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    Posted December 16, 2008

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Equity Leadership Attends International Congress

For five days in October 2008, leaders of performing arts unions and guilds from around the world gathered at the International Federation of Actors (FIA) summit in Marrakesh, Morocco. Representing Equity were President Mark Zimmerman, Third Vice President Ira Mont, Western Region Vice President Doug Carfrae and Executive Director John P. Connolly.

(Seated L-R) Zambia's Michael Sankwe, Third VP Ira Mont, ED John P. Connolly, (standing) Western Regional VP Doug Carfrae, President Mark Zimmerman

The FIA Congress and its meetings were sponsored by His Majesty King Mohammed VI and the Moroccan government. For the Kingdom of Morocco, acting is a priority in the cultural revival of the country. In his message to the FIA participants, King Mohammed VI wrote, "Actors are an embodiment of responsible citizenship. They illustrate its values even more than other members of society. Through their performance and work, they reflect the conscience of the nation, voicing the concerns of their fellow citizens without chauvinism, and expressing their ambitions without falling into the trap of triviality. The result is beautiful, inspiring acting and a deep, sincere commitment to professional standards and ethics." His Majesty commended FIA for its efforts to promote the performing arts, and uphold universal values and to fight all types of discrimination and social exclusion.

The meetings were divided into three sections: linguistic, executive and the FIA Congress and included an introduction to the culture, architecture and cuisine of the country. AEA participated in the English-speaking meetings; sat as observers at the Executive Meeting (the United States is represented by John McGuire of SAG), and attended the Congress, at which Executive Director John Connolly chaired the Resolutions Committee. Throughout the Congress, Equity leaders heard from their international counterparts similar concerns about key issues, including new media, performers' rights, health and safety, and organizing efforts. Nearly all the organizations reported their public policy efforts to influence legislation and regulations that would benefit or directly affect the performers they represent.

"The FIA Congress gave us the opportunity to work closely with our counterparts in addressing global challenges in an exciting and creative forum," said President Mark Zimmerman. "The exchange of ideas and best practices at the meetings led to a number of shared initiatives that will only strengthen performers around the world. Our participation in these meetings is an important contribution to the performing arts community."

Executive Director John Connolly concurred: "We are part of a global community, rich in creative, talented performers whose work helps to shape and influence our individual cultures. Meeting with our friends from around the world illustrates the importance of the arts in this ever-changing world."

Attending the English-speaking meeting were AEA, SAG, AFTRA, Canadian Equity and ACTRA, UK Equity, Irish Equity, French Canadian's UDA and Australia's MEAA, as well as representatives from the African nations of Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. There was a great deal of information shared among the group and reports were made on the progress of several initiatives. AEA reported on the success of our Production Contract negotiations, including innovative language regarding new media that also acknowledges the contributions made by actors. Canadian Equity made a motion to organize cruise ships, an area that has been under discussion for AEA. UK Equity reported that they are currently in their most aggressive negotiations for the West End with SOLT to date. Australia's MEAA reported on the continuing concerns surrounding new media and its impact on actors.

Reports From African Nations
Our colleagues from Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe each gave a report on the situations they face in their countries. Rich in culture and the arts, the performers in these nations are challenged daily by a variety of political and economic restrictions and have very few resources. In Zimbabwe, for example, actors often choose to work for food because their currency is virtually worthless. One participant called the older, more established unions at the meeting "the big brothers who help their little brothers learn to walk on their own." Western Region Vice President Doug Carfrae reflected: "I was alternately inspired and saddened by the conditions of Actors around the world. We have a global responsibility as successful, long-standing theatrical unions to help our colleagues around the world achieve the same kind of respect and benefits we enjoy."

On the first day of the Congress, Messrs. Zimmerman, Mont, Carfrae and Connolly sat with Michael Sankwe, the representative from Zambia, for a lively discussion about the arts and the artistic community. AEA will sponsor a twinning project with Zambia and plans are being formulated to have Mr. Sankwe travel to the United States in February to learn more about how Equity works. Mr. Sankwe will attend a Council meeting, observe the LORT negotiations and travel with Mr. Connolly to Washington, DC, where together they will meet with AFL-CIO officials to elicit support and assistance for Zambian performers.

During the Executive Committee, John Connolly reported on the initiatives in which AEA engaged during the last four years. He spoke of the solidarity among the Broadway unions when Local One Stagehands were forced to strike for 19 days, and the success in rebuilding a working relationship with the Broadway employers that led to an innovative and forward-thinking Production Contract.

Third Vice President Ira Mont summed up the trip, saying, "Our counterparts around the world are as passionate about their work as we are. They are as invested in their membership as we are. It was an extraordinary experience."

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