Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Defining "professional"

One of Council's most intriguing discussions of late has been an effort to define the term "professional" as it is used in our various bylaws and policies. This is turning out to be rather more difficult than hoped. Or, perhaps, just as difficult as anticipated.

In theory, coming up with a usable definition should be a fairly simple process: open up a dictionary and copy down what you see printed there. However, our membership works across a wide spectrum of career realities, so pinning down a simple definition is elusive. This may be why we haven't developed one to date.

It might be worth a word or two on why we would want to do this in the first place.

The initial impetus came from our desire to handle resignation applications fairly and consistently. Our bylaws require the applicant to confirm an intention to "terminate his or her professional career" within the jurisdiction of Equity. OK, but then where do you draw that line? In the case of applicants who specify that they wish to continue their career in live performance in a "non-union" capacity, the answer is pretty simple. In the case of members who no longer wish to pursue their livelihood in live performance, but who plan to participate in local non-professional work on the strength of their prior careers, that line is less clear.

Should "professional" be viewed in terms of income, or pursuit of income, or defined in terms of a level of skill or talent? After all, someone who has devoted a significant portion of their life to acquiring and honing a high level of skill, and who has worked at that level, doesn't suddenly drop back to an "amateur" level simply by virtue of signing a piece of paper. Or is it a combination of these two, and in what proportion? Should tenure within the profession figure into it at all?

In considering these questions, we also need to give thought to how any definition would apply to our active membership.

Our members run a wide gamut, from people who work fairly steadily at fairly comfortable salaries (an unfortunately slim minority), to those who deliberately combine livelihoods within and without our jurisdiction, to those who only work sporadically in their chosen profession (a dismayingly large number). Yet, all of them are pursuing a professional career, and few of them would hesitate to swap their second (first) job for a decently-remunerative theatre gig and a chance at more. Is the actual percentage of one's livelihood earned in our jurisdiction an appropriate metric, or should it perhaps focus more on the desire or intention to earn a livelihood?

And how far should self-definition figure into it? If asked, I'm guessing that 100% of our members, no matter how intermittent their contract history, would categorise themselves as "professional".

Beginning to get the picture?

If anyone has a blinding flash of inspiration on this topic, please feel free to drop us a note in the comments!