Paying artists properly is the only way we can recognize and acknowledge their talent. This universal approach applies no matter the line of work. Sadly, Montreal theatres aren't receiving the necessary funding, but a way must be found to address this unfortunate situation.ReplyDelete
"Is Montreal English-language theatre, outside of the main houses, forever to rely on the kindness/enthusiasm of its collaborators?"ReplyDelete
God, I hope not. Otherwise, as Estelle has pointed out, it will run out of collaborators as they grow fed up with having to relegate their chosen career to the back burner in order to make ends meet, and will leave our town for brighter prospects.
It's ridiculous that we ask artists, whom we would refer to as professionals in every other sense of the word, to work for a pittance, or, as is often the case, for free, because we find there isn't the money to pay them. We need to *find* that money, and pay them properly if we want them to keep working for us. I'm not saying it's easy to find that money, in fact, its likely to be very difficult, but it is necessary for the sake of theatre in the long term.
Artists of any type go into this field likely expecting to have to "put in their dues" and do a number of shows for little to no compensation, but to expect these same artists to do the same five, ten, or twenty years down the road is unrealistic and is bad business practice.
Where are the philanthopists? It's not like we have no rich people in Montreal! Perhaps an umbrella philanthropy - a private version of the arts councils. This indie-go-go stuff seems to be a weak model. Perhaps artists who have advanced contributing back into this foundation?ReplyDelete
Now that's interesting! Phyllis Lambert comes to mind immediately. She's rich; her heart is in the arts. There are more like her. Perhaps start a list of possible rich folks to approach with a dynamite proposal.ReplyDelete
Money from investors is a great idea, but who decides where the money goes and to whom? At the end of the day the lack of audience who aren't artists themselves attending is huge problem. If we managed to open up our audience base investors would feel more comfortable investing.ReplyDelete
As it is we're letting a huge opportunity for a larger audience and a new venue pass us by in allowing the Empress to fall into city hands and probably be turned into condos.
The Empress location is prefect for bringing in new audience as it sits in the center of English Montreal in NDG next to Westmount and close enough to Montreal West in a residential area where many families can just walk home from the theatre as well as the fact that it is closer to more Schools(elementary, high schools and Concordia University)then any other venue in Montreal. This is a venue that would build the audience of tomorrow. If theatre becomes part of the average persons day to day with easier access and more youth involved, that same audience will spread and start checking out other venues and cultural events.ReplyDelete
I have to wholeheartedly agree with Estelle and Danielle here: people who become artists do it because of their drive, passion, and commitment. But if they can make a living for themselves in the arts in another Canadian city, why bother working a couple of part-time jobs here just to make ends meet? The potential for English-language theatre is huge in Montreal, because we have a (mostly) untapped market. While I may not have enjoyed Schwartz's: The Musical as a production, I can't deny its popularity or overlook the huge crowds of (usually) non-theatregoers that came.ReplyDelete
And while I agree that financial contributions from individuals, corporations, and various levels of government should be pursued, Danielle makes a valid point: "[a]t the end of the day the lack of audience who aren't artists themselves attending is a huge problem." Isn't there another Canadian model we can look to for inspiration? Or else we will all have to forever "rely on the kindness/enthusiasm" of other artists looking to do the same things as us!
Listen to the next episode - 5 - of This Is The CPC where I talk with Jacoba Knaapen of the Toronto Alliance of Performing Arts...they have a magnificent model.ReplyDelete
I'm so excited that this conversation is happening! I want to start by letting people know that in Montreal it is not just the small independent companies who don't financially compensate the artists working for them. In fact it is the smaller companies who often find a way to compensate everyone and treat everyone with respect. Repercussion I'm looking at you! The people I know who have worked for you have all said they had a great experience and been financially compensated at least a little bit. That can't be easy so good for you.ReplyDelete
It saddens me a great deal though that while some smaller companies are finding ways to compensate people fairly, big houses in town are not doing the same. The Segal Theatre doesn’t pay their apprentices. This means that the assistant stage managers are not paid, not even an honorarium. Some of the actors onstage are in the same boat. The idea is that an equity credit should be enough. I personally disagree with this viewpoint. I can't think of any other industry in the world where someone would pay to go to school to learn a craft and then be expected to work full time for free for years before ever getting a paid job.
I myself have made a personal commitment to myself to try and change the attitudes around unpaid work in theatre. Unfortunately, though the reality is sometimes I still have to ask people to work with me for free. When this happens there are some things I do:
1. Work around their work schedules (This may mean being in rehearsal longer, but people have to eat and pay rent. I don't want to leave anyone out who isn't in an economic position to take time off work.)
2. I happily offer to share the books with everyone. I want them to know why I'm asking them to donate their time. I also want them to know that I'm not getting paid.
3. I have no intention of doing projects for the rest of my career that require me and the people working for me to be volunteers. They're stepping stones towards projects where everyone will be fairly compensated.
4. I try to treat everyone with gratitude and respect.
I think if we could all strive to do these things that would at least improve the situation. I would be very interested to know what other things everyone thinks make working for free a little easier.
It's also important that we start finding ways to get more audience. My company Astra does an event called ArtHere! where different artists and companies stage 15-20 minute pieces around different found spaces such as a hotel, a campground, a house even a crypt. ArtHere! also presents lots of visual art and live music. It's our hope that doing a theatre outside of the conventional space attracts new audience. There is also the element of crossover, people come to see a band they like and hopefully discover the wealth of interesting theatre in this town. Our hope is after discovering all this great theatre, people will want to see more of it.
In the interest of full disclosure no one has made any money of this venture yet. The artists involved donate their time and incredible creative skill. As our audience continues to build one day soon we will be able to compensate everyone involved. It's within the realm of possibility. Which I feel a whole better about rather than just resigning myself to do projects that can never economically benefit the artists involved.
Since it was my comment that sparked this debate I will make one further comment about this topic and I'll leave it at that; we as a company would LOVE to pay everyone who works for us...well Millions if we could! That would mean that we'd be making millions as well. Sadly that is no where near the case and probably will never be the case unfortunately. I don't think anyone who runs a theatre company or just puts up shows as a side-line wants to not pay the actors and crew but again unfortunately that is most often the case. There just isn't enough money to go around! As long as there's an understanding between the company and the artist then that's where it should end. If you promise to compensate the artist and then don't...well that's a bigger issue. We make it clear from the start whether the artist gets paid or doesn't. No one puts a gun to their heads or threatens them to do the show. If their passionate about it then they do it. If not then they don't. Pretty simple.ReplyDelete
The main point is this: If most theatre companies HAD to pay the artists then 95% of them would just not be able to put on a show...therefore depriving artists of an opportunity to be seen...and possibly take that step to the next level. We had agents in attendance at our show and maybe they recruited new clients who they can possible get paid work for. It's a trade-off that most artists are willing to make. And the ones that aren't are entitled to make that choice...they just probably won't work as often unfortunately.
So now what? Montreal remains a city of - admittedly - very good theatre performed for our friends until we are offered a real job in Toronto? Or do we look at fund-raising beyond the single show, towards a free theatre complex (for instance) or a fund to take works on tour (listen to this week's This Is The CPC). It's been four decades of talk, folks. Actions, anyone?ReplyDelete
We need new bums for old seats with fresh cash. There is an economic link between entertainement, tourism and our fiscal future. Translate the vision of Montreal as a cultural center based on the humane experience. A sensual plan to come see, smell, touch and experience entertainment in a multicultural environment as oposed to the instant gratification of a Cell phone. Intise the people from all over the world to come experience our unique brand of "Haute cuisine, Music, and Theatre". Take the vision and create a "Plan" a concrete documentation of potential,that can be sold to the private, municipal, provincial, federal organizations. I challenge you to do the Math, brain storm, find the mix that would make our city the most seductive theatrical tourist destination in the world!ReplyDelete
Ace, first of all you failed to answer my questions that I asked about your original comments http://charpo.blogspot.com/2011/08/review-titus-andronicus.html. You feel that you had no choice but to work with volunteer actors and crew. I understand that, but I really want to know if you worked around all of their work schedules? If you didn’t that would mean that actors, designers and technicians who wanted to work on your project couldn’t because of their economic position. That wouldn’t be fair. So many companies in this town who use volunteer labor do it disrespectfully. This is an exploitative practice that those companies could easily choose to stop doing. It’s also one we could choose as a community to stop quietly accepting.ReplyDelete
As artists we often get caught up in the idea that we have no choice but to work under these ridiculous circumstances. As Ace said, “If their [sic] passionate about it then they do it.” Your passion can pay your rent and buy food right? I’m sorry but these beliefs are outdated and tired. Let stop listening to these subtle threats of, you “just probably won't work as often.” We’re artists we can figure out creative solutions. We can make our own work! Do theatre outside of a grand, expensive space. Choose projects that take fewer cast and crew to accomplish. Do a fringe show! Bring projects to schools, camps and corporate functions. Come up with new ways of doing things! How awesome would it be if we all started filling this thread with ideas of how to change the status quo rather than just bickering back and forth about it? We can find a way to bring the world the art it needs without starving. Let’s not settle, but make change!
Well then Crystle have at it. Artists are willing to work for free because they want to not because they have to. Companies can only afford what they can afford and your delusional and self-righteous comments are not gonna change that. And if you want to find out if we work around our cast's schedules, then audition and you'll find out. And no their passion cannot buy food but like I said...if we absolutely had to pay the artists for shows (which I would love to do btw) then a show like Titus would not have been possible. Is that a better solution? Maybe for you because you weren't involved with it but why don't you ask our cast and crew if it was? I can guarantee you that 100% will say that doing that show for free was better than not doing it at all...because why else would they have done it?!ReplyDelete
I'm really sorry if my comments appeared personal or have offended you. In many ways it's unfair that you and your company are being used as the example when there are so many companies that operate in the same way. As I said in my original post it's hard to put on a show and I commend anyone who does it. The problem is that while it may be true that if you were in the position to compensate the cast and crew working on your show you would. The same can't be said for everyone. It's the bigger houses taking advantage of this attitude that if you're really dedicated to your craft you're willing to work for free, who could afford to do otherwise who should really be taken to task first. To answer to your question why else would they have done it? Often when people are working for free in negative and disrespectful environments they continue on because they buy into the veiled threat that you suggested earlier, “they just probably won't work as often,” if they don’t. I want to be very clear here that I’m not suggesting the cast and crew who worked on Titus were treated in a negative or disrespectful fashion. I can’t speak to that at all. But it is the attitude that people in theatre should be willing to work for free for love of their art that allows people to be exploited. This same attitude allows us to be complacent and just sit back and say it’s the way it is instead of trying to find ways to make positive change. My solution isn’t that you shouldn’t have done Titus. Perhaps it could have been done in an unconventional and therefore less expensive space? Perhaps doing it an established theatre could be part of a larger plan to work towards being a large enough company that you can eventually compensate your cast and crew. Or perhaps you might have even better solutions than me if you put your creative mind to work. When I chose a career in theatre people told me I was delusional. I didn’t listen then. I’m not going to listen now either. I believe that we can change the status quo. I would love to hear people’s ideas about actions we could take. An idea I have as a continuation to the free theatre complex idea is to approach established venues and ask them to donate a slot yearly to small companies, therefore enabling them to give the door to the artists. Access could be given to small companies through a lottery. I’m also interested in talking with people who like me want to make change in this regard. Please email me at email@example.com . Let’s all get together and talk about ideas and make actions plans and then follow through!ReplyDelete
I must say I am fascinated by this discussion. It is vigorous and hot and passionate and still within the bounds of decency. Good for all of us!ReplyDelete
I have to agree with Ace on the `work around cast schedules as a Stage Manager I can tell you right now that doesn`t work, myself and other SMs I know, have many a sob story about working around a group of different people`s schedules and how most of the time it almost killed the show, yes you make allowances for special events, but paid or not they are a part of a project that has it`s own schedule.ReplyDelete
I also have to say that Crystle though I do in theory agree with many of your other points, I just don`t feel that's good enough. It`s been too long that we`ve just settled for the best of a bad situation and I personal say SCREW THAT! We`re better than that! We`re more talented than that! Montreal Artists deserve to get press, money and more attention.
I cannot say this enough we need more bums in seats!
We need to come together as a community and find a way to bring in new audience members and again I feel the best way to do that is with a venue in NDG.
Also I have to say to Anonymous that Beyond the Mountain is basically working on that, we`re taking original shows by Montreal Artists and taking them everywhere but Montreal so that we start to build a reputation outside and at the same time we bring shows from outside Montreal in.ReplyDelete
Already a few weeks ago I was in Minneapolis(which btw has an amazing theatre community) talking to artists over there about coming to Montreal to perform. I managed to get quite a few people and companies interested and we`re going to continue doing this while we`re in Halifax this September and in New York this January.
I believe firmly in being pro-active which is why we`re bringing Montreal theatre to the outside and pulling them to us, instead of waiting and hoping.
There should be, and could be, a private not for profit funding body that gives grants, workshops, and space. The problems would begin with questions of censorship (it's private and would be in part answerable to its donors), staffing, space, and of course where do you get the money? It's worth looking at US arts funds, as many of them rely entirely on private money (not just from big ticket donors).ReplyDelete
Something like this might allow a company to get the startup cash it needs to go forward with a project with the end goal of actually paying the talent.
Anyway, a girl can dream.
two things: a space; a fund, Neither is impossible. let me make one suggestion: an AD once told me, "People remember parking spaces more than they remember plays." This IS important as is a metro station within VERY short walking distance.ReplyDelete
Empress isn't far from Vendome or Villa Maria Metro as well as several buses stop right near the venue...just saying...ReplyDelete
I loved the Empress when it was known as Cinema V. I still do. The reality is we have to recognize the building is owned by the City. They have recently re-claimed the building from a group who, for the past several years, had been planning to revamp it as a theatre space. Even if they were amenable to a theatre, which is frankly doubtful, Sarah C's question is the bottom line - where do you get the money?ReplyDelete
Here's the ideal: to get a space within the new Quartier des Spectacles. That would require networking with city. Not a big space. Again, ideally, black box.ReplyDelete
I definitely think that turning Quartier des Spectacles into a west end/Broadway for Montreal is a good idea for having Theatrical tourismReplyDelete
St. james United - considered part of the Quartier, has a magnificent second space with a balcony surrounding it à la Monument Studio. Just sayin'.... And the bleury exit of PdesA is right around the corner.ReplyDelete
Just have to ask who has been inside the Empress? I toured the building about five years ago. Amazing. But utterly, totally, shamefully degraded. Essentially a massive, mouldy cave disguised as a building. And all those Egyptian plaster figures stolen or destroyed. At the time, I couldn't imagine how they ever begin to mobilize the enormous sums required to restore it.ReplyDelete
I saw Paul Van Dyck's Haunted at the St. James United - wonderful venue. Downtown location, Quartier des Spectacles, attracts tourists and locals.ReplyDelete
The thing about the Empress is you can often find investors if you can prove that it will be paid off and the last board didn't get enough people/theatre companies to come forward and state if the building was fixed they would rent it. So the Empress looked like if it became a venue it would only be used half the time, which is not worth it for investors or the city.ReplyDelete
As a someone who has worked at St. James twice(ASM for Blessed are They, SM for Haunted) it's a gorgeous venue with lots of character but it can be a nightmare technically, An actual black box theatre in that area would be best.
They didn't get companies willing to state they would rent it, cuz we don't have theatre companies capable of filling it.ReplyDelete
Sorry. The Empress is the whitest of all possible elephants, the reddest of all possible herrings.
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