What Is Community Theater?
Or, Why Do We Have to Fill Out That Professional Disclosure Form, Anyway?
We are fortunate, here in eastern Massachusetts, to have access to a huge spectrum of theatre, from full-scale Equity productions, to “semi-professional” groups with Equity leads and amateur ensembles, to strictly-volunteer community groups. EMACT, as our name states, is an organization intended to serve community theatre groups. But if theatre groups are on a spectrum, where do we put that dividing line between “professional” and “amateur” theatre groups?
The EMACT Board addressed this question a number of years ago. We looked at multiple factors, including who gets paid (and how much), whether anyone involved is a professional (and how to define that), and whether aspects of a show are professionally designed. This resulted in the creation of the DASH Program’s “Professional Disclosure Form” (the form is posted online at http://www.emact.org/dash-forms-and-resources.html; scroll to the bottom and click on either of the “DASH Professional Disclosure” links).
The purpose of this form is twofold: first, to determine whether a production is eligible as a “community theatre” production; and second, to determine whether any individual aspects of a production are ineligible for a DASH nomination or award. Let’s look at each of the questions on the form to see how they apply to those two factors.
1.Did any actors receive a stipend greater than $200?
Generally, community theatre actors are unpaid. If an entire cast of actors is paid a significant stipend (i.e., more than $200 each), this pushes the production into the realm of being “professional,” and the production is excluded from DASH consideration. We do understand that there may be times when roles are difficult to fill and a financial incentive can help, so a cast receiving smaller stipends is acceptable, and a single actor receiving a larger stipend will be considered for inclusion on a case-by-case basis.
2.Were any elements rented or otherwise professionally designed?
The DASH awards are intended to reward amateur designers, not professionals. A set, lighting plot, costume plot, etc., may be designed by a professional (either as a rental or designed in-house) and the score for that element will be included in the overall score for the production, but the individual element will not be considered for an award. In the case of costume rentals, renting some items – even most items – does not necessarily preclude a nomination or award in that category. If a group rents a full costume plot, however, it’s a case of “coordination” rather than “design,” and therefore ineligible for an award. In addition, most design aspects include a score for degree of difficulty, so adjudicators take into account whether items were rented or built in-house.
3.Are any technical or artistic staff members of a professional union or do they earn a living wage as a theatre professional?
We define a “theatre professional” in two ways: 1) member of a relevant union, or 2) earning a living wage in that area. This includes performers who are members of Actors’ Equity Association, designers who are members of a union relevant to their position (e.g., IATSE, SSD&C, etc.), and designers who earn their living in a relevant industry (e.g., a lighting designer who owns a professional lighting company or a set designer who is employed full-time as the technical director of a theater company). A designer who is a member of one theatrical union but designing a different aspect of a production (e.g., an Equity member serving as a choreographer, or a director who is a member of IATSE) would be eligible for nominations and awards unrelated to their union affiliation. A production involving a single Equity performer would generally be eligible for awards other than that individual actor; however, in the case of a “star vehicle” centered around a single Equity performer (e.g., the title role in a show like Mame, Jesus Christ Superstar, or Evita), a production may be excluded from the DASH program at the discretion of the DASH Coordinators.
Other notes: Pit musicians may be union members and may be paid scale. There is no limit on production staff stipends or payments, as long as that person is not making a living wage in that position. Actors who are members of the Screen Actors’ Guild but not Actors’ Equity are considered eligible for individual acting awards.
Any questions or concerns regarding the Professional Disclosure Form, both as it applies to a particular production and how it is used in general, may be directed to the DASH Co-Coordinators at firstname.lastname@example.org.