As a coalition of Canada’s entertainment unions, representing performers, musicians, designers, and behind-the-scenes artisans and technicians, we would like to express our gratitude for the Government of Canada’s efforts to support our industry and the people who work within it. Our coalition is comprised of the IATSE, Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, the Canadian Federation of Musicians, and the Associated Designers of Canada. We represent over 50,000 workers across the entertainment industry.
We are writing today to ensure you are aware of the gravity of the situation facing the live performance industry and its workers. The industry has been reeling from blow after blow, and the postponement of Hamilton at the National Arts Centre followed by the permanent closure of Mirvish’s Come From Away has been like a death knell sounding across the country. This new wave of closures is all the more difficult because live performance workers had finally started to get back to work and allowed themselves some optimism. We would remind you of the Liberal campaign promise to Launch a new Arts and Culture Recovery Program that would match ticket sales for performing arts, live theatres, and other cultural venues to compensate for reduced capacity. Such a program might have helped to avert these closures and others. In addition, countries such as the UK and Australia introduced funding that does not exclude commercial producers, and both non-profit and commercial live performance (including Come From Away) in those countries has continued to operate.
The financial contribution of the arts is a significant one in every city in which a venue is located, and these venues must be supported. For Come From Away alone, Mirvish Productions stated that more than one million patrons saw the show during its run – February 13, 2018 to March 13, 2020 and December 15 to 22, 2021, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Broken down:
- Box office sales surpassed of $115 Million including over $15 Million in HST
- Estimated economic impact to the Toronto economy of $920 Million
- The show created 9,000 employment weeks for cast, stage managers, musicians, crew members and front of house team members
The support required is two-fold. Theatres and venues need support so that once this is over, they’re still around to mount productions and create the thousands of arts jobs required to do so, and workers need income support to survive until those productions can safely be mounted. Many live performance workers have been without income since the CRB ended on October 23, 2021. We have been working directly with everyone at Canadian Heritage since early November. We have briefed MPs in all political parties and provided information to Finance Canada.
This fourth wave is having devastating effects on the mental health of our members. We are doing our best to provide them with this type of support, but we cannot pay the rent or put food on the table for the thousands affected across the country. These workers need the Government of Canada to step up.
We were therefore pleased when Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a temporary expansion of the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit to include workers affected by 50% venue capacity limits. Applications for the expanded benefit opened December 30. While we are pleased that some support has been rolled out, there are still issues with the program that it is imperative be addressed.
Recommendations to Modify the CWLB for Live Performance Workers:
- ISSUE: The live performance industry will not be up and running by February 12, the date that the expanded CWLB is set to terminate. The longer workers are without support, the more of them we will lose. Those newer to the industry have not yet established deep roots and leave more readily. These workers tend to be younger and more culturally diverse, and this loss is a serious one for the industry.
RECOMMENDATION: The expanded CWLB must be extend beyond Feb 12 – until the Performing Arts Worker Resilience Fund is launched (be that April 1 or earlier/later.)
- ISSUE: As we understand it, if someone was out of work before capacity limits were introduced, they do not qualify for the CWLB. If they were lucky enough to be working before capacity limits were introduced, many largely subsisted on CERB throughout 2020, so demonstrating a 50% drop from 2020 income could be problematic. This unfairly penalizes live performance workers.
RECOMMENDATION: Live performance workers should qualify, regardless of work status immediately prior to capacity limits. Further, if applicants must demonstrate a 50% decrease in average weekly income to be eligible, it should be based on their 2019 income, not on their 2020 income.
- ISSUE: CWLB benefits are retroactive to Oct 24 – the day after the CRB ended – but although mot live performance CRB recipients had no income since October 23, retroactivity only comes into play for the time period since 50% capacity limit restrictions were put in place. For every province (aside from Saskatchewan, which has no such limits), that wasn’t until mid to late December, which leaves most of these workers with roughly seven weeks of having had no income at all.
RECOMMENDATION: Given the long timeframe required to mount a production (weeks to months), live performance workers should be able to claim CWLB retroactive to October 24, when they first lost their CRB support, but the majority still had no work.
- ISSUE: Saskatchewan workers are not able to access support through the CWLB because that provincial government has not instituted capacity limits, but capacity limits are not the only COVID inhibitor to live production. For example, the Globe Theatre in Regina has no shows scheduled until February 16. Shows get cancelled or postponed not just because of crowd restrictions, but also because of audience hesitation to attend, producers unwilling to take on the risk and expense of mounting a show that they don’t know for sure will open, or positive COVID cases in the cast or crew.
RECOMMENDATION: Saskatchewan live performance workers are still suffering like their counterparts in other provinces and should not be penalized because their provincial government has not introduced capacity limits. These workers should be eligible for CWLB.
Recommendations to Support Live Performance Venues/Producers*:
* We must clearly state that all theatres/producers are in crisis – regardless of not-for-profit or commercial status – and as in other countries, commercial theatres/producers must be included in assistance programs.
- ISSUE: The wage subsidy programs (the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and/or the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program) only allows live performance employers to receive subsidies for EMPLOYEES, which does not contemplate that the majority of the wages they pay out is for gig workers, who are not eligible.
RECOMMENDATION: Wage subsidy programs should be based on those listed on payroll rather than traditional employee status. This incentivizes employers to produce shows by providing them with the stability to plan and start building shows while removing some of the inherent risk. With more workers actually working to build and mount these shows, it would also serve to relieve some of pressure on an enhanced CWLB.
- ISSUE: Designing (including lighting, sets, costumes, sound, etc.), building (including sets, props, murals, costumes, wigs, rigging, electronics, etc.), rehearsing (musicians, actors, dancers, choreography, etc.), marketing/promoting (including ticket sales), and mounting (all aspects together, from loading in, to dressing actors, to scene changes, to “flying” actors, etc.) a show is typically a months-long process and is risky at the best of times. With the uncertainty of COVID, the risk is at an all-time high.
RECOMMENDATION: Provide any stability and incentive possible. In addition to modifying the wage subsidy, other measures could include a ticket subsidy (like that mentioned in the Liberal platform, and similar to that undertaken by the Quebec provincial government), or through cancellation insurance for COVID closures/postponements, similar to what was done for the domestic film industry (and has been successfully implemented in the UK and Australia). Program design should involve consultation with a wide range of producers and stakeholders.
- ISSUE: Almost all live performance industry supports have been left to the federal government to implement and finance. This is neither fair nor balanced.
RECOMMENDATION: While we have lobbied – and will continue to lobby – for provincial assistance for the industry, we urge the Finance Minister to press her provincial counterparts to partner and offer their own support programs for the industry. Both levels of government must be part of the solution.
- ISSUE: US states such as Illinois, New York, and Louisiana have implemented a live production tax credit. These measures have had a noticeable negative impact on Canada’s theatre industry, most particularly affecting southern Ontario. Canada has lost out on a number of shows, which no longer build or do long, pre-Broadway runs, resulting in thousands of job losses for Canadians.
RECOMMENDATION: As a long-term solution to bolster the theatrical sector, Canada should implement tax credit programs similar to those already in place for the film & television sector. The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit and the Foreign Service Film or Video Tax Credit programs have been incredibly successful in promoting and developing the Canadian motion picture and television industry. These tax credits are based on quantifiable labour expenditures and established infrastructures exist for ensuring compliance. Furthermore, they operate in conjunction with other financial support mechanisms such as the Canadian Television Fund and so a live performance tax credit should be compatible with other funders such as the Canada Council for the Arts. The cost of administering these programs is minimal and so the creation of a similar tax credit for live performance should not incur substantial administration costs or needless infrastructure by the Government.
The live performance industry and its workers need immediate support. We urge you to act, and to act quickly. We are grateful to the Government of Canada for all your efforts and thank you for your consideration. We would welcome the opportunity for further discussion.
John M. Lewis IATSE firstname.lastname@example.org / 416-362-3569
Arden Ryshpan CAEA email@example.com / 416-867-9165
Alan Willaert CFM firstname.lastname@example.org / 416-391-5161
Ken MacKenzie ADC email@example.com / 647-835-6023