Beginning April 2013, a theatre which has not had a production recommended for the three previous non-Equity seasons will lose it eligibility. Newer Jeff eligible theatres will be reviewed for the first time three years after they first become eligible. If a theatre loses its eligibility, it may request resumption of Jeff judging after two subsequent non-Equity seasons, during which time the theatre continues to meet all requirements for eligibility stated above in items # 1-8.
After all, who can blame them. There are so many theater companies that the load of shows that the committee must attend and judge must be burdensome. But in my opinion the changes don't do anything to improve the quality of performance or reduce the number of competing companies - it just relieves the burden of the amount of shows that the Jeff Committee has to attend. And it only does that in a way that kicks the can down the road.
So what would I propose? Well, let's take a look at the Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia's Barrymore Awards. Below are their requirements for both equity and non-equity productions alike:
- Minimum of 12 performances
- The least-paid actor must be paid a minimum of $75 per week (for both performances and rehearsals)
- The least-paid designer must make a minimum of $400 for the the run (unless the designer is a salaried employee of the theater)
- The director must be paid at least $600 for the production (unless the designer is a salaried employee of the theater)
How would switching to these requirements change Chicago theater?
Productions would have shorter runs. If Chicago theater companies didn't have to meet the minimum requirements of 18 performance of four weeks, they might not have to worry as much about canceling shows because of small audiences. Audience would be larger (in theory) making for better performances. Also, the theaters could use the money that would be spent on two additional weeks rental to pay the artists.
Now, the counter argument is a good one. Why spend six or more weeks or rehearsal to only play for eight performances? Good question and one that many companies would have to struggle with. But I think the bigger question we should be asking is whether or not the prospect of a Jeff Recommendation is worth six weeks of rehearsal plus cancelling three shows and playing to mostly empty houses. Which is better?
The bigger point, however, is that by forcing theaters to pay their artists, it will require not only more money but a more responsible business model. It create the need for more shows to be profitable which would lead to better programming decisions and a difference selection of plays. It would also probably lead to fewer companies in Chicago and, in theory, a better product. Because if no one buying tickets to go to the shows, it makes it harder to pay the actors.