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Monday, December 05, 2011

On Membership...

I am writing this post here instead of the Walterdale Blog because the following is my own thoughts on membership fees and although I believe it is in line with the official Walterdale policy, it is not coming from that organization. It is how I feel.

At a recent meeting we had a lengthy discussion about membership fees at Walterdale. It came out of wanting to have a consistent message going to our members about what that fee is for and what they would get out of it. The consistency in message is, I think, very important as there is miscommunication about the why of membership fees in the first place. I like that. It's good. Everyone gets the same message.

When I was AD, I attended the auditions and would give a little speech about the membership fee and what that gave and that everyone who was cast would be expected to get a membership. This came out of the fact that the first time I directed at Walterdale I had two cast members ask about getting paid after they were cast. I helped construct the audition form and I thought it was clear that Walterdale was a community theatre and therefore non-paid. As well, the audition form indicated that those cast would have to get memberships. It was on the paper in black and white and yet people didn't seem to see that. I started the audition introductory speeches as a way to make it totally clear to people that this was an expectation of doing a show at Walterdale. I didn't want any surprises. I know that my predecessor has continued this. And yet, we still get people balking at paying the fees. They argue that they are putting in a lot of time and that having to pay on top of this is not fair.

This makes me kind of angry... There was no attempt made to hide this requirement. It was clearly out there, in print and verbally delivered. It is an expectation for everyone who is part of the organization. It is not something we merely assess to the actors. I know people who are members who only work coffee bar. I know people who have been members for many years and haven't done a show in any capacity for most of those. The membership fee is about buying in to the community. It is about investing. You are not paying a person, you are paying for the luxury and benefit of working in the space and you are paying so that we can continue to do that for many years to come. People (primarily actors) complain that they are having to pay to work at Walterdale as though that money goes to someone else. It doesn't. It goes to the operating budget for the theatre. We are fortunate to receive grants and have casino money and that sort of thing, but we cannot assume that those funds will cover all our costs. The theatre itself is an older building and things come up that cost. We also want to be able to fund the productions to the extent that we produce them properly. We talked about not giving Comp Tickets to those without memberships and someone argued that those people still put in many hours... to which I say, I put in the hours AND paid the membership... should I get double the comps? No. It doesn't work that way. I could direct the show, paint the set, work front of house and be on the Board (I have done that), paid my membership and still only gotten my 2 comps. So what is really fair?

I guess I get most angry because some people act as though they should be exempt, as though what they are contributing is so valuable that they should not have to contribute, but as a paying member what that says to me is that they feel that I should have to pay for the honour of having them on our stage. That I should foot the bill for just being able be graced by their talent. I am sorry. I have put thousands of hours into Walterdale. I don't need to pay to hang out with them. I do the work to DO THE WORK. I think everyone with that attitude should have to read the Walterdale History book to see what a real contribution to our theatre is.

Again, this is my opinion. Pay your membership or don't, but don't think I will ever agree that you have a legitimate reason for not doing so.

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