Of high ticket prices and equity fees

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Cecile Zamora-Van Straten, who writes the blog Chuvaness.com, posted about high-ticket prices for foreign acts performing in the Philippines in her reaction to a news article:

Why Ticket Prices Are Sky High In The Philippines
Posted on January 21, 2012

Ever wonder why Filipinos pay so much money foreign acts in concerts in Manila, even though we sometimes have to stand in the rain in some reclaimed area/parking lot in a god-forsaken place?

OPM, that’s why. OPM apparently demands a very high fee from any foreign act performing in Manila. This includes the international touring group of Mamma Mia that is set to perform at the CCP this January 24-Februrary 12. 

Instead of feeling insecure about foreign artists performing here, OPM should be more nationalistic and consider:

1. All the hotel rooms these people are going to occupy = tourism
2. All the Filipinos who will enjoy watching a real performance of Mamma Mia, fresh from abroad, instead of having to fly to another country to see it
3. Whatever happened to “it’s more fun in the Philippines?” You are actually making it “more hassle in the Philippines.”
4. It’s not only the Filipinos would enjoy watching Mamma Mia at the CCP, it would also give tourists/foreigners/expats something else to look forward to besides our ho-hum malls.
5. Your exorbitant fees are absorbed by the producers who pass it on to the consumers. That explains why it’s more expensive to watch concerts and shows in the Philippines. Thank you very much.

Read on and let us know what you think in the comments section.

OPM to stop ‘Mamma Mia!’ if million-peso fee not paid
By: Pocholo Concepcion, Philippine Daily Inquirer
January 21, 2012 | 2:01 am

MANILA, Philippines—The Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM) is considering filing an injunction or temporary restraining order against the local promoter of the international touring production of the long-running West End and Broadway musical, “Mamma Mia!,” set to open Jan. 24 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Elmar Beltran Ingles, OPM executive director, told the Inquirer on Friday that the local promoter Concertus Inc. had not paid the equity clearance, a requirement for all foreign artists performing in the Philippines, which is bound by a memorandum of agreement between the singers’ union and the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

“We’ve been talking with the promoter since November last year and were willing to give a 20-percent discount because the amount due is P1.8 million which is huge,” said Beltran.

The equity clearance fee—Php 5,000 per performer per show—Beltran said, goes to the OPM fund that pays for medical treatment and other emergency expenses of singer members.

But Concertus managing director Bambi Verzo said the BI had issued a special permit for the performers in the musical, which will have a four-week run.“We were being charged double [from the original amount of Php 900,000] because OPM said December to February is a peak season for local shows. We discussed the situation with the BI.”

Verzo told the Inquirer that her office paid the bureau Php 367,000 for the special permit.

She did not explain why she paid an amount much lower than the OPM’s asking price.

Beltran pointed out that the amount does not cover the equity clearance. “We suspect something happened inside the BI without the knowledge of the top officials,” he said. “Ogie Alcasid (OPM president) has been trying to contact the immigration commissioner (Ricardo David Jr.) but it seems his calls are being ignored. We may bring the matter to the attention of President Aquino.”

Verzo, whose group has produced other international productions including “Cats” and “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” also at the CCP, said she didn’t see a problem. “We have the official permit, including the receipt of payment. That should settle the issue.”

Beltran said OPM will wait until Monday for Concertus to meet with them.

A few days later, Elmar Beltran, executive director of Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), posted this in his Facebook account:

Setting the facts straight on the OPM Equity Issue
by Elmar Beltran Ingles 
on Monday, January 23, 2012 at 1:17am

Why ticket prices are high in the Philippines: The Facts Behind the Equity Issue

Whatever shows you’re watching, Ms. Chuvaness, you better check your math and review your economics and the Philippine Constitution.

Last time we checked, local plays charge only between a minimum of 300 to a maximum of 1,000 pesos per ticket – or roughly 7 to 23 in dollar equivalent. Concert tickets for local acts sell for a maximum of 6,000 pesos or a little over 137 dollars. That’s for very few good seats. But you obviously prefer foreign acts with tickets as high as 12,500 pesos for very good seats.

And you blame OPM and the Equity agreement it inked with the Bureau of Immigration for “making it more hassle in the Philippines.” And you call local artists “insecure.”

Last time we checked, Article II, Sections 17, 19, and 20 of the Philippine Constitution still prioritize arts and culture (among others), guarantee the development of a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos, recognize the indispensable role of the private sector, encourages private enterprise, and provide incentives to needed investments. The same Constitution’s Article 14, Sections 14 to 18 enshrine the policies and support system guaranteed by the state in promoting and developing local arts and culture.

Let’s try some education here.

The Performers’ Equity Rights program has been in force since 1987 upon the initiative of then Immigration Commissioner Miriam Defensor Santiago who dialogued with OPM and the Asosasyon ng Musikong Pilipino (AMP) to engage these artists’ NGOs in policing the entry of foreign performers who do professional work in the Philippines. This was seen as a government-private cooperation which also sought to provide assistance to local performers and producers whose livelihood and practice of profession are displaced by the influx of foreign productions. The tripartite Memorandum of Agreement has since been upheld and honored by succeeding Immigration Commissioners. As of this writing, efforts are being done to review the MOA in the hope that other affected sectors – theater, fashion and advertising, magic and circus, and other live entertainers and performers – are covered and benefited by the Equity scheme which is a big help in providing medical, hospitalization, emergency assistance and burial benefits now available to singers and musicians.

The Philippines is not the only country that levies Equity dues to foreign performers. We only have to look back and recall how Ms. Lea Salonga was subjected to very strict equity rules by both West End and Broadway Equity unions. France and Australia also levy a certain “displacement fee” that supports local artists affected by visiting ones.

OPM is NOT against foreign artists performing in the Philippines. We have long recognized that the world is increasingly becoming borderless and highly-globalized which augurs well for cultural exchanges between people of all nations. BUT WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO PROTECT OUR OWN ARTISTS AND PRODUCERS by levelling the playing field through policy reviews and actual government support.

OPM upholds and respects the freedom of choice made by our audiences when they patronize concerts and other forms of entertainment or cultural expressions. But critics of local concerts ought to realize that the much-sought regulatory measures are not only about levelling the playing fields for ticket sales between concerts featuring so-called “world-class” artists and those of local talents. It is more about supporting, promoting and asserting the bearers and promoters of our own cultural identity, local creative economy and national patrimony.

Foreign acts have long dominated the local concert circuit. Admittedly, they offer more attractive options for marketing and advertising. When foreign acts come to town, they normally take the route of Asian tours that have been conceptualized and produced abroad ready for local viewers to watch. They do not incur the same prohibitive costs of creative development, pre-production work, rehearsals, promotions and local taxation that local concerts are regularly exposed to. Local acts also have a more difficult time securing amusement tax exemptions or discounts from local government units than their foreign counterparts.

True, visiting artists and foreign acts help promote the country and its tourism industry and contribute to the economy. But for how long? It is the collective effort of local artists and producers that sustain the local entertainment, music, theater and performance industries long after foreign acts have left with their profits.

Foreign artists do not pay regular local income taxes while Filipino artists do. In fact, when a big foreign act is mounted locally, local concert, theater and related performing arts productions suffer from almost zero local advertising support for the rest of the year as advertisers have committed most of their resources to foreign acts. It is the local producers who are left holding empty bags. All of these contribute to a near-death spell for a local performing arts industry that has long invested in the development and long-term sustainability of the local creative economy.

And Ms. Chuvaness bullies OPM to be “more nationalistic” by discarding Equity dues levied against foreign productions? Does she even know what she’s talking about? OPM has exempted Bruno Mars and others from paying Equity because they are half-Filipinos – a rule that we have stipulated to encourage foreign artists of Filipino parentage to share their talents with local audiences. We exempt foreign classical productions (ballets, choirs, orchestras, and solo acts) from Equity dues because we believe they provide opportunities for global artistic exposure and education among our audiences. We provide professional training to new talents and social benefits to needy ones from the Equity collections. And still, some people call us “extortionists”. Does Ms. Chuvaness even know that each of the more than 15 top-rated foreign acts which competed against a few local artists for sponsorship ticket sales in February 2011 paid a measly 10,000 pesos Equity dues for each show? Does she know how much money was lost by local producers who got clobbered in sponsorship and ticket sales? We don’t think so.

If most other foreign-dominated industries or economic ventures operating locally get subjected to local regulatory measures for protective sustainability, why can’t it be done to music and the rest of the arts which are said to be “the soul of the nation”? The government must act now to recognize the value of Filipino artistry by ensuring greater support for the development and promotion of the dignity of artistic labor and industry.

We reiterate that we are not against the presence of foreigners in our local music industry and in the local concert, theater and entertainment circuits. But we reserve the right to protect our own livelihood – just like any other Filipino professionals who care for equitable and fair treatment, dignity of local labor, sense of patriotism, and the recognition of the Filipino creative genius.

And why is OPM and AMP collecting Equity dues for musical theater and, hopefully,  other live foreign production in the performing arts? Because, presently, OPM and AMP are the only ones that have entered into an agreement with the Bureau of Immigration. We long for the day when other guilds and artists’ organizations – such as the Philippine Theater Actors Guild, the Professional Models Association of the Philippines, the circus and magicians groups, and the local performing arts producers association (PHILSTAGE) – are made parties to the agreement. Because we believe that our collective initiatives are the reasons why we have a vibrant local creative industry that, unfortunately, is better appreciated and supported by global audiences and producers than our very own government, audiences and critics.

What do you think about this matter? Share your comments.

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