Producing Canadian Work in the U.S.

by Charles C Bales

in Global Connections

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This post is part of the Canadian theatre salon curated by Chantal Bilodeau for the World Theatre Day 2014/Crossing Borders salon series.)

A Canadian in New York

On Monday, March 30, Canadian playwright and translator Daniel Libman (Cecil & CleopaYtra, O’Neill, Alma and Mrs. Woolf) arrived from Calgary, Alberta, Canada for a three-week stint in New York City. Welcome to the Big Apple, Dan!

While here on vacation to visit family and friends, Dan has been attending rehearsals of his new play-within-a-play, Intermission, which will be produced by Voyage Theater Company at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row during the month of May. As both a writer and a professional actor, Dan has been working closely with Intermission director and VTC Artistic Director Wayne Maugans to bring the script of his new comedy to life.

Since Dan is not obligated to be here under his agreement with VTC, and is not being compensated for his time spent at rehearsals, VTC did not have to go through the arduous process of securing a visiting performing artist visa for him.

But speaking of visas, it is an important consideration for companies who want to work with theater-makers from other countries. The P visa is the most commonly used for visiting performing artists. The more stringent O visa requires consultations with unions such as SAG–AFTRA (or in Dan’s case, the Playwrights Guild of Canada), as well as meeting certain criteria such as “national or international recognition” for eligibility.

As many producers who have gone through the process can tell you, securing visas for visiting artists can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. Providing significant evidence of “recognized status,” in particular, has become increasingly difficult and seemingly subjective. However, as the author of Intermission, Dan is indeed uniquely qualified to give feedback and offer insight on his own play.

So VTC is fortunate that Dan is willing to be part of the rehearsal process here in New York, on his own dime, in an unofficial capacity, and therefore does not require official documentation.

Loonies and Toonies

Another interesting aspect of working with theater-makers from other countries is how to pay them – and in what currency.

For Dan, a contract was created with the amount of his royalties and fees in U.S. dollars. Dan will have to account for the income on his Canadian tax forms as he is not a U.S. citizen and therefore does not pay U.S. taxes on the funds given to him.

Royalties under the Playwrights Guild of Canada guidelines specify that 10 percent of the box office must be paid to the author. But under guidelines from American theater publishing houses such as Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service, the average royalty fee runs US$75 for each performance.

US$75 was the fee agreed upon by Dan and Voyage Theater Company for the 16 performances of his new comedy, which is an Equity Approved Showcase. Although Intermission is not a published play, it follows the same guidelines as a published play.

However, by agreeing to accept payment in U.S. dollars, Dan is taking a risk. Currency exchange rates constantly go up and down depending on world economics, global politics, and other factors.

As of Friday, April 18, the exchange rate favors Dan as the U.S. dollar is equal to 1.1 Canadian dollars. So in essence he gets 10 percent more than the contractual amount specified in U.S. funds. The Canadian backer for Intermission, however, has had to pay an additional 10 percent more in Canadian funds to meet his contractual obligations (specified in U.S. dollars).

Approximately one year ago, the exchange rate was very close to one to one for a practically even trade. About three years ago, the exchange rate was about .95 – the highest it had been since April 2007. In that instance, Dan would have made 5 percent less that what he is currently making today and the exchange rate would have favored our Canadian backer. Clearly, the exchange rate cuts both ways.

Paying visiting artists from other countries in U.S. dollars is obviously easier for American producers. But it is helpful to consider the amount of the payment in the artist’s preferred currency as well. Dollars to dollars — it just makes sense.


Charles BalesCharles C. Bales is Executive Director and co-founder of Voyage Theater Company. VTC had its inaugural production, Obama 44 by Mario Fratti, at La Mama ETC in 2012. In 2013, VTC’s bilingual Russian/English production of Aleksei Arbuzov’s My Poor Marat was performed at Canal Park Playhouse. In May 2014, Intermission by Daniel Libman will run at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. Charles graduated from CUNY–Brooklyn College with an MA in Theater History & Criticism and Duke University with a BA in English and Philosophy. He is also a recent alumni board member of the Brooklyn College Foundation. www.voyagetheatercompany.org

  • Theatre Communications Group

    A Response from TCG Staff to the Post: Producing Canadian Work in the U.S.

    TCG has long been involved in advocating for improved visa processing for artists from abroad, and we are writing to clarify some of the procedures that are required by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. All of these procedures are carefully and accurately outlined on the Artists From Abroad website:www.artistsfromabroad.org. This website was created with input from nationally-recognized experts and is the most complete and up-to-date online resource for foreign guest artists, their managers, and performing arts organizations. Immigration attorney Jonathan Ginsburg and tax expert Robyn Guilliams have authored indispensable guidance featured on this site, and the forms and web links you need to steer through the process of engaging guest artists reliably, efficiently, and lawfully are provided.

    First, compensation is not the determining factor as to whether or not a visa is required. If an artist is in the country, working on the development of a theatrical piece, a visa must be obtained.

    “Do not circumvent the visa process! Must an alien go through such a complicated process just to work for a short time in the U.S.? Yes. Even if no compensation is involved? Yes. In other words, just because a beneficiary will be performing in the U.S. for no compensation (or just for expenses) does NOT mean that an O or P visa is not required. O and P beneficiaries are not required to be paid at all, but, to undertake the activities described in their petitions, they must in fact have the appropriate work-related visa classification. O and P petitioners and beneficiaries who fail to comply with the rules take risks that can limit short-term options and impose long-term consequences on all parties involved.”http://www.artistsfromabroad.o…

    Second, visa classifications are very specific to the artists and the work. Here are the descriptions of the O and P Visa Classifications which are normally the classifications used for artists from abroad:

    • O-1B classification for aliens of extraordinary ability in the arts;

    • O-2 classification for personnel accompanying an O-1B alien;

    • P-1B classification for internationally renowned performing groups and essential support personnel; and, for individual foreign artists performing as a member of a U.S.-based internationally renowned performing group;

    • P-2 classification for reciprocal exchange program;

    • P-3 classification for culturally unique performers or groups, teachers and coaches, and essential support personnel.

    Third, there is a requirement unique to both of the O and P classifications. Petitioners must obtain an advisory opinion from an appropriate American labor organization to include with the filing of either a principal or a support petition with USCIS. There is a Labor Consultation Contact List posted on the Artists from Abroad website. This requirement holds true whether or not a theatre has a labor agreement with any of the unions, or not – if a theatre wants to bring an artist from abroad, the appropriate American labor organization must be consulted.

    Fourth, it is completely incorrect to suggest that because an artist is not an American citizen, that they do not have to pay taxes on their income. Quite the contrary. In fact, here is a relevant passage from the Artists from Abroad website:

    “Part of the buzz about taxation of foreign artists has been fueled by the IRS’s October 2007 announcement that it had launched a task force focused on “improving U.S. income reporting and tax payment compliance by foreign artists who work in the United States.” In effect, this translates to a crackdown on enforcement of the existing U.S. laws and regulations concerning taxation and withholding of tax on foreign artists. In early 2011, the IRS stepped up its enforcement efforts and began to send out “Directed Withholding Letters” to presenters, venues, and other performing arts organizations, directing these entities to withhold 30% of the gross compensation to be paid to particular foreign performing artists.”

    Most questions about the process of obtaining visas for artists from abroad can be found on the Artists from Abroad website – but if your theatre still has questions or concerns, it is best to consult with an immigration attorney. TCG does provide Peer Consultation Letters and can also be helpful with some limited guidance. TCG is also interested in hearing about any problems encountered with the visa process which will assist us in our advocacy efforts.

    Sincerely,

    Laurie Baskin
    Director of Research, Policy & Collective Action
    Kevin Bitterman
    Associate Director of Artistic & Int’l Programs