Equity has been working around the clock to secure the best agreements possible for theatre and variety workers
The impact of the coronavirus crisis on the live performance sector has been profound, with venues nationwide closing overnight on 16 March and, nearly three months on, still no indication of when they will be able to reopen.
Equity has been working around the clock to secure the best agreements possible for theatre and variety workers, prepare for a return to work and support our members through this unprecedented and difficult time.
In the first weeks following venue closures Equity worked with both SOLT and UK Theatre to achieve initial holding agreements to keep members under contract. The arrangement with SOLT provided artists with two and a half weeks of the applicable minimum salary spread over the four week period following closure on 16 March. For UK Commercial Theatre, the sum was equivalent to two weeks of the applicable minimum rehearsal salary over the same period.
With these holding arrangements in place, Equity immediately commenced discussions with SOLT and UK Theatre to secure new agreements covering workers beyond the initial period of closure. With SOLT, a new agreement was made to keep artists and stage management under contract during the suspension of West End shows. Under this agreement, casts currently under contract are able to continue on that contract, and have the opportunity to re-commence rehearsals or performances with revised dates once the shutdown ends.
Hilary Hadley, Head of Equity’s Live Performance Department, said: “It is only by our closely working together that we have managed to develop this agreement, which provides a route map for our West End producers, performers and stage management. It is our joint hope that this new agreement will see the West End Theatre industry through this bleakest period and enable the smooth resumption of the rehearsals and performances which were so abruptly stopped by COVID-19.”
With UK Theatre, Equity has reached an agreement to temporarily revise the terms on which artists are contracted by managers using the Commercial Theatre Agreement. The agreement seeks to balance some of the risks of production between manager and artists and thereby facilitate the hiring of artists for productions in these particularly difficult and challenging times for theatre. The changes to normal arrangements will operate until a vaccine or other permanent solution is found which allows the sector to operate normally.
In Subsidised Theatre, immediately following closure of theatres on 16 March, Equity entered into negotiations to secure the best payments for artists currently or about to be on contract and then reached a further agreement to temporarily revise the failure to produce and other terms in the Subsidised Theatre Agreement, to allow for production to be remounted, planned for and contracts reissued at the earliest possible opportunity. ITC Companies also followed the union advice to those under or about to be under contract by paying the full monies due to members under the agreement.
While the impact of coronavirus on live performance has been devastating, the union is working to ensure there are no backward steps in the progress we have made in areas such as pay and conditions, representation and inclusion, accessibility and funding, and that the crisis doesn’t result in a worsening of those areas where we still had work to do.
In May, Equity launched a Workers’ Inquiry to survey members, create useful information about working in the industry and create a road map for the future of theatre.
At the time of going to press, there is no known date for when entertainers in the variety, circus and entertainment sector are likely to be able to perform again or when venues will be able to reopen.
When they do reopen it is anticipated that they will not operate as before, with social distancing featuring in our lives for some time to come.
In preparation for a return to work Equity is gathering information through Variety Branches of the concerns members have about returning to their work and the changes they feel are needed to make them and their audiences feel safe. Variety performers should look out for their Branch newsletter to contribute to this inquiry.
Consultation is also taking place via the various specialist networks to ensure that there are recovery plans drawn up to support each sector.
Public Liability insurance cover
During the pandemic Equity’s public liability insurance has been operating as normal and covering members for the entertainment work they can legally do within the government restrictions. Initially members were concerned about working online, and particularly about teaching remote classes.
First Act Insurance confirmed that cover would be in place but the member should display a disclaimer to ensure that participants are using a safe working space and are sufficiently physically fit to take part.
With lockdown easing more members are looking to do live work. Any booking would need to meet all relevant government guidelines at the time and such rules are constantly changing. It may be possible for businesses such as care homes to book entertainers to work in their outdoor areas providing proper risk assessments are carried out by both the business and the entertainer and social distancing can be maintained in accordance with the rules.
Busking may also be possible in suitable areas where guidelines could be observed including Punch and Judy shows.
Further opportunities to work could emerge when schools reopen and, further down the line, leisure establishments such as pubs and clubs. If you need specific advice on insurance cover for a particular engagement, contact your regional organiser, the Variety Organiser or First Act Insurance directly.
Keeping theatre alive
Following the closure of venues on 16 March, Equity agreed that wherever possible, theatres and their connection to their audiences should be supported by allowing previously recorded performances to be relayed on theatre websites for free provided consent was given by all, the stream was free and no income was being generated.
As many subsidised theatres installed donate buttons to raise money for the theatre through the crisis period Equity took the view that, where audiences were donating, members whose performances had been relayed for free should receive a payment for the use of this work and to help with their own individual circumstances.
An agreement was made with the National Theatre that backdated payments would be made to all participants of the NT Live relays so that they would receive a share of the income that had been generated. Other agreements have been made with other theatres such as the Bristol Old Vic and Chichester where small payments have been made to members in exchange for product being viewed for free by audiences.
Some of the subsidised sector have turned to creating new digital products, including the National Theatre of Scotland, which has set up a digital project - Scenes for Survival - paying daily rates to enable new work to be created to help raise money for the theatre. Others are in the early stages of working to provide some sort of new digital content where they have a workforce that can be called back from furlough through the summer months. As the initial hopes of a swift re-opening of theatres has declined, Equity will continue to support this work and ensure the correct balance is struck between keeping theatre live and ensuring that there is no worsening of the collective Equity agreements that normally apply.
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