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.

Etiquette for the Theatre Audience

I don’t think any theatre blog would be complete without talking about the etiquette of being an audience member visiting the theatre. Some actors have some real pet hates when it comes to manors of their audience and there are thing that make you as part of an audience talk of the dressing room and there are others that are just plain rude.

So let’s start with the basic housekeeping stuff, TIMEKEEPING this is so important. Don’t be late! When a show is advertised as starting, for example at 7.30pm that mean the curtain goes up at 7.30pm and the actors begin. Unlike the cinema where a showing is advertised 7.30pm but then there are a load of adverts and trailers before the film. So what you are actually going to see at the cinema may not actually start until 8.15pm or 8.20pm therefore you can afford to be 10 or 15 minutes late as nobody really minds during adverts.

When you are late you are not just disturbing the people in the row when you are sitting, but you also disturb those around you in other rows as well as the actors on stage. There are some places that won’t admit you into the auditorium once the performance starts, even if you have a ticket and may have paid a fortune for it. But this is definitely a good thing, and I think it’s at the Birmingham Rep that won’t even allow you to return to the performance if you are late back from the interval, they have a special standing room where you can watch the show on a screen.

In the 21st Century we are so luck that as an audience we are not expected to wear our ‘Sunday best’ outfit to attend performances, smart casual is just fine. In fact if you ever go to a performance at Australia’s Sydney Opera House they don’t care what you wear as long as you are on time, if you’re late then you miss out on the performance.

Then we have talking during a performance, this is without a doubt the height of rudeness; you may well have paid for the tickets, but so have the people sitting around you and your conversation wasn’t included in the price of their ticket, you are not the only person watching that performance. Theatres are built for sound to carry, so there will be a fair chance that the actors on stage will also be able to hear your conversation which can put actors off and spoil the show for everyone else.

There has been a lot of talk recently about photography and videoing during performances, and so many time actors have very rightly spoken out against people taking photos while they are performing.

There are so many reasons why you shouldn’t take photos or video a performance in a theatre, the main one is the exactly the same as why it is a criminal offence to record a movie on a hand held device in a cinema, which is copyright. The company presenting the performance has paid for the rights to the author and composer to use the material. You as audience members have only paid to watch it.

There is also data protection; you don’t have permission to take a photo or a video of the individual on stage. Whatever the cost of your ticket it does NOT include permission to take photos of the performers.

If the performers are children then it can cause a lot more problems especially if you then go posting those photos on social media. Things you may not know about certain children is that they may be under the protection of the law, meaning that their location must not be disclosed to a parent or another adult, whatever the reason it is not permitted. And it won’t matter how well you know the families and parents of the children involved these kind of cases, there are something that won’t be spoken about because it’s not easy and sometimes silence on the matter is a legal requirement.

You may think an innocent photo posted in your profile is OK and if you turn off the sharing it will be secure. The fact is that people can still download that photo and then share it by other means. It will get out there, it will fall into the wrong hands and once it is out on the internet it is very hard to remove.

Buy the professional photos or recordings. These you still won’t be able to post online but they will be of much better quality. Anyway, why post performances online? You have just paid somewhere between £10 and £200 for your ticket, if you post your video or photo online you are giving the world a free view of what you paid for with money you have earned, why would you do that? If they want to see it, then they should pay the ticket price just like you and not rely on individuals to post for free viewing online.

A quick break down of  costs used with the sale of your ticket, these will include (but no limited too) things like the rights to perform the material, hire of the venue, make up, costumes, props, set and if it’s a professional performance than the wages of the production team and actors.

Moving on, most venues allow you to take food and drink into the auditorium to consume, as the revenue from these sales usually contributes to the income for running the venue. But as we enjoy the performance while eating and drinking let’s not forget that the noise from our packets can actually be heard on stage unlike the cinema where it is all pre-recorded where that extra noise makes no difference, only to the person sitting next to you.

At the end of the performance take left over cups, bottles and sweet papers out to the foyer, some venues place the stewards to hold rubbish bags for you at doors on the way out. Most theatres these days, especially the smaller ones and regionals the stewards and ushers are volunteers, so they may well have been working elsewhere all day just like you and then come to the theatre to help enhance your experience for the evening. So by the time the show ends all they want to do is go home as they may have work early the next morning, so if they can get away quicker at the end I am sure they would appreciate it.

Finally stage door, for those of you who like to leg it round the back of the theatre after the show to see your favourite actor in the hopes of getting a photograph or an autograph, just be kind. Remember that no actor is obliged to mingle with the crowd after the show again your ticket is purely for the performance inside the building, it does not include a meet and greet afterwards. But there are artists that do go up to the foyer and meet fans after their performance, this usually happens in the smaller and regional theatres.

But in London’s West End and commercial touring shows the stage door is the common entrance and exit for the actors and often there will be a crowd of people waiting at the door at the end of a show. There are going to be times when actors choose to exit by another route through the theatre as they want to get off home or they may have other plans and sure this will be disappointing but it shouldn’t be take personally and you most certainly shouldn’t go sending rude or nasty messages to the individual via social media.

Just imagine if it was you, after you have finished a hard day at work you go to leave work through the main exit you are bombarded by a stream of loyal customers and friend all wanted to speak to you. There are going to be some days you may be able to put up with this, there will be some days when you just want to go home or need to get away quickly for other reasons. And that’s how actors feel about leaving via stage door. They are human just like you, even the big celebrities and they are entitled to privacy and a personal life away from the public eye, so after the performance on stage (which in essence is their day’s work), you owe them the respect and understand if they do come to stage door by just being kind and patient, don’t push or shout and if they don’t come to stage door just know they still appreciate your attendance they just need to be elsewhere.

And that is the basic etiquette of attending theatre in the 21st Century. It’s about treating everyone as you would like to be treated, being kind, have understanding. But most of all enjoy the experience, the team will have worked so hard and will be looking forward to show you what they can do and that what you see is worth every penny you have spent on your ticket.