(Poster: by Natalia Reis; photography by Sandra Huh. This post is part of the Canadian theatre salon curated by Chantal Bilodeau for the World Theatre Day 2014/Crossing Borders salon series.)
Two years ago, in June 2012, I contacted Canadian Actor’s Equity (Toronto) about a chance I had to perform my own work (from my play Put Up Your Hand) at a monologue festival in New York City, in the fall of 2012. With my “inactive” status with CAEA (I have not been an active member since the early 1990’s), I was not sure if I needed Equity permission, especially for a non-paying show.
The Equity office told me to send them an email requesting permission to pursue the offer, and then they would respond, granting permission, which they did. They also suggested I contact American Equity.
When I phoned American Equity, they told me I would have to fill in American government forms, validating sponsorship by the theatre in question, thus allowing me to apply for a work visa – for a non-paying job?
Overwhelmed by the forms, I contacted Canadian Equity again, requesting assistance in filling them out. They emailed me back, saying CAEA was not my agent and did not represent me. They suggested I go back to American Equity for assistance.
During this process, American Equity in New York phoned the Toronto office of CAEA to confirm my status. The Canadian office told them I was not a member.
The theatre did what they could to manage the misunderstanding, but to no avail. In the end, the theatre felt uncomfortable with the scrutiny from American Equity, and rescinded the offer. They also changed the rules for the festival, from then on only allowing American citizens to participate.
However you might view this “cautionary tale”, to me it is simply a dramatic example of the need for ongoing, clarifying communication between artists and artist organizations.
I never needed Equity permission to pursue this opportunity. When I told this story to a gathering of the Playwrights Guild of Canada in 2013, it was suggested I try again with the NYC theatre, and ignore the bureaucracy.
I did contact the theatre, but they did not respond. I think the concern over what happened the first time cast a very long shadow indeed.
I continue to perform the monologues in Canada (see my YouTube channel), but the American opportunity continues to elude. For now.
Background on the play
I wrote Put Up Your Hand quickly in the summer of 1990. At the time, I was “living the dream” as an actor, having recently left the security of full-time teaching. Edward Albee says you can write too soon, i.e, attempt to write before ideas are formed, ready for expression. The play announced itself to me quite fully formed. I knew I wanted to write about school, especially teachers, but also students and parents. And I was inspired by a genre – the monologue artistry of Eric Bogosian and Spalding Gray. Characters suggested themselves to me relatively easily – a teacher having a nervous breakdown in front of the class, a “professional student” who can’t stop going to university, a nervous mom on her child’s first day at school… In the end, the play consists of seven characters, four male, three female (some parts are interchangeable). All are monologues, except for one scene for two actors (the scene I would have performed at the festival in NYC).
I created the play as a one-man show, and tested the monologues at open mic literary gatherings in Toronto. Once the play, directed by Bonita Beach, went to the Summerworks Fringe Festival (the very first one in 1991), it took on a life of its own. We wove the monologues together, interconnecting them thematically. I declined to act in it (producing my own script was taxing enough), but saw the characters come to life beautifully in the hands of other artists. The play went on to win a playwriting contest at Solar Stage in Toronto, securing its first Equity production. For that production, I was asked to turn the monologue play into a plot driven piece for three actors. I agreed- creating the version subsequently performed by community theatre and school groups. Hence, Put Up Your Hand exists in three versions: interconnected monologues, a plot driven story, and as separate, performable speeches.
My idea of performing the monologues myself never left me. In 2010, when I pursued my Masters in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies, I performed some of the characters as a lunchtime theatre presentation – the perfect audience: a building full of teachers! (see excerpts here). Response was good, and it gave me confidence to pursue presenting again, including the missed opportunity in NYC.
If there is a theme to the play, I sum it up with a question: “What’s school for?” The question perhaps presumes a negative or critical viewpoint. I like to think the range of characters offer no easy answers. Having returned to full time teaching years after the fact, I am a different (and better) teacher in midlife than I ever could have been in my twenties, when I wrote the play. The characters in Put Up Your Hand are a part of me. I have utilized the script in my drama classes frequently. No matter how people respond to the content, the characters never cease to be reliably recognizable and even at their darkest, sympathetic.
Norm Reynolds is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and currently teaches English and Drama in Toronto. His play Put Up Your Hand, a hit at the inaugural Summerworks Festival (CBC Radio, NOW Magazine), went on to be one of four scripts chosen for the WordWorks Festival at Solar Stage. Reynolds’s The Good-bye Play was staged at the Playwrights of Spring Festival and at TheatreStarts; it was originally workshopped at the Humber School for Writers with Edward Albee. Reynolds has published short fiction in the United States and Canada, and book reviews in the Canadian national press. He will perform Put Up Your Hand at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto in September, 2014. (Photo by David Roddis photography.)