Statement: Equity’s Minority Ethnic Members Committee on Non-EEA Performers in the Subsidised Theatre Sector

We are writing as the Committee representing the interests and amplifying the voices of Equity’s black and minority ethnic members. Our role is to provide a platform for change within our union – and a forum to push for change in terms and conditions at work, and in access to that work. We are striving for true equality in work and work opportunities on behalf of historically under-represented performers in the entertainment industry.

As trades unionists and internationalists we welcome the ability of performers from outside of the United Kingdom and the EEA (European Economic Area) coming to the UK. A rich exchange of cultures and working practices is good for the performing arts in the UK, as is building solidarity as trades unionists across borders. We do not condemn any individual casting decision, and welcome our fellow performers as working people when they come to work here.

However, in a climate where UK/EEA based BAME talent has often been locked-out of casting opportunities, these should not come at the expense of work opportunities and levels of pay for our members.

The historic lack of profile for BAME performers based here means that they do not have the opportunity to work outside the UK that their other colleagues do. Often, outside the UK there is a greater effort made to engage local performers from under-represented groups – which we show solidarity with – but shrinks the pool of opportunities for British BAME performers to work abroad.

The cost of engaging performers from outside the UK is also high. Quite rightly, they are often provided with high standards of accommodation here, not being familiar with our digs culture, contributions to social security systems outside of the UK, and even higher wages where industry standards in their home country surpass UK standards.

At a time of austerity, in a climate where BAME talent does not have the opportunities here in the UK which we reasonably deserve, we cannot believe that it is reasonable for subsidised producers to unthinkingly make requests for non-EEA based performers at great expense. We are the taxpayers who pay for this work, we are the performers who develop it – surely modern casting should put our ability to access these opportunities at the heart of the process.

Equity’s MEM Committee urges producers – especially in the subsidised sector – to engage with the union to look at ensuring the best possible practice in casting before spending large amounts of money on engaging performers from outside the EEA.

The casting playing field should be levelled to ensure that our UK/EEA based BAME performers are given equal opportunities both to be cast in UK productions but also to be given opportunities to be cast abroad. Until this is achieved we shall continue to robustly scrutinise any instances where such requests occur and challenge them.

Daniel York, Chair, Minority Ethnic Members Committee
Emmanuel Kojo, Minority Ethnic Members Councillor
Christine Payne, General Secretary, Equity