Saturday 19 April 2014

Living on the Never, Never - Production Companies who owe actors money

“If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it’” says my Grandad, a wise man who’s saved up all his life for things he wanted and never had a credit card.  He should advise certain enterprising theatrical producers who seem to think it’s acceptable to put on a show and cross their fingers that they’ll make enough money to pay the cast and crew.

Not a week goes by without another article appearing in The Stage describing a production company that has gone into liquidation or about actors fighting to get their wages. Circumstances like this have, sadly, always occurred within the industry but it seems to be happening with increasing regularity, not the ‘encore’ us performers yearn for.

Every time I read one of these articles I am filled with rage and transported back to the time when I was involved in a similar situation.  I was cast in a show which was being produced by someone I had met socially, LIFE LESSON WARNING KLAXON!!! NEVER TRUST A BLOKE YOU MEET IN A PUB WHEN HE SAYS HE DOING A MUSICAL!!!!! Of course actors need to network and sometimes amazing opportunities can come out of a chance meeting but please do be wary. This guy, I’ll call him Don (my writer morals demand I give him a pseudonym but you know I’d rather put up Wild West style wanted posters everywhere with his useless mug and real name emblazoned on them!) organised professional enough auditions at a reputable venue with a director and everything. Offers went out, mine was verbal but another actor signed a contract for the proposed tour and salary.
You can add your own choice of villain here!

Rehearsals were due to start and tickets went on sale at large venues. It became harder for our agents to contact Don and squeeze out any information.  He never called back.  LIFE LESSON KLAZON!!! IN WORK, AS IN BOYFRIENDS, IF THEY DON’T CALL BACK THEN THEY AREN’T TO BE TRUSTED!!!!  In my case I was still waiting for my contract when the other actor was called and told that the show was being pulled due to lack of financial backing.

I understand that this happens. I know how hard it is to secure funding. Just filling out the Arts Council application form when I was producing my own show nearly caused me a coronary and serious writing hand ache, so I do have sympathy. But if you think, Don, that you may not make it to rehearsals then don’t add a clause to your contracts saying that if you cancel the production more 2 weeks prior to rehearsals starting the actor gets half the salary and the whole salary if it is cancelled with less than 2 weeks to go. It was cancelled 12 days before rehearsals were due to start - so money was owed. Duh, Don, whata mistaka to maka!

Equity helped us chase Don to the hills and back, he rarely answered his phone or responded to emails and came out with some highly dramatic and dubious excuses. Our case was futile because once the production company was declared bankrupt we had no chance of getting anything we were owed. A similar thing happened with the Coronation Street musical 'Street of Dreams,' the creditors lost out when the company was put into liquidation. 

It is one thing to pull a show before it starts but another to not pay cast and crew after they have worked on it. To put it crudely, it’s like me enjoying a sumptuous dinner at The Ivy because I really want to only to say to the waiter when handed the bill, “Oh sorry I was hoping some money would be in my account by the time I had my coffee, but I’ve checked my account and I’m still broke so I can’t pay you right now.” I’d be in big trouble.  I don’t eat there because I know I can’t afford it and head to Pizza Express with my 2-4-1 Wednesday deal like everyone else.

There has recently been a court case surrounding actors’ claims for wages owed from the Momentous Musicals tour and outcry from professionals still owed money from The Bugle Boy tour when it plans to go out again.  I actually auditioned for this new tour of The Bugle Boy, it was the most unprofessional and toe-curling audition I have ever been to.  No standard protocol or level of professionalism that you’d expect from a normal audition. I left feeling slightly sullied and determined never to put myself through something like that again, even if it meant working as a waitress until retirement.  Apparently the producer and writer plans to pay the old cast with money raised from this new tour, so what’s he going to pay the new actors with? I.O.U slips and Monopoly money?

This is not the industry I dreamt about and signed up for. People don’t deserve to be let down or left out of pocket and they certainly don’t deserve to feel like performing monkeys who’ll do it for free.

Are these situations due to lack of money in the industry at moment? This is likely - if theatres can’t sell tickets, then auditoriums remain empty and companies don’t make enough money to cover losses or pay the cast – that chain of events makes sense and is happening within many industries.  We understand that producing is tough, many of them gamble their homes for their dreams and not everyone is lucky enough to be Sir Cam Mac. Or perhaps more producers are treating projects like modern society does credit cards?

There’s a song in Blood Brothers that goes “Living on the never, never...” meaning to purchase something on credit. It is a concept by which many of us lead our lives today ‘bung it on the credit card’ or those adverts that say you can pay for sofa in 2 years time.  We seem to want things regardless of whether we can afford them right now and are happy to deal with it later.

!!!!! PRODUCERS - PLEASE STOP MOUNTING SHOWS ON THE NEVER, NEVER !!!!  This is a respected profession where people are skilled and deserve to be treated as such. Avoiding the consequences and going into liquidation just makes me want to buy a high-end trendy juicer with my credit card and come and liquidise you - so stop it and listen to the advice of my Grandad.

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