Equity negotiates new deal for theatre designers

Equity has concluded negotiations on its agreements with SOLT and UK Theatre for theatre designers, delivering an improved package of terms and conditions for members. The new deal will see producers obliged to pay designers for the full material and construction costs of model boxes, including the costs incurred when engaging assistant designers. The new clause will put an end to an inconsistent approach from producers that has often led to set designers having to bear these costs from their design fee.

Max Jones from Equity’s Directors and Designers’ Committee said: “This is a great step forward in our collected efforts towards establishing fairer rates of pay for all designers in the theatre industry. We are openly aware of the current inadequacy of designer’s fees in the UK relative to hours worked; however, the ‘hidden’ production costs of the set design process have become equally impossible to bear. These can often amount to hundreds of pounds out of a set designer’s own pocket, per production. Many in our profession will accumulate large debts over a career and many others are subsequently excluded from the design profession entirely. It is a relief to know that from this point on we should expect the cost of assistant design support to be fully acknowledged and covered by the producer and production. Along with construction costs in full, for what still remains one of the theatre industries key production tools.”

Other improvements will see more transparency across both agreements for travel and expenses, clarity around the terms for recording of work for broadcast and clauses to ensure that Designers are protected by dignity at work policies. The negotiations saw Equity work alongside the Association of Lighting Designers, The Society of British Theatre Designers and Bectu as part of their ongoing Value of Design campaign which was launched at the National Theatre in April 2018.

The deal will also see minimum fees rise by 5.2% over an 18 month period, with an immediate increase of 2.7%, followed by a further increase of 2.5% in April of this year. While these increases are welcomed, Equity recognises the limited impact the increases will have on ending a culture of low fees and exploitation for theatre designers. The next phase of the campaign will see Equity’s Directors and Designers’ committee putting a call out to all designers, requesting that they log the hours they spend working on each design project to shine the spotlight on the inadequacies of the current minimum fee structures, in preparation of a new claim to improve fees for 2021.

Chair of the Committee, Robbie Butler said: “We recognise the conclusion of these negotiations represents progress, but there is still some work to be done on minimum rates. We need a rethink on how designers in theatre are paid: breaking down the fee into design creation, design realisation and design usage, so that both the individual and the engager can benefit from a more transparent payment structure. To assist us with this work, we are asking all our designer members to log the hours you spend on a production. With these logs we will be better able to demonstrate that the current rates of pay are unacceptably low.

Once timesheets have been completed email them through to: directorsanddesigners@equity.org.uk.