Monday, 11 March 2013

"I would do anything for love, but I won't do that"

I remember a time when Sunday was truly a day of rest, not in the biblical sense, but all we had to do was do chores, see family, and listen to the wireless......standard Sunday stuff,a simpler time.  But soon modern life demanded so much of our time that we needed supermarkets to open for a few hours on Sunday because our Saturdays were too full to fit in a weekly shop.  Then it snowballed as shopping centres and most other amenities followed suit, until a Sunday is pretty much like a Saturday in terms of retail.  And now the same is happening in theatre.

When I started as an actress 11 years ago we still kept the theatre hours of yonder year; Monday to Saturday performances, 8 shows a week and Sundays off.  In the last few years Sunday matinees have appeared for these ‘Sunday like Saturday’ busy folk and now the new Equity West End Settlement wants to add an extra performance making Sunday a two show day.
The theatre industry is up in arms. 
I don’t want to join in this new journalistic style of creating an article out of Tweets but here are some opinions from cyber space:-
Stomp has done two shows on a Sunday for years, and have two days off instead of one #WestEndSettlement
“REJECT #WestEndSettlement please everyone RT. I love my job but its important to be able to have a work/life balance.”
“No payment for background recordings?! So we are obsolete and having to do/feel so for free. Cheers. #WestEndSettlement
@EquityUK members: 2 shows on a Sunday? Performers with school-age children will become absentee parents. REJECT THE #WestEndSettlement

This new settlement is the result of Equity members fighting the last deal that left West End understudies worse off financially.  They felt it unjustified that understudies rehearsed and performed for no extra fee just because the parts they covered didn’t have a whole song and therefore were deemed not main roles.  This has been rectified in the new deal but with some savage hidden extras in paternity pay, stage management and obligatory press calls.  Yes, understudies in “supporting roles” will be paid and the settlement says that this leaves agents free to negotiate understudy pay.  We all know that this means ‘jack.’  In recent years understudy fees are completely un-negotiable, perhaps because of this deal but mainly because there will be a list of 5 other actors below who will accept that fee/any fee and so you cannot push too hard.  This will not change.
Business, at a fundamental level, is to supply the demand.  This is particularly pertinent when so many industries are vying for income; if the customer (audience member- willing to pay the price of a week in Spain for a family of 4 to watch a West End musical) wants and will attend a Sunday night performance then theatres would be churlish to lose the business.  But with the often dodgy Sunday public transport who would risk keeping the kids up late before school only to be stranded on the District Line?

You can also argue that in these lean times actors are lucky to be in work.  Jobs and auditions are scare so shouldn’t actors do all that is necessary to support the industry and keep themselves in work?   In the words of Meatloaf “I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that,” because although we are lucky to do our hobby for a living it is still our job.  We deal with the same work/life balance issues that normal folk do and despite common folklore we don’t constantly listen to musical theatre on our iPods or lose the need to see our families because we love our show family so much.
I feel that having two shows on a Sunday would mean losing that tiny bit of normalcy that actors like me,crave, and therefore personally find the prospect of a 2-show Sunday terrible.  But if we study current contracts, Sunday shows can always be added, so how relevant is this new clause?  Should we worry more about paternity alterations and obligatory press calls?  Or is working on a Sunday just part of the sacrifices a worker must make for any job, as those in Sainsbury’s have done before us? 
I would wish to preserve the actors’ working week and remind theatre managers that although we feel jolly lucky to do what we love for a living it is exactly that, for a living.  So don’t take the p*ss and make us do it for free, there are amateur theatre companies for that. 
The most important thing to come out these tweets and opinion is the chance to speak out.  We have a union and for all its faults, at the risk of sounding like a crap ad for the local election, if you aren’t an Equity member then how much do you care about your industry?  There’s no point bitching in the dressing room or on the Internet if you are not prepared to say it out loud.  The problem with our union is it is unable to act; we all have views but are often reticent to air them because we feel replaceable and are too frightened to cause a stink.  I am not suggesting we storm the streets of Soho or build a barricade in St Martin’s Lane but take the time to go to an Equity meeting and vote to have your say, whatever it is.

Just because we spend our time reciting other people’s words doesn’t mean there isn’t value in our own.
Read the proposed settlement here https://t.co/n5hDDrHCYT
Check out the Stage Status forum and join the community discussing this . http://stagestatus.co.uk/forums/topic/472/westendsettlement
and if you think it is just the theatre industry read a freelance journalist's account of emails with an editor wanting him to write for free http://natethayer.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-freelance-journalist-2013/

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