Home > Regular Columns > Talking Heads: Equity, 18 January 2016

Talking Heads: Equity, 18 January 2016

As 2015 comes to an end, it is with much sadness that we say farewell to the wonderful Anna Majavu. Since she took on the position as organiser for Equity New Zealand over four years ago, she has been a tireless advocate for actors. It is due in no small part to Anna’s unstinting service that our membership has grown so rapidly. She leaves with our gratitude and huge appreciation for her exceptional work. We will miss her.

In late November last year, the Equity Foundation’s eagerly awaited Casting Hothouse arrived in Auckland. For those of us lucky enough to attend it was an inspiring, rewarding experience. Over three days we got the opportunity to work with five of the best casting directors from Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Between them they had cast every incredible production you can think of – The Great Gatsby, Still Alice, Dallas Buyers Club, Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother,The Help – to name just a few!

Despite the different backgrounds and specialties of each casting director they all had some similar advice. Firstly, a good audition is never a waste; prepare, give it your all, be proud of what you have done in the room and then leave it when you walk out the door. If you aren’t right for the role you will be remembered and may be called back when a more suitable role pops up. Secondly, casing directors are not the enemy; they want you to be right for the role or you wouldn’t be there. And, most importantly, being an actor is a job; you are effectively your own small business and as such you should be constantly working on your “business” – accent and acting techniques, updating your Showcast and IMDB profiles, making short films, learning to self-test, table readings with friends. This focus on professionalism was what I found most inspiring. By treating what we do as profession, rather than a hobby, we will continue to see our working conditions improve.

In 2015 we saw constant proof of that.  New Zealand Equity went from strength to strength, and for the first time saw our numbers rising above 800 to 830 members. Equity also held successful talks with the Actors Agents Association of New Zealand and New Zealand Casting Directors on industry wide casting guidelines that will apply to all auditions. After four rounds of talks, all parties agreed to a new document, which has now been the standard for the past two months. The document is available on our website.

Reminded of the vulnerable position that many actors, especially new entrants to the industry, find themselves in, Equity also released a union guideline to nudity and simulated sex on stage and screen at our fourth annual Graduate Day for graduating actors. The guidelines describe the norms for nudity in auditioning, how nudity and simulated sex requirements should be specified in contracts, norms around using body doubles, rules around genitalia and kissing and how actors must use modesty clothing and patches when performing nude. It is a given that nude performing should never entail any sexual contact between actors and directors, producers and acting teachers. The union believes these guidelines will be of help to actors going forward.
The highlight of last year though was seeing the wonderful Dame Kate Harcourt, 88, take to the stage at the Q Theatre and accept our first Lifetime Achievement Award with her usual wit, grace and humility.

“Of any award I have or could have received, this is by far the most special, because I was chosen by my peers,” said Dame Kate upon hearing that she had been chosen as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Dame Kate is a long standing member of Equity’s National Performer’s Committee and also a member of our negotiating team – a role she has vowed to continue with this year as Equity continues to strive to achieve residuals for New Zealand performers. The award ceremony honouring Dame Kate was a highlight of my eight years as Equity president and truly wonderful note to end the year on.

The year 2016 has begun with a bang, with Equity launching a survey of theatre performers in New Zealand. The survey is open to all actors who have worked in theatre and aims to generate an overview of conditions and pay for performers in New Zealand theatre. So far, responses have been streaming in and a report will be generated in the months to come.

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