Working Later

When the posties decided they didn’t want deliver letters to our doors at a stupidly early time of the morning they went on strike. So I am wondering how long it would take until actors and crew go on strike for better hours, pay and benefits.

In 2016 Transport for London announced that the Tubes could start operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In response to this the West End Theatres announced that they would consider starting performances later. Now just because public transport has made itself available for longer hours it doesn’t mean every other business needs to change operation times, does it?

I could completely understand if this move was going affect audiences getting to the venue for the start of the performance, but in this case there is no bearing on that as the hours are being extended and not changed. Also unlike bars and clubs, theatre is not something you attend every night, it’s usually a treat, like the cinema when there’s a movie you really want to watch, you don’t just go every night as you would quickly see all the movies and would then have nothing to look forward too.

So do we really need later performances?

Running a film on the big screen is much different from live theatre as the only people affected are the viewers and those contracted to work those hours for the company, the actors get paid for every time you show the movie, but they are already tucked up in their beds or out partying or seeing another premiere, as their work for the project was completed many months before.

Theatre is a different kettle of fish, by making performance start later it means that audiences get home later and they don’t all stop in London after a show. Those who do often like to do the social thing after the performance, as they know that their own behaviour after consuming alcohol would not be acceptable in a theatre, therefore choosing to do so between the end of the performance and heading back to their hotels, so this time is reduced along with the income for the businesses they support during those small hours as already mentioned those who travelled in, it’s a treat so they would have made a day of it as they will be heading home the day after, and not being able to see the London night life could ruin the whole experience.

It will also affect the actors, whereby many have chosen the life of working late or nights means that a social life can be already be rare, but to be finishing work past midnight is not pleasant in any profession and it should only be required if absolutely necessary and public transport working later is not one of them, remembering that forwarding connections for public transport may not be follow the same idea as the underground.

It also begs the question of pay – will it mean that actors need ‘night rate’ for working later into the night and unsociable hours like any other industry that has similar hours of work? Plus there aren’t that many child minders who don’t charge a night rate or higher rate for after midnight.

The only exemption to this idea would possibly be new works where it is shorter than the West End’s big musicals. So the notion affects a lot of people not just those money grabbers at the top of the industry or the members of the public who currently can’t get off work earlier enough. The important people we should be thinking of are those who actually working on and backstage during the hours of a performance, they want to entertain you, but should they be forced into working later at night?

World Book Night 2018

It’s not that long since we had world book day, now here we are celebrating World Book Night, so what’s the difference? Well according to the World Book Night website, daytime is for children and night time is for adults and night is when we traditionally think about celebrating.

World Book Night was set up in help encourage people to read. Apparently 36% of people don’t read regularly (DCMS – 2015). So the aim of the game is simply to encourage reading through handing out of books (not selling, giving them out).

It was first celebrated in 2010, it was then moved to its current day 23rd April as UNESCO’s International Day of the Book. The day also coincides with birth and death of British writer William Shakespeare.

This year the Reading Agency has announced the theme of Mental Health as part of the celebration to raise aware of this important issue that affects 1 in 4 people in the UK alone.

For more information on World Book Night: http://worldbooknight.org/

And: http://www.worldbookday.com/2017/12/reading-agency-announces-world-book-night-2018-titles-focus-mental-health/

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

As we have all seen over recent weeks, the EU is being in new regulations for Data Protection, this is the first update to UK Data Protection Laws since 2008. It will cover every state in the EU with no exemptions. Whilst this doesn’t actually come into forces until 25th May 2018, due to Brexit it has already been signed in to UK legislation ahead of us leaving the EU, so even once we have left it will be apply.

So what is GDPR? What is about? And how does it affect the Arts Industry?

GDPR is the way personal data held by companies on individuals is gathered, used and stored and it affects every business and industry in Europe and theatre and entertainment are no exemption.

The key to this regulator is to be able to prove by creating some form of paper trail that you have explicit permission to have the information on individual, and that you are using it only for the purpose for which you have gathered it. This update to legislation gives the consumer more control over where the data is held, meaning that they can revoke their permission at any time and should this happen then all traces and information you hold on that individual MUST be completely deleted from all company systems.

It is about only having personal information for as long as you need it, when the permission expires or is revoked the information is deleted completed from the system.

The other big game changer is that if your system his hacked and personal details are stolen then you must report the incident to all those who’s details were lost or stolen within a time frame.

All data storage systems will be subject to checked and inspected by external enforcements. If a company or individual is found breach of the regulations penalties and hefty fines can be imposed, even possible imprisonment.

On top of this all businesses and companies that collect personal data must have a Privacy Policy that can be inspected by the their customers and clients.

More information on GDPR can be found at: https://www.eugdpr.org/

Digs for Rent

Working away from home is not easy for everyone, regardless of the profession they choose, so having somewhere comfortable to relax and just chill that is affordable between shows when touring, with an easy process for booking that is little or hassle and stress free makes the working away from home experience all the more bearable.

But for actors and crew the latter isn’t always true, often they find themselves either with nowhere to stay or out of pocket when they arrive in a new town for the production they are working because either theatres haven’t kept their list of digs up to date or they find themselves subject to a scam where by the owner of the dig takes the deposit then somehow just disappears or cancels the booking over a higher price offer.

Now I am not saying this is the experience of every actor all the time on tour. But the ratio of those with positive experience against those bad experiences are certainly beginning to weigh towards the negative.

Actors and stage crew work so hard to get society to take the industry seriously as a ‘real’ place of work and yet the way some of its producers use them is unreal, as one actor put it ‘you are at the beck and call of the producer’. The productions are used as a money grabbing opportunity especially in the commercial world where they say they need as much money to go back to investor to keep them coming back, so pay the minimum for these specialised crafts, and in doing so line their own pockets while they are at it. Whether in this industry or not we know this to be true or there wouldn’t be any work for the fantastic unions who work tirelessly for whom they represent. The whole system around booking digs is just one example where producers shed responsibility for their cast and crew.

Everyone on tour needs a place to stay in each place the production plays, and those locations are known before the first rehearsals or even the first audition begins. So surely a plan for where actors and crew stay should be there from the outset. An allowance is already going to be given for digs, do why not just book up in advance and do away with allowance?

It just seems that the responsibility for the digs is anyone except the producers, the actors and crew have to book, theatres are expected to keep updated lists of digs in their area, but any other industry sending a person away to work would take the time to book the accommodation in advance for them, they may even have an agreement on what is paid for and what the employee is expected to pay for.

So the current allowances given to actors and crew for digs are:

Commercial theatre: £240

Subsidised theatre: £226

If you are just relocating for work (more than 25 miles from home) then the allowance is £140 per week.

Firstly I don’t understand why the commercial world gets a higher allowance, and secondly why relocation is even lower since actors and crew still have to do an 8 show week and the added expense of returning home periodically, especially for young families.

Among other problems it is reported that some digs will set their prices to the top end of the allowance or just above so that the individual ends up out of pocket and when the average dig is costing £120 to £180 a week, with some more that £200 a week that is a lot of money.

Ironically if the same producers send cast and crew abroad to Dubai or Singapore, then they pay for a hotel, which is absolutely sensible. Why can’t that happen back here in the UK? Why not just rent a house or a hostel for the 2 weeks, it has to be cheaper per head than everyone going off to find their own place.

Earlier in this post I had a go at producers for being money grabbers, but it seems that those who run digs are even worse. I get that there may be few and far between when it comes to tenancy of these properties, but that is the chosen field for landlord and when landlord treat the actors and crew disrespectfully by set absurd price it becomes clear why business isn’t booming. I mean I pay £90 a week for a room, shared kitchen and bathroom. I pay for my own food, I do my own washing and cooking. The bigger rooms in the house are no more than £110 per week, which is still below the lower end of dig prices.

I can get accommodation in the centre of London for £16 per night with a promise of discount for groups and multi nights. What I am paying for I know the standard is guaranteed, and I don’t mind paying extra for a bit of quality and luxury. But when the standard is nowhere near the lower end of ‘quality’ scale and nothing is done when requested then that is where it hurts and even more so when time is limited for the individual to book or the number of digs in short in the area.

As I planned this post, I began to wonder if there should really be an accreditation system for digs similar to that of hotels and others full time accommodations in the hospitality industry. I would be interested to hear people’s thoughts on this, if you are someone who does a lot of touring in theatre and finds it hard to sort digs or you have had a bad experience, please do get in touch by using the links at the top of the page.

It is important that actors and crew are comfortable wherever they are staying, like anyone in work they need to chill, they need to rest, they need feel safe in order to give a good restful sleep to be able to give their best in the performance each night as that is what people of the town are paying for, and why shouldn’t they expect a bit comfort away from home at a reasonable price?

Childcare in the Arts

One of the hardest parts of being a professional actor is having a young family and even harder if you are a single parent. Booking childcare at the best of times can be a nightmare but when you have to travel half way across the country to work which means uprooting your family can be even worse. If you have a spouse who work a 9 to 5 job it can make things so much easier, but even that has its down as life only becomes about work and looking after children.

It is heart breaking when people say ‘why don’t you just get a real job, where you can work during the day and be there for the children in the evenings?’ But why should anyone have to give up their dream? Children are part of that dream, and it is sad that the arts industry is working so hard to make people take it seriously as a profession don’t have any established system in place what helps with childcare, just like every other profession has too. Whilst the argument way be that ‘we are subsided’ or ‘we rely on commercial funding’ and the money has to be spent on the production only.

Yes it does, because when plans were submitted for the funding there was no thought given to the actors or crew who might have families that need to be supported while the individual works. In the commercial world business actually have to invest in services to support their employees so why is theatre any different? Surely a funder will understand that you are employing humans who have children and they need looking after while the parent works, whether local to where they live or on tour children still need looking after, it all comes down to behaving towards employees (the actors) the way any other industry supports theirs.

I once heard it said that ‘When you are in a production you are at the beck and call of the producer’ and I think this is so right. Yes it is the same with any other industry, you are at the beckon call of the boss, but there is a contract that supports the individual’s rights and that seems to be missing from theatre. There has to be boundaries, there has be limits and a line that needs to be drawn. Having a service whereby you can drop your children off, either on or offsite and know they are safe while you work is important and producers don’t necessarily have to pay for the service, but they should at least know what’s available and be able to give an idea of something is within the budget of what they are paying.

So is it wrong to shout out and ask that whether the show is funded either commercially or subsided by grants, that producers need to stop putting so much of that profit into their own pockets and start investing in the people who work for them in this industry, because at the end of the day it is the actors that will make the name of the producer. So if actors start turning work down from those who don’t support them and they pass the word round to other actors and crew member then that will be the down fall of a producer and especially in this day in age when we have campaigns like Times Up and others. In today’s world with the internet and social media it doesn’t take long for bad news to spread.

We are hearing so much recently that actors need to challenge the status quo. If you don’t get a role because you are not the right height, size or you don’t have the right hair colour then you need to challenge it and the same when it comes to childcare, there is no reason why a producer shouldn’t be able to support you if you have a young family.

No actor should be that desperate for work that they can’t have a discussion or ask for more information and that they feel they are being worked like a puppet because that is not what the Arts Industry is about. It’s the reason the industry has fantastic unions who work so hard for their members to ensure they are treated fairly and get what they deserve.