Celebrate Variety 2017
7 February 2017
Variety has a fascinating history and a vibrant future. Equity will #CelebrateVariety throughout 2017 while promoting the advice and support we offer for those who work in it. Below, in an excerpt from Equity's Spring 2017 magazine, performers Yvonne Joseph and Dan Shelton explain the past and present of the sector as we launch a guide to contracts
The world of variety has changed in many ways since the form began, and in my time as a performer, but there are fundamentals that remain the same. Variety artists were given that name by the music hall in the 19th century because of the variety of acts on the bill. It subsequently evolved into variety theatre and then it went to clubs and cabaret. However, the 1990s saw a drop off in variety jobs, there was still the working men’s clubs but they were getting less popular and then the smoking ban badly affected them. But I have seen a resurgence in work in recent years. This is through the restaurant and wine bar scene, the rise of music and other types of festivals, plus the popularity of cruise ships has been astonishing.
Variety acts come in and out of fashion. Speciality acts are difficult to see now in the UK. I think we have some great performers but they tend to work abroad where they are appreciated more. The issues at work have remained very similar during my time. Problems around contracts, making sure performers get the right deal and details into their contract and ensuring bookers pay the fee!
I’ve worked in lots of different situations from corporate events to family festivals through to warehouse parties. On the surface this can seem very different from a traditional variety setting of a theatre or club, but the fundamentals are the same. There is still a venue, the booking and someone paying you for your work. Performers need to remember that a verbal contract is not good enough. Probably the most recurrent problem the union deals with in respect of variety performers is the lack of a contract. Members need to sort the details of the booking out before it takes place to avoid problems later. Download the latest guide to contracts the union has created for Celebrate Variety 2017 and if you are in any doubt about the details of a booking, contact Equity.
With Equity staff I’ve been visiting various education institutions that teach drama, circus and performance, talking to young people about the union. I speak about the tradition of variety and how it has developed. It’s great that we have separate identities for comedians, for dancers, for circus performers etc. They have their individual voices, but as a collective we have one united voice. I think that if we can reach out to our older and younger members through initiatives such as Celebrate Variety 2017 then we’re combining our past with the present to make a future together.
For further details on the Celebrate Variety campaign and for Equity's new Contracts Guide for Variety performers, visit www.equity.org.uk/campaigns/celebrate-variety-2017