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Dear West End Producer: ‘What’s your take on fringe theatre? Should actors get a profit share from the venue’s bar?

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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There’s been a lot of talk about fringe and profit-share shows recently.

My colleague Mark Shenton has decided not to review shows for which the actors and crew are not being paid any more, unless they’re in a collaborative, non-hierarchical venture. It’s a bold move, which has been made with all the right intentions. Mark is highly influential in the business – a good review from him, or indeed any reviewer, can be useful for a young actor embarking on their career.

I must say I admire Mark, as he is giving himself more work, stating that he will have to ask producers what their remuneration policies are before he attends. And I for one applaud that. This means he will still be reviewing a lot of fringe shows in London and Edinburgh, for which the company has been formed by people putting their own work on. He just won’t be going to the ones where someone else is making money.

However, as any actor, young or old, will tell you, the business is tough. Any chance to play a decent part and get your foot on the ladder is welcomed. Many new graduates find their first roles in profit-share fringe venues, and are glad of the exposure – so who can blame them for working for no money?

The problem comes when a producer, musical director or even lighting designer is getting more of a fee than the actors (or vice versa). This is where the whole thing is grossly unfair. The status of all parties should be equal.

So what’s the solution? Ideally, everyone should be paid something – more than just their travel expenses, and at least the national living wage.

However, the only way this will happen is if there is a big change in attitude, starting with actors, who need to come together and stop accepting these kind of jobs.

At the same time, Equity needs to ensure every fringe company has an open-book policy, so everyone is transparent about their earnings (or lack of them). Hopefully all this discussion will bring about change.

I’d also like to mention some changes I think should happen in reviews themselves. First of all, reviews should state where the critic was sitting when reviewing the show (for example, G30 in the stalls). Obviously someone’s seat affects the view and entire experience of a production.

Secondly, all reviewers should state how much their ticket would have cost – so it allows the public to know if they are reading a review for a £150 or £5 ticket.

Thirdly, the budget of the show should be included. I think it is unfair to have reviews of a show with a budget of £500,000 sitting right next to shows with a £50 budget – unless this is made clear.

Finally, if possible, a review should make it clear if the actors are not being paid. It’s all about being transparent, giving the reader a better sense of what type of production is being reviewed.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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