Currently running at the Toronto Centre for the Arts and part of Dancap Production's 11/12 subscription series is IN THE HEIGHTS, the groundbreaking musical theatre show that won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
So when I saw the show, I thought
"Why isn't this blowing my face off?"
All the ingredients were present - high-energy music with catchy hooks, progressive plotline not typical of musical theatre (which makes me like it more), hip hop elements that are easy to nod your head to and pretty hot dance moves to boot. So wtf?
After reading the bios and seeing the cast's lack of experience, the lightbulb went off: it's a non-equity production.
I can only scratch the surface with my understanding of why non-equity productions are frowned upon. I know the Actors Equity Union is necessary and important, and I know that professional companies producing non-equity shows undermine the talent that we try and TRY to promote and protect; but I really don't know all the politics surrounding the scenario. If you want to know more about that, I refer you to Praxis Theatre and their article written by Michael Wheeler called,
"Why Canadian Actors' Equity Association is important and why it has to change."
or the Globe and Mail article: Actors' Equity protests non-union production of IN THE HEIGHTS
Click on the articles names to be taken to them.
I encourage you to learn more about it than I do and to continue the much-needed discusssion.
But what I DO know, is how I felt as a theatre consumer , and member of the general public, and being sold a false bill of goods.
This isn't a new revelation. An argument against non-equity shows is that it's misleading to the consumer. In the interest of transparency, I was fortunate to receive a comp ticket so I didn't have to pay to see the show; but depsite that, I still felt duped.
IN THE HEIGHTS is a big name as far as musical theatre goes. It was the rage in NYC for ages and the mention of "Winner of 4 Tony Awards including BEST MUSICAL" was on every marketing piece I saw and practically shouted from the rooftops. So I went to the theatre expecting to see Broadway calibre and was instead presented with something far from it. I was disapointed. I had geared myself up for the hottest show off Broadway since Southpark took over, and I spent my time convincing myself that it was, in fact, great and that my expectations are just always too high.
After further analysis during Act II, I decided that no, it wasn't and no they are not.
The cast of this touring production of IN THE HEIGHTS is absolutely, extremely talented. But their greenness came through at almost every turn and while that may be fine for a local remount, it doesn't cut it if it's being sold as something else.
To see IN THE HEIGHTS, you are charged prices ranging from $135-$40; prices equivilant to any other big budget production in the city. If a touring company, and their production partner, want to save money by using non-equity actors (and thus not paying equity fees), the communist in me says that you can't also charge Equity-production prices for the public's consumption of it. By doing so, it is not only unfair to the consumer but it's also false advertising. It's a general assumption that a touring production of a high-profile Broadway show is also going to be Broadway calibre. So anything less than that is unacceptable, particularly if you charge the same price as a Broadway show would. There is a standard to uphold and as consumers we should demand and expect that it be upheld.
I get that DanCap has a profit-margin to adhere to and that making theatre profitable is a tough business to be in, but that's the industry they chose, and if they get a reputation for bringing sub-par shows to town, they risk alienating the audiences they so desperately need to attract to stay afloat.
Is it worth it?
IN THE HEIGHTS is playing now 'til Feb 19 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts ( 5040 Yonge St.).
For tickets, click here.
This is your new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.