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   December 7, 2015

On Gratitude

by Kate Shindle

AEA President Nick Wyman

President Kate Shindle

This time of year always brings reminders of community, family and gratitude. I, for one, believe that I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

In our industry, though, the holiday season also brings an increased workload. Here in New York, schedules are changing, performances are added to already demanding weeks, and it can seem like a major battle just to weave through the Times Square crowds on the way to half hour.

Despite these challenges, it’s a great moment to be in the theatre. Our business is rapidly changing and expanding, and new models continue to emerge for distributing live theatre across various platforms. I’m excited to explore the ways in which we can increase the accessibility of our art form. In truth, we have to do so; as producing shows becomes more and more expensive and ticket prices rise accordingly, we must seek out new frontiers for delivering theatre, while somehow preserving the fundamental treasure that is the live interaction between players and audience. I don’t yet know how we will balance these competing interests. But in addition to bringing theatre to wider demographics, and engaging the next generation of audience members, this kind of big picture thinking also has the potential to open up new revenue streams and opportunities for the employers who hire us — especially in our small cities and towns across the country, where it can often seem like a daily struggle just to keep the lights on.

One of my favorite parts of this job is the opportunity to sit down and collaborate with big thinkers. In a business where we can sometimes feel like the sun rises and sets on the outcome of our audition for a yogurt commercial, it’s fantastic to be able to have large-scale conversations about the future of our industry and possible pathways to achieving collective success (not for nothing, it also appeals to the part of my brain that insists that there’s more to life than yogurt commercials. No offense, yogurt.) And I’ve been talking to some of my longtime favorite people — and also to some new faces I’ve only recently learned to appreciate — about theatre in the digital era. And expanding the models we use to do what we do. And diversity. And gender parity. And the ways in which we participate in the development of new shows.

The last of those seems to be pretty radioactive this year. Like many of us, I’ve done dozens upon dozens of readings, workshops, concerts of new work, presentations and work sessions. Never, though, have I seen our members reach what feels like a tipping point in this conversation. We are hearing significant calls to eliminate the Lab Contract, which allows producers to develop new shows without mounting full productions, but does not include participation in future rights. In fact, plenty of members have suggested to me that all developmental contracts and codes without rights participation be eliminated (although I would caution against rushing into that strategy, for a number of reasons). Part of this, of course, has to do with what’s been going on here in New York (or here on Broadway) and our members’ feeling that when they help to make a show wildly successful, they should be able to negotiate a portion of the future revenue. By nature, this is an overscale negotiation, and thus not within Equity’s purview. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore those voices — coming from some of our most active and prolific members — insisting that change be considered.

One of the hallmarks of a successful development period is that a “project” becomes a “job.” That is what most of us are working toward when we sign onto these nascent shows, in whatever preliminary form they may take. What our members seem to be asking right now is how to balance the happiness (some would even call it gratitude) that results when a contract actually comes to fruition. Because what many of the same members are asking is whether our colleagues are equally grateful to have us in the room with them, exploring their creations and working to make them better. There is no simple answer. But I have a feeling it’s a conversation that will continue for a while.

That’s all for now. Have a happy, safe and creative holiday season!

Contact President Kate Shindle at


From the President Archives

President Shindle's Inaugural Column

Labor Day, Unions for Artists and the Value of Unity

When in doubt, ask The Actors Fund

On Gratitude

Unsung Heroes

Changing the World, One Benefit at a Time


On Progress

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