Presidential Opinions: Good night, and good luck

Dear brothers and sisters, colleagues, allies, supporters, opponents, favourites, nightmares...

This is my last column (groans and sighs of relief all round). As most of you know, I’m not standing in the forthcoming elections; I’ve done it for eight years, which is quite long enough, and a new energy and a fresh face are in order, I think. No, I know.

Have I made any sort of difference in the years I’ve been here? That is really for others to say, but as I think back, which I rarely do, here are a few things: the reorganisation of the committees, which sounds dull but was vital, so that our industrial strategy is in the hands of those who work in the appropriate fields; record membership; healthy financial state; new generations of members working at all levels to make the union more effective; Manifesto for Casting; Agenda for Change; good work with international colleagues in FIA and our sister trade unions across the world; and many smaller initiatives that have made a difference. Am I responsible for the success of all the above? Certainly not, but at the very least I didn’t get in the way, and, at most, I think I can claim to have a lent a useful hand.

The biggest difference, which is difficult to particularise but which is my strongest feeling, is that at the meetings I chair, at Council and at various committees, those who sit round the table with me are from a much wider background than was the case when I arrived on the scene about 15 years ago. Then, most activists were like me: white, middle aged or old. They did amazing work, don’t get me wrong. The gender balance has always been reasonably good among activists and staff in my time, but we needed the younger members and a more diverse crowd around those tables. Not only because of the huge talent and energy out there that the union needed, but how could we criticise an industry for its lack of diversity when we displayed the same lack?
Now, don’t get me wrong, everything is not roses in the Equity garden. I was dismayed that in The Stage’s recent 100 most influential people in the industry, no one from Equity got a mention; I think that says something about The Stage not noticing what is going on, but there is a temptation to come to Equity as a last resort rather than as a first port of call when important work needs to be done. The status of the actor seems to be in decline; we are working hard to address this with our colleagues at the Casting Directors’ Guild and the agents through our Manifesto for Casting and our Agenda for Change, but it’s an uphill struggle.

The proliferation of miking for plays now, even in modestly sized theatres, is another example of an actor’s control being reduced.

There are still many in the new Variety circuits that aren’t joining, not for want of us trying. But relations with the Stage Management Association and Stage Directors UK are good and productive. So, lots to do. Onward.