Incorporating the Variety Artistes' Federation
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April 2013 Minutes still to be accepted

8 June 2013


North West of England General Branch


Minutes for Branch Meeting Sunday 21stApril 2013


12.30pm 3MT, Manchester



Present: Barry Evans (Chair), David Corden (Sec/ Pro/ etc), Jamie Byron (Vice-Chair/ Asst. Sec), Hylton Collins, Richard Howell-Jones, Christine C. Hall, Viva Cassidy, Susan Twist, Caroline Melliar-Smith, Natalie Amber, Andrew C. Husband, Derek Lawson, David Cockayne, Paul Bergquist, Joan McGee, Colin Johnston, Patricia Winker.

Jean Rogers (Vice-President), Yvonne Joseph (Northern Area Councillor) & Gina Frost; unsigned but present. Jamie Briers (North West Area Organiser).


Meeting commenced 12.40pm


  1. 1.            Welcome: BE welcomed members, noted all knew each other and also noted imminent arrival of Jean Rogers and Jamie Briers.


  1. Apologies for absence: Nicole Gaskell, Sharon Heywood, James Dunn, Mae Brogan, Maggi Hevicon-Thompson.


2a: Confirmation of Minutes and Matters arising therefrom: The motion originating from David Cockayne and reworded with consent by David Corden was corrected as having been intended to be sent to the Council, not the ARC. DC(Sec) confirmed this and the optional ARC motions presented to the February meeting had been sent and are on the agenda for the Council meeting on 29th April. RH-J questioned the exclusion of a branch name change being excluded from the minutes of the March meeting; DC(Sec) suggested this be raised under item 8 (Members Concerns) – Agreed.


  1. 3.            Correspondence (incl. Confirmation of Jan minutes): DC(Sec) informed that the branch amendment to the London Area AGM ARC motion had been accepted into the final ARC 2013 agenda. BE noted his contacting David Thacker and Martin Gibbons as possible future guest speakers, although David Thacker had to date not yet replied.


  1. 4.            Committee Report: BE gave thanks to NA for help with poster and to ST for pointing out the omission of BECS. DC(Sec) suggested a dropbox share for input and suggestions. Poster to go out to drama schools, universities, theatres, etc., upon completion.


  1. Treasurer’s Report: Current balance stands at £329.49. NA is developing and welcomes further ideas to expand fundraising for branch to further provide members services. A regular raffle will be drawn at meetings commencing today.




  1. ARC 2013 Provisional Agenda: BE suggested swapping items 6 & 7 to accommodate Jean Rogers. DC(Sec) agreed but advised starting item 6 and looking at some motions, then suspending the item when JR had arrived and was ready to begin – Agreed. BE requested DC(Sec) take the meeting through the ARC motions . The first 3 motions were discussed prior to Jean Rogers’ Guest appearance under item 7; the remaining motions were discussed in full, despite time concerns raised by the chair, following the 2pm Recess – DL pointed out that the branch was obliged to discuss the ARC agenda motions in full, under the rules, DC(Sec) confirmed this and resumed taking the meeting through the ARC motions. This was concluded at 2:45pm.



  1. Guest Speaker – Jean Rogers (Equity Vice-President): JR began by referring to the article she wrote and posted links to on facebook, pointing out that the issues and opportunities for older women are brought into the arena and it was noted that all equalities are under threat due to ‘safe’middle of the road productions and production values, adding that although Equity was made up fairly equally of men and women, womens’ chances peter out, on the whole, from the age of 35-45 upwards. Her concerns were confirmed when attending a Womens’ TUC gathering when speaking to the organiser of their mentoring program; in that youth do not notice older women’s absence in the industry as they see them represented, albeit by a relative few – the same names being constantly used.

JR gave background to the case of Miriam O’Reilly (Countryfile) as influencing Harriet Harman to ‘enter the arena’ due to Miriam being axed from the BBC show aged 54 although keeping John Craven, who is some years her senior, as their ‘token’ older person. Miriam successfully took the BBC to court and won on ageism and victimisation but lost on sexism. This led to the BBC commissioning their ‘Serving All Ages’ report on how people were portrayed throughout the corporation’s output; and the lack of older women was noted. This merely underlined that which was already known within the industry, especially with feedback from actors who were husband and wife, where the women noticed the comparative lack of opportunities.

JR then spoke of Harriet Walters reference to the invisibility of the older woman in her book: “It’s not about us”; the excellent work of Mandy Fenton in bringing together a production at the Actors’ Centre recently from over 700 short dramas profiling women, age, disability, etc. 12 pieces were developed into a refreshing insight into women’s lives: and also Sphinx Theatre Company’s Conference at the West Yorkshire Playhouse a year ago that debated the role of women in today’s theatre industry and how to improve the situation. She also noted that, since the BBC report things have got a little better, noting that Sally Wainwright, for example, has adjusted in her writing and has broken the formulaic ‘norm’. Even American studios have now woken up to the fact that older people actually do exist.

Throughout Jean’s speech, she welcomed questions and input from members, as follows:

JMcG - Educate new producers and writers; PB - There is a contradiction in casting workshops and casting reality; CM-S - Stereotyping is rampant and the stereotypes are wholly inaccurate, ‘Quartet’ being a prime example of miscast ‘stereotypes’ as people who wouldn’t be in a care home in the first place. DC (Sec) added the same could be said of the BBC comedy series ‘Waiting for God’, 20 years earlier. YJ – Scripts haven’t moved with the times and perception of characters is stuck. DC (Sec) – Lazy casting and lack of imagination always existed but has now become rife. HC – Closed minded casting

VC suggested a regular feature in the Equity Journal regarding older women. BE suggested running this type of article at Branch Newsletter level, then bring it to the attention of Phil Pemberton (Journal Editor). DC (Sec) agreed, especially with the e-Newsletter allowing for much more content and that he would be delighted to receive any contributions to ensure a regular feature.

JBy noted that he had wide experience of working with older women in the backstage & production areas; stage managers, company managers, etc.

Some discussion then followed regarding Equity rates vs. (higher) Musicians’ Union rates in theatre. JBr noted that MU contracts were rarely used in theatres. JR noted that in a National Theatre production of Hamlet, trumpeters were engaged and rehearsed but sent in unrehearsed deps when they got a better gig. YJ noted the wonderful tendency that musicians seem to overhear quite a lot of what goes on in productions and ‘gossip’ a lot – this in part led to the campaign that saved the Oldham Colisseum. JBy cited the decreasing rates confusion over multiple instrumentalists during a production of Mother Courage. VC suggested that the use of actor/musos was cost cutting but DC (Sec) stated that while this may be true in certain cases, many productions are designed specifically to require actor/musos (eg: Return to the Forbidden Planet) and that the important thing was to make sure one negotiated for additional wear and tear, upkeep and replacements for one’s instrument(s).

JR concluded that Equity’s new structure will encourage branches to be more proactive and suggested we keep an eye on casting balances in local theatres.



2pm – 10min Recess & Raffle – Meeting resumed 2:10pm with ARC motions (as noted above)



  1. (2:45pm) Members Concerns: VC raised a concern over BE’s recent attendance at a meeting of the Manchester & District Variety Branch in which he appeared to be acting on behalf of the NWEGB following a discussion regarding changing the name of this branch, especially considering that this discussion had not been noted in any of the branch minutes and questioned whether it had been discussed and minuted in a committee meeting. JBy confirmed that the subject had not been discussed in either branch or committee meetings and, subsequently, was not minuted. ST confirmed that she had raised the idea in conversation prior to the start of the March branch meeting and that BE’s representation to the M&DVB had been blown out of proportion. VC questioned the procedure in that the  NWEGB had not been consulted on the matter of its own name change before involving other branches. YJ noted that the Variety branch had enjoyed BE’s attendance and that ideas being kicked about is seen as a welcome courtesy. YJ also gave examples of other branches & areas name changes. DCo suggested this possibly proved the need for an area branch or committee. BE suggested the creation of a forum for this debate.

JMcG raised the issue further to the February meeting of the Royal Exchange’s engagement of unpaid supernumaries, stating that if they can’t afford to pay actors they shouldn’t engage unpaid ‘workers’ just to fill the space. BE noted that he had spoken to a tutor at ALRA North who had confirmed that some of their students had been engaged. JBr clarified the policy Equity has on the use of drama students  in this kind of situation (copies of which are available to download from the Equity website). He questioned whether we need to look at this area again and if not drama students, then who? How likely are companies to be able to afford to hire actors on a £400 Equity minimum, or will they write around not using anyone? DC(Sec) noted the drama students’ potential opportunity to work upon graduation in these companies. JBy supported JBr’s suggestion of revisiting the current policy, stating that the wording is crucial and at present could be construed as offensive and unsympathetic. Discussion followed regarding the Duke’s, Lancaster and Theatre By the Lake, Keswick. This resulted in the question of compromising the quality of productions when using unpaid ‘workers’ from the local community.

David Cockayne gave the background to his resigning as a Vice-President of Equity. The trigger followed a meeting with the Officers & Senior Management Team in which he felt that the new structure had gone off track and now marginalised members, especially creative teams. Also, even as a member of the Council, not being given information by the OSMT on time – or, indeed, at all. As such, he felt used and abused and resigned from the Online Branch Working Party and Vice-Presidency. Further, the final proposals presented by the General Secretary, Christine Payne, omitted previously agreed representation that the Council had voted for and that the new structure should have been agreed with the membership. Upon reflection, the FSWP should have stopped when it had got as far as it could financially and a constitutional working party should have been convened.

YJ confirmed that the FSWP new structure proposals were landed on Councillors with 24hrs notice with a recommendation to endorse them. She added that DCo’s resignation at the previous Council meeting was of great dignity and principle.

AH added his concerns over the treatment of members by senior staff when representing the branch at the Branch Secs meeting in 2012, indicating that most of the members there felt patronised and that it was not a discussion but an imposition.


  1. Aims, Campaigns & Issues: NA finally met with Max Beckmann (Equalities & Benefits officer) regarding the Creativity Talks campaign and is hoping the campaign will grow. There are currently 2 surveys underway aimed at (a) performers and (b) casting & production.

JBy noted that the My Theatre Matters campaign doesn’t appear to be working effectively; maybe it is too high-profile and should be made more grass-roots as too many high-profile actors seem to be whingeing and whining and that it should focus on jobbing actors. ST noted that Oldham was not backing it by doing the curtain speeches and that funded theatres may be afraid to rock the boat. JBr stated that the TMA were not used to campaigning as theatre managers don’t necessarily understand solidarity.


  1. Recruitment & Retention, incl. Services & Events: BE referred again to the branch poster and welcomed members thoughts and input.


  1. Health & Safety: DC (Sec) referred members to the Journal for current advice and information on services available to members.


  1. Equality, diversity & specialities: No matters raised.


  1. No item 13


  1. Communications. Following DC(Sec)’s workaround to be able to reproduce the e-Newsletter in .pdf format, BE requested that it be made available on facebook. DC(Sec) also clarified newsletter contribution deadlines as being the last Saturday of the month but submissions can be sent at any time and encouraged members to send contributions to him.


  1. Any Other Business: BE apologised for the late running of the meeting, as noted by Paul Sockett at the previous branch meeting.


Meeting closed: 15:38pm


Next meeting: 6pm Tuesday 28th May 2013, Britons Protection.



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