When the long-running soap-opera ‘Generations’ went off air, the 16 actors at the centre of the storm filed papers with the CCMA, challenging their dismissal. The first question the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration had to answer is whether or not it has jurisdiction at all in the matter: are the actors ‘employees’ as defined in the labour legislation, or are they in fact common law ‘independent contractors’.
There is a raft of legislation that requires a clear distinction be made as to the legal status of an employee versus that of independent contractor: from the Income Tax Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. It is unfortunate that many contracts being issued within the Entertainment Industry serve to muddy the waters rather than to provide the necessary clarity.
I argue that the prevailing confusion results from a fundamental misunderstanding as to what an actor actually does, which may also account for the frequent question, “So, what’s your real job?”
Is "delivery" the work of an actor?
An actor who impresses is said to have ‘delivered a good performance’, while a negative criticism will often note that one could ‘see the actor at work’. Could it be that many of us simply confuse the delivery of the work for the work itself? An actor shows up in front of the camera or on stage to deliver the results of their work, not to do the work per se. No self-respecting professional actor would arrive on set without having, at the very least, learned their lines beforehand. In the same vein a professional actor would not turn up at rehearsal without having done background research into the play, the character they are to portray and a host of other factors to be considered in the crafting of their performance.
As a professional actor, my work is done out of the glare of the spotlight, in my own time and space, and using my own resources. It is entirely unsupervised, I don’t punch a clock-card and I pay for sessions with a vocal coach, a dialect coach, movement specialists and various other resources that may be required from time to time. I then attend scheduled consultations, or rehearsals, where I offer proposals based on my work thus far and invite a second-opinion. The director and other members of the creative team may have differing interpretations and these are considered as I continue my work. Finally the agreed date arrives, the curtain rises at the appointed time, and I deliver.
This shift in ‘mind-set’ referred to by the much decorated veteran actor John Kani, allows the actor to claim agency in the work they do and to assume the appropriate responsibility for delivering the goods. As the courts apply their minds to the conundrum in respect of the ‘Generations 16’ it would be to the benefit of the Professional Actor and the Entertainment Industry at large, were they to adopt the relevant mind-set.