To review or not to review non-union theatre shows? Fighting for scraps, on and off the stage. Plus Shrek the Musical, Rossini at L’Opera de Montreal and DeGrassi teen idol Adam Ruggiero lights up the Toronto stage
By Richard Burnett
The good writers here at The Charlebois Post have been embroiled in a pretty interesting internal debate the past two weeks about whether or not to preview and review non- Actor's Equity productions like Dancap Productions’ mega-touring Shrek The Musical that opens in Montreal on March 13, and then in Toronto on March 20.
Canadian Actors' Equity Association executive director Arden Ryshpan made a case in The Charlebois Post about media NOT covering non-equity shows, and Charlebois Post columnist Joel Fishbane wrote a well-reasoned rebuttal. CharPo publisher Gaetan Charlebois weighed in last week, agreeing to a compromise: “CharPo's sites and podcast will continue to review ‘All Canadian (or touring) Theatre, All The Time’ but will do our best to draw attention to the fact a show is detouring Equity (like In The Heights and Shrek) and whether or not the spectator is paying the price for such penny-wisdom/pound-foolishness. Yes, as Joel says, there is some great theatre done by non-Equity members and, also, some drek done when everyone is in the Equity tent.”
I just want to point out that pretty much every media outlet on the planet would be hypocritical not previewing and reviewing non-Equity shows in a world where these same media outlets still pay non-unionized freelance journalists peanuts – freelance rates that have pretty much remained the same for the last 30 years, which also means there are fewer and fewer freelancers now making a living from writing.
But it’s not just media outlets: People still hail gypsy cabs in New York City, consumers looking to avoid paying taxes will pay cash for many services, and everybody buys cut-rate electronics and other products made-in-China because we still worship the almighty deal. Why pay two bucks when I can buy it for a buck?
One of the cumulative results of such behaviour in our capitalist democracy – where we all vote with our wallets – are non-Equity shows. Whether The Charlebois Post writes about Shrek or not, people will still go to see it. If it sucks, believe me, word-of-mouth will eventually kill the show. Or the producer’s next show in the same market. In the long run audiences will not spend their hard-earned cash to see crap.
Dancap Productions’ Shrek The Musical does not appear to be crap – and in Montreal the musical has even been previewed by The Gazette, Le Journal de Montreal and La Presse, among other media outlets. The American musical was inspired by the DreamWorks film, which itself was based on the William Steig book, and it headlines at Place des Arts’ 2,990-seat Salle Wilfred-Pelletier for eight shows over five days, March 13 to 18. Then it moves on to the Toronto Centre for the Arts for a longer March 20 – April 1 run.
The music is played live, sets and costumes are based on the Tony Award-winning designs by Tim Hatley, Chris Bailey recreates the original choreography by Josh Prince, and the huge dragon puppet is designed by Michael Curry, who created large-scale puppets for The Lion King musical and Cirque du Soleil's KÀ.
So, should you pay top dollar for a non-Equity show?
If you say no, that means you should also not read any stories published by media outlets that pay peanuts or nothing to their freelancers, you shouldn’t ride gypsy cabs in New York City, and you should refuse to purchase goods made by manufacturers – like Levi Strauss & Co. – who closed American and Canadian plants to move production to other countries with cheaper labour (click here to read about those Levis Strauss’ U.S and Canada plant closings in 2008).
Put your money where your mouth is.
Otherwise I’ll see you at the next non-Equity show.
Click here to purchase tickets to see Shrek the Musical in Montreal or Toronto.
The Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal – in collaboration with the National Theatre School of Canada and the Monument-National – is premiering its new show Rossini and his Muses, The Big Banquet, scripted and directed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière.
In a press statement, L’Opéra de Montréal describes this new opera – basically a Rossini greatest-hits concert tailored to showcase the Atelier lyrique’s rising stars – thusly: “It’s Friday, November 13, 1868, the day after a big feast, in a country villa in Passy. Rossini, in his twilight years, thinks back on some of the more significant events and encounters in his epicurean existence… Olympe Pélissier… Isabella Colbran… Chef Carême… his departure for Paris… and especially a magnificent gastronomic evening in November 1824 at the Auberge du veau qui tète… The table is set for our young singers: the Atelier lyrique invites you to come see the stars of tomorrow at a budget price.”
The cast features Karine Boucher (soprano), Frédérique Drolet (soprano), Emma Parkinson (mezzo), Isaiah Bell (tenor), Jean-Michel Richer (baritone), guest performer Tomislav Lavoie (bass) and Tina Chang on the piano.
Rossini and his Muses, The Big Banquet plays at the Monument National’s Salle Ludger-Duvernay (1182 St-Laurent Blvd.) in Montreal on March 13, 15 and 17 at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $35.
Click here for tickets or call the Monument-National Box Office at 514-871-2224 or 1 866 844-2172.
Openly-gay twinkie and former Degrassi: The Next Generation TV star and teen idol Adam Ruggiero is currently starring in the Roseneath Theatre Company’s production of The Neverending Story at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre until March 17.
Ruggiero portrays Atreyo in this play based on the German fantasy novel written by Michael Ende. “Bastian, the lead character, lives as an outsider, often bullied,” Ruggiero told Fab magazine. “Atreyu, the hero, often feels unworthy and even faces failure. The play delves deep into many aspects of the human psyche; chief among them is the struggle for identity.”
Much like the struggle of young gay people.
“I always give the same advice to young people that I give to myself: be brave,” Ruggiero says. “In school, in your work, in your activism. In this superficial day and age, it is so easy to worry about what people think. But even if you feel afraid, always live it, say it, wear it, be it like you believe it. If you believe in it enough, others will too. It is true with acting and true with life. Be brave.”
Interestingly, Ruggiero was originally slated to play a gay stripper in Montreal’s Centaur Theatre production of Canadian playwright Bryden MacDonald’s terrific play With Bated Breath back in 2009. But Ruggiero pulled out – his agent apparently worried the full-frontal nudity would alienate the audience of Ruggiero’s other TV show at the time, YTV’s The Next Star – and was replaced by another young, out actor, the brave and brown-eyed Michael Sutherland-Young.
The Neverending Story plays Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East) until March 17. Admission: PWYC-$20. Click here for more info.