J. KELLY NESTRUCK - The Globe and Mail - Apr. 22 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
Vancouver artist Stan Douglas’s cinematic play Helen Lawrence was set to open Montreal’s Festival TransAmériques in May, the first time that a production from the rest of Canada had been programmed in a prestigious performing arts slot previously occupied by international stage stars such as Germany’s Thomas Ostermeier and American choreographer Merce Cunningham.
But now the FTA is scrambling to find a last-minute replacement as Helen Lawrence lead producer Canadian Stage and Canadian Actors’ Equity Association have been unable to reach an agreement that would allow the show’s 12-actor cast to perform in Montreal.
“This is the first English-language Canadian piece to be invited [to open the festival], so it’s heartbreaking,” says Su Hutchinson, managing director at Toronto’s Canadian Stage.
At the heart of the matter are Equity rules that require there be eight weeks of down time between a show closing and its next engagement.
Helen Lawrence ended its run at Vancouver’s Arts Club on April 13, leaving only five weeks before its three-night showcase in Montreal, then only three weeks before the show is schedule to reopen at the Munich Kammerspiele in Germany. (HelenLawrence’s stops in Munich and, subsequently, at the Edinburgh International Festival and in Toronto are still set.)
According to Hutchinson, actors and agents were made aware of the Montreal tour date during casting in October – and Canadian Stage has been engaged in seeking a concession from Equity to permit the show to go ahead since then. “On March 31, they let us know that they were not approving the concession,” she says. “Either we pay actors for 11 weeks for three performances in Montreal … or we cancel the show.”
A representative from Canadian Actors’ Equity Association was not immediately available for comment.
Helen Lawrence is one of the first major English-Canadian productions to attempt to break into the international festival circuit that European and Quebec productions regularly tour – and to Hutchinson, it’s the demonstrated some of the limits of the Canadian Theatre Agreement, which is negotiated between the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (of which Canadian Stage is a member) and Equity. “What we’ve taken out of this is that the CTA is not in any way set up for taking the work out to the world,” Hutchinson says. “The constraints that we’re working under are quite particular to English Canada.”
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