Coronavirus update - theatre and live performance

Equity will continue to update its members on issues regarding coronavirus, please follow our social media channels and check the website regularly. 

Please see our general advice. If you have an Equity Dep on your show please talk to them or you can find the best way to contact Equity officials here. The agreements that are referenced below can be found in the rates and agreements section of this website.

This page contains advice for those working in Subsidised Theatre, West End and Commercial Theatre please scroll down to see the section that applies to you.

Advice to individual artists
Members should self-isolate based on the most current advice from the government, and if they are especially at risk, they should consider taking advice from NHS 111 or their physician. All members should take steps to not unnecessarily expose themselves to risk - in particular they should be aware that not cancelling unnecessary travel plans to affected areas could have serious implications to any support the union or your agent can negotiate for you.

If you are cancelling plans, entering self-isolation, or have concerns about health in your workplace you should have an open and honest conversation with your company manager, general manager or producer contact. If this is difficult or you need additional support from the union in doing so, you should contact the union directly.

All advice for individuals should be read alongside the advice for shows - as your individual rights will change if shows close.

Keeping yourself safe
All members should put their health first. They should follow all government advice, but also think what else they might reasonably do.

UKTheatre is issuing good advice which Equity supports about hand washing, limiting visits backstage, and cleaning regimes theatres should have in place. Members should follow these to the letter, and be fully aware that not doing so could reasonably result in disciplinary action.

It is wise in this period to refrain from going to pubs and clubs or other areas where you are in close contact with people. If possible to walk part of your work journey, use the best ventilated transport possible, and routes which involve the fewest interchanges.

Communicating the steps you’re taking to keep yourself safe, preferably by email or Whatsapp/text to your company manager, is really important.

Self-Isolation when you display no symptoms
Self-isolation is an important step to take if so advised, both for your own health, but critically that of your colleagues, family, friends, and the population at large.

If you are self-isolating with no symptoms, you are in a contractual limbo which the union will take up on a case-by-case basis. It is the union’s position that no member should disproportionately lose out because they have taken this socially responsible step, but we cannot guarantee that full pay will be paid.

It will very much depend on the producer, the show, and the steps you have personally taken to minimise the likelihood of having to self-isolate.

If producers are not offering your normal pay you should contact your agent or the union for further advice, which will be treated as a priority.

Absence when you display symptoms
If you’re displaying symptoms of COVID-19, then you are entitled to sick pay in the normal way.

Clauses on sick pay in Subsidised Theatre can be found in the Agreement (version 2019) at pages 19-21 for performers and stage management. The Agreement is currently only available electronically or printed in deps packs, but your dep should have a copy.

If sick leave is exceeded, management do have the right to dismiss you, or keep you on your basic salary.

In these highly unusual circumstances, we are reaching individual agreements with producers to try and keep members engaged, rather than dismissed and on a rate of pay above statutory sick pay (currently £94.25 per week). UKTheatre have assured us that their members will be taking a reasonable view on this moving forward due to the extraordinary circumstances, and unreasonable behaviour from producers will be raised directly with UKTheatre.

As part of our ongoing discussions with UKTheatre about our response to the situation we will be working together to see if these provisions can be improved.

What happens if my show is affected?
Contractual entitlements change on every Equity agreement, and for artists not working on agreements.

This advice immediately below is for the Subsidised Theatre Agreement for Performers and Stage Management only. Further advice lower down in this page is advice for West End and Commercial Theatre.

Subsidised Theatre Agreement for Performers and Stage Management only

In what circumstances will shows close?
Shows can close for many reasons, but they can be broadly grouped into two areas: those which are reasonably within the producer’s control to manage, and those which are not.

Reasons within the producer’s control include poor ticket sales in normal circumstances, the need to cover a small number of parts/positions due to absence and so on.

Reasons outside the producer’s control include: the government shutting all public gatherings, a particular theatre being closed because of an outbreak, a substantial number of artists in self-isolation (and so unable to work) and so on. These are called force majeure.

Members’ rights change depending on whether the reasons for a closure are within the manager’s control or not.

Your rights when a show closes for reasons a producer can control
Unlike in the commercial sector or West End, there is no ability for the producer to terminate the engagement early if it is for a fixed term. Therefore, members on a fixed term contract have the right to be paid for the duration of the engagement.

In the highly unusual circumstance of members having more than two years’ service or more, they  are entitled to a redundancy-style payment if they lose their job. This payment is calculated in the same way as the statutory redundancy payment.

Stage management who are permanently employed are most likely to have this length of service, and so are unlikely to be affected by such a short-term shock event.

Your rights when a show closes for reasons a producer cannot control: ‘Force Majeure’
It is important to note that this only comes into play when the producer is suffering a financial loss. If they suffer no loss - most likely because they are insured - payment would still be due as normal. However, our conversations with producers this seems highly improbable. Thus, all members should presume that if their shows close then agreed standard force majeure clauses should apply.

You can find the standard force majeure provisions at clause 17, p13 in the Agreement. In these circumstances, a producer pays 1/8 of the minimum salary currently £450 a week) per performance cancelled each week a show is suspended.

What does the law say?
The law views any sort of engagement/employment which is dramatically affected by circumstances which are beyond the control of the working person or engager as being ‘frustrated’. 

In short, a frustrated contract is considered terminated with no compensation to any party. The union’s agreement gives you significantly more rights than you would have by law.

What will Equity do if my show or shows are closed?
Equity will be in touch with deputies immediately, as well as the producer of each show closed to understand the reasons. If we are looking at agreeing something specific for a show we will do so in consultation with deps.

We will also be in touch with the PMA to provide an additional point of contact for agents.

We will prioritise communication to deps - and if there are proposals specific to your show we will be in touch with them to organise getting the view of casts.

Equity is already overwhelmed by queries, and members and agents who are NOT deps or contacting regarding unusual personal circumstances which make you different (i.e. you are ill, in self-isolation or other particular circumstances) you should refrain from contacting the office so we can manage our support most efficiently to those who need it most.

Deps will receive daily updates either personally if it is a few shows, or generally if it is all shows - and have all questions they have answered.

What about shows in the future?
Shows that are not yet open are subject to different rules and are covered by the ‘Failure to Produce’ clauses found at clause 25 on p31 of the Agreement. However, these rules are very expensive to producers, requiring at least 4 weeks performance salary, in addition to the whole of the rehearsal salary.

These clauses work well to deter managers from putting on non-viable shows, and give members a cushion when they can leave and look for other work. However, in this unprecedented situation, these rules could result in viable future shows not opening, and members (unable to find work because no theatre is open) out of work for a longer period.

Currently, the standard rules remain in force, but we are looking at improved rules for all parties in these exceptional circumstances and will inform deps on Wednesday at the latest as to if we have secured any improved changes to these for all parties.

We want as many shows to happen, and be reasonably postponed, with minimal impact on members as possible and will work hard to achieve this in consultation with members.

What happens if public transport stops?
In the event of public transport being partially suspended, the producers have an obligation to help you get to work in a reasonable way - no less than paying for transport within 25 miles of the venue where you are appearing. That means that members travelling longer distances than 25 miles from the venue should make all reasonable endeavours to get there.

Members should build in additional journey times and be aware that if they have not done so they could be at risk of disciplinary action.

If transport is completely suspended, then this may be effectively a form of ‘force majeure’ and so the provisions above apply. Deps should contact their organiser for clarity.

How can we stay best informed?
Speak to your dep! They will get direct, specific support as a priority and have the most up-to-date information.

If you do not have a dep, you should consider standing to be one! Almost every show does have a dep, but some may need additional support from colleagues at a busy time which will cause a lot of stress.

We are also encouraging a stage management dep on every show, so please check that your stage management team have a point of contact.

What else is Equity doing?
Equity is working with other trade unions, the TUC, management associations and our parliamentary grouping to make sure that the government hears the voice of workers in our industry. We are lobbying  the government to provide additional financial support to workers and the industry in this difficult time. As a key part of the modern UK economy and society, the entertainment industry must be supported and not overlooked.

Advice for West End Agreement for Performers and Stage Management only.

In what circumstances will shows close?
Shows can close for many reasons, but they can be broadly grouped into two areas: those which are reasonably within the producer’s control to manage, and those which are not.

Reasons within the producer’s control include poor ticket sales in normal circumstances, the need to cover a small number of parts/positions because of absence and so on.

Reasons outside the producer’s control include: the government shutting all public gatherings, a particular theatre being closed because of an outbreak, a substantial number of artists in self-isolation and so on. These are called force majeure.

Members’ rights change depending on whether the reasons for a closure are within the producer’s control or not.

Your rights when a show closes for reasons a producer can control
As usual, members have an entitlement to at least two weeks’ notice (clause 2.2.1.3.3 p12 in the Agreement), and those with service beyond two years are entitled to a redundancy-style payment when shows close (clause 2.15.17 p30 of the Agreement). This payment is calculated in the same way as the statutory redundancy payment - but is calculated on minimum pay in the agreement, which can be above the statutory amount.

It is highly likely that some shows will use these clauses to close in the event of poor ticket sales in advance of the compulsory closure of theatres.

Your rights when a show closes for reasons a producer cannot control: ‘Force Majeure’
It is important to note that this only comes into play when the producer is suffering a financial loss. If they suffer no loss - most likely because they are insured - payment would still be due as normal. However, our conversations with producers indicate that such insurance is highly improbable. Thus, all members should presume that if their shows close then agreed standard force majeure clauses should apply.

You can find the standard force majeure clauses at 2.2.7 in the agreement. These provide for no payment in the first seven days, payment at the minimum for the following four weeks, and then returning to normal contractual salary after that point - or the termination of the contract with no notice pay at any point during that period.

Force majeure provisions do not affect the redundancy provisions outlined above.

These clauses work well and protect members when a single theatre closes, and they can find work elsewhere, offering immediate financial relief for the manager, as well as protecting members’ salary in the long term.

However, in this coronavirus situation, where people will not be able to find work elsewhere, and managers are likely to need a more significant financial break for a period of some weeks, they risk people permanently losing work and managers being forced to close shows which they otherwise would not have.

Equity is currently in negotiations with SOLT to revise these clauses in this unprecedented situation to try and make them work better for all parties, keep open more shows and protect an income for members in both the short and long term.

As things stand, the standard provisions apply, but by 5pm on Wednesday of next week, Equity will be in touch with deputies about provisions which we hope respond to the current situation in an improved way.

What does the law say?
The law views any sort of engagement/employment which is dramatically affected by circumstances which are beyond the control of the working person or engager as being ‘frustrated’.

In short, a frustrated contract is considered terminated with no compensation to any party. The union’s agreement gives you significantly more rights than you would have by law.

What will Equity do if my show or our shows are closed?
Equity will be in touch with deputies immediately, as well as the producer of each show closed to understand the reasons. If we have agreed new force majeure provisions these will come into force, if not the standard provisions apply. If we are looking at agreeing something specific for a show, we will do so in consultation with deps.

We will also be in touch with the PMA to provide an additional point of contact for agents.

We will prioritise communication to deps - and if there are proposals specific to your show we will be in touch with them to organise getting the view of casts.

Equity is already overwhelmed by queries, and members and agents who are NOT deps or contacting regarding unusual personal circumstances which make you different (i.e. you are ill, in self-isolation or other particular circumstances) you should refrain from contacting the office so we can manage our support most efficiently to those who need it most.

If a show closes, deps will receive daily updates either personally if it is a few shows, or generally if it is all shows - and have all questions they have answered. Deps are also in a West End wide Whatsapp group involving Equity organisers to make sure we have real-time information to hand.

What about shows in the future?
Shows that are not yet open are subject to different rules and are covered by the ‘Failure to Produce’ clauses found at 2.2.10 on p15 of the Agreement. However, these rules are very expensive for producers, requiring at least 3 weeks’ performance salary, and up to 6 weeks depending on the circumstances as well as rehearsal salary on top.

These clauses work well to deter managers from putting on non-viable shows, and give members a cushion when they can leave and look for other work. However, in this unprecedented situation, they could result in viable future shows not opening, and members (unable to find work because no theatre is open) out of work for a longer period.

Currently, the standard rules remain in force, but we are looking at improved rules for all parties in these exceptional circumstances and will inform deps on Wednesday afternoon at the latest as to if we have secured any improved changes to these for all parties.

We want as many shows to happen, and be reasonably postponed with minimal impact on members, as possible and will work hard to achieve this in consultation with members.

What happens if public transport stops?
In the event of public transport being partially suspended, the producers have an obligation to help you get to work in a reasonable way - no less than paying for transport within 35 miles of Charing Cross. That means that members travelling longer distances than 35 miles from Charing Cross should make all reasonable endeavours to get there.

Members should build in additional journey times and be aware that if they have not done so they could be at risk of disciplinary action.

If transport is completely suspended, then this may be effectively a form of ‘force majeure’ and so the provisions above apply.

How can we stay best informed?
Speak to your dep! They will get direct, specific support as a priority and have the most up-to-date information.

If you do not have a dep, you should consider standing to be one! Almost every show does have a dep, but some may need additional support from colleagues at a busy time which will cause a lot of stress.

We should have a stage management dep on every show, so please check that your stage management team have a point of contact.

Advice for the Commercial Theatre Agreement for Performers and Stage Management only.

In what circumstances will shows close?
Shows can close for many reasons, but they can be broadly grouped into two areas: those which are reasonably within the producer’s control to manage, and those which are not.

Reasons within the producer’s control include poor ticket sales in normal circumstances, the need to cover a small number of parts/positions in the event of cast absence and so on.

Reasons outside the producer’s control include: the government shutting all public gatherings, a particular theatre being closed because of an outbreak, a substantial number of artists in self-isolation (and so not at work) and so on. These are called force majeure.

Members’ rights change depending on whether the reasons for a closure are within the manager’s control or not.

Your rights when a show closes for reasons a producer can control
As usual, members have an entitlement to at least two weeks’ notice (clause 5.4 p12 in the Standard Contract not the Agreement), and those with service beyond two years are entitled to a redundancy-style payment when shows close. This payment is calculated in the same way as the statutory redundancy payment.

It is highly likely that some shows will use these clauses to close in the event of poor ticket sales in advance of the compulsory closure of theatres.

Your rights when a show closes for reasons a producer cannot control: ‘Force Majeure’
It is important to note that this only comes into play when the producer is suffering a financial loss. If they suffer no loss - most likely because they are insured - payment would still be due as normal. However, our conversations with producers this seems highly improbable. Thus, all members should presume that if their shows close then agreed standard force majeure clauses should apply.

You can find the standard force majeure provisions at clause 5, p4 in the Agreement. In these circumstances, a producer does not have to pay any salary in respect of suspended performances. After a substantial period of non-payment, both parties would be released from the contract – we would advise that in most circumstances this would be around two weeks, unless the producer terminates the contract earlier.

Force majeure provisions to not affect the redundancy provisions outlined above.

Equity are currently in negotiations with UKTheatre to revise these clauses for this unprecedented event to try and make them work better for all parties , so we can  keep more shows open and protect an income for members in both the short and long term.

However, as things stand, the standard provisions apply, but by 5pm on Wednesday of next week, Equity will be in touch with deputies about provisions which we hope respond to the current situation in an improved way.

What does the law say?
The law views any sort of engagement/employment which is dramatically affected by circumstances which are beyond the control of the working person or engager as being ‘frustrated’.

In short, a frustrated contract is considered terminated with no compensation to any party. The union’s agreement gives you significantly more rights than you would have by law.

What will Equity do if my show or our shows are closed?
Equity will be in touch with deputies immediately, as well as the producer of each show closed to understand the reasons. If we have agreed new force majeure provisions, these will come into force; if not, the standard provisions will apply. If we are looking at agreeing something specific for a show we will do so in consultation with deps.

We will also be in touch with the PMA to provide an additional point of contact for agents.

We will prioritise communication to deps - and if there are proposals specific to your show we will be in touch with them to organise getting the view of casts.

Equity is already overwhelmed by queries, and members and agents who are NOT deps or contacting regarding unusual personal circumstances which make you different (i.e. you are ill, in self-isolation or other particular circumstances) you should refrain from contacting the office so we can manage our support most efficiently to those who need it most.

Deps will receive daily updates either personally if it is a few shows, or generally if it is all shows - and have all questions they have answered.

What about shows in the future?
Shows that are not yet open are subject to different rules and are covered by the ‘Failure to Produce’ clauses found at clause 4 on p4 of the Agreement. However, these rules are very expensive to producers, requiring at least 2 weeks performance salary, and up to 3 weeks depending on the circumstances.

These clauses work well to deter managers from putting on non-viable shows, and give members a cushion when they can leave and look for other work. However, in this unprecedented situation, they could result in viable future shows not opening, and members (unable to find work because no theatre is open) out of work for a longer period.

Currently, the standard rules remain in force, but we are looking at improved rules for all parties in these exceptional circumstances and will inform deps on Wednesday at the latest if we have secured any improved changes to these for all parties.

We want as many shows to happen, and be reasonably postponed with minimal impact on members as possible and will work hard to achieve this in consultation with members.

What happens if public transport stops?
In the event of public transport being partially suspended, the producers have an obligation to help you get to work in a reasonable way - no less than paying for transport within 25 miles of the venue where you are appearing. That means that members travelling longer distances than 25 miles from the venue should make all reasonable endeavours to get there.

Members should build in additional journey times and be aware that if they have not done so they could be at risk of disciplinary action.

If transport is completely suspended, then this may effectively be a form of ‘force majeure’ and so the provisions above apply. Deps should contact their organiser for clarity.

How can we stay best informed?
Speak to your dep! They will get direct, specific support as a priority and have the most up-to-date information.
If you do not have a dep, you should consider standing to be one! Almost every show does have a dep, but some may need additional support from colleagues at a busy time which will cause a lot of stress.
We are also encouraging a stage management dep on every show, so please check that your stage management team have a point of contact.