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?