Upfront charges are simply unfair
With reference to the recent Spotlight debate (Stage Talk, September 26, page 8), I met with managing partner Ben Seale in 2007. On the agenda was the question of the government banning all upfront fees. Needless to say, Ben was against this. His attitude was, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, one could not blame a business trying to protect its profitability, which according to Josh Marriott is in the region of £7 million.
Who is Spotlight for – the hirer or the actor? One could argue it is for the hirer, so why should the bulk of the cost be paid by the out-of-work actor? I think actors should be charged a fee – after they have found work. Common sense, really. But common sense does not seem to operate in the entertainment industry, where many want to work for nothing.
Earlier this year, I made a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading, claiming Spotlight had an unfair advantage – ie, it was anti-competitive. Agents demand that actors pay an upfront fee or they will not be represented. This practice appears to be widespread and perfectly legal, since the government’s Employment Agency Standards inspectorate still allows such unfair practices to exist.
Equity general secretary Christine Payne has consistently turned a blind eye to this and gives every impression of being at one with Spotlight on almost every issue. I find this astounding for a union purporting to represent its members. Four years on Equity Council has taught me this policy is unlikely to change in the near future.
Actors, models and extras are being ripped off in ever-increasing numbers, by ‘upfront fees’ and other charges. Equity must shoulder much of the blame, for not demanding an outright ban on fees to a work-finding service or third-party prior to the offer of paid work.
We now have a growing number of companies charging fees of up to £3,000 to those as young as 14. I highlighted this in June on BBC1’s One Show. In August, the Advertising Standards Authority published another two of my complaints on those pretending to find work in our industry.
Sticking a photograph and a CV of professional actors on a website, together with a showreel, is not that difficult to do. Equity could even provide such a service to its own members. I note The Stage has now set up its own ‘directory’ – for a fee. No surprise here, as this offers a very good revenue, particularly if agents demand you subscribe, with low running costs.
The sad thing is, my 16-year ‘upfront fees’ campaign has come to absolutely zilch. Nothing has really changed at all. The government has/will quietly bury the issue. EAS is just a title, with little or no staff/budget. I have stopped updating my website, anactor.net. I have absolutely nothing more to add. I have provided overwhelming evidence, and it cannot be disputed. It is simply ignored. The lights are on, but nobody is home. Vulnerable workers – in the entertainment industry?
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Our MPs should speak up for us
Having requested my local MP sign an early day motion to support My Theatre Matters!, in a letter hand-delivered to his surgery, there has sadly been no response.
This is a matter of concern, supported by a growing number of letters in the local press to say that our Bradford West MP does not answer constituents’ letters.
One can only hope the coalition government will take action, as too many constituents are being left without a voice in the House of Commons at this time.
Online petition is e-asiest way
Since publishing my government e-petition to register Shakespeare’s birthday as a national day of celebration, I have been inundated with emails and texts asking, why, when companies can have special days, many of which secure annual status, is there a need for an e-petition? Why not simply go ahead and name April 23 ‘Shakespeare Day’?
The answer lies in the e-petition title. My team requests that “Her Majesty’s government institutes Shakespeare Day on April 23, 2015 and annually thereafter as a calendar date to celebrate the world’s greatest playwright and poet”. Not a day created for marketing purposes, as in the case of American import Mother’s Day (not Mothering Sunday), but an officially registered day set aside to preserve the memory of the finest writer in the English language. This would be a lasting gift to the future.
While ‘named’ days have long been employed to generate awareness of particular issues, since 2007 – when the Department of Trade and Industry was replaced by what has now become the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, no government office has remit to create or register, in Whitehall terminology, “national or special days of national interest highlighted within the calendar”. To address this deficiency, several options have been proffered by the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, including: engineering a new body to deal with such registration; publishing a general e-campaign using government short-comings as an example.; instigating a private members’ bill; pursuing government action via the relevant department, instigated by a backbench MP; or using the standard government e-petition.
The latter is far and away the easiest option for the public to engage with politics in this country – to call on the government for specific action.
Should our e-petition fail, our goal is to get 100,000 signatures for the proposal to be considered for a debate in the Commons – the first option will be pursued.
National Shakespeare Day
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Bladder late than never
I was surprised to find that Urinetown is about to have its London premiere (News, September 19, page 3).
I saw Simon Phillips’ production for the Sydney Theatre Company in 2006, which boasted a star performance from Lisa McCune that was nothing short of sensational. I am particularly surprised it has taken so long to get to London, given that its premise – a company that charges people exorbitant rates to have a pee – is exactly mirrored in the capital.
Urinetown seemed to me at the time to be one of those shows that had more in it than at first meets the eye. As a matter of interest, I find it appears to have become a mainstay of semi-professional theatre in Oz over the succeeding years. It’s something well worth putting into the new year calendar.
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Are you a friend of the Phoenix?
This year marks 50 years of the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester, and a day of performances by local actors, musicians, dancers, poets and comedians will be held there on Saturday, November 16 from 12pm-10pm to celebrate.
Did you appear there, either when it was the Phoenix Theatre or when it later became the Phoenix Arts Centre? Do you know someone who did?
We are calling for people who worked there to send a salutation, either in video form or as a letter accompanied by a photo, to be included in a special foyer display. Better still, come along yourself.
You may not know that the theatre nearly did not reach its half-century. In 2009, Leicester City Council tried to close it down and sell it off. However, the Save the Phoenix Campaign, aided in part by the onset of the recession, succeeded in obliging the council to relent. The venue is now being used by Leicester College as its centre for performing arts courses.
If you have memories of the Phoenix they are bound to be happy ones. Please contribute to this appeal if you can – your participation will really help to secure a long, safe future for this cherished theatre.
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