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The Green Room: Should job-sharing be more common in the theatre industry?

42nd Street made West End history by allowing ensemble member Charlene Ford to job-share. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​​​​​

Albert_Parker

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in film, BAFTA-winning TV, at the RSC, National and West End

Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television

Ros Clifford, 30, is a deputy stage manager. She has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

Seamus Wallace is in his 30s and has appeared regularly at the National Theatre, as well as at the RSC, in the West End, on tour and on TV

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is a writer and street performer

 

Beryl Does job-sharing happen much in the theatre industry now?

Jon Hardly at all. In September it happened for the first time in the West End, on 42nd Street.

Peter In theory, it should be more common. It’s good for carers, but expensive for the employer – and must involve a bigger workload for your fellow performers and creatives.

Albert It used to work whenever a certain musical leading lady played the lead in anything. There were always at least two alternates.

Ros It seems to be successful at the New Vic in Stoke. Two assistant stage managers who are mothers job-share. It is easier for stage management, though, I guess.

Beryl It’s a strange one. Interesting for the ego.

Seamus In big West End shows that are doing nine or 10 shows a week, it’s a really good thing for principal actors and stage managers to job-share. On other, less physically taxing shows, I’m not so sure.

Adam I’m not sure how you’d manage it in a Chekhov play.

Albert It’s fine, but it does depend on people being good at their job.

Annie I did a tour once, during which the cast changed parts the whole way through. Those who had leads swapped to the smaller parts. You could sense a shift in energy and effort for sure.

Albert If I sign up to play a part, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to swap to the ensemble every other Thursday. Did they also swap wages?

Annie It was great creatively – having to not make the same choices. It was fun for us all to watch each other put their own spin on the part and go a totally different way.

Beryl That sounds fun, but I would be sickened if people worked less hard when doing the smaller roles.

Adam I’ve seen stage management and TV or film crews swap over, but it must mean a lot of extra work explaining things and picking everything up. The demands of our profession can be so exacting for those with children or dependants that it’s worth looking into for sure.

Annie I think it would be really exciting if there were more shared roles for those who needed it.

Ros I know many of my colleagues would really benefit from job-sharing.

Annie I don’t have a child at the moment, but if I did have a family or other commitments, I’d definitely consider job-sharing.

Peter But you’d need a longer rehearsal period – which would make it costly for small theatres.

Adam You could argue that organisations like the National or the recent Pinter at the Pinter seasons are a sort of job-sharing, because you’re not in every night and you share the load with other shows.

Albert Yes, I think that’s a good example of how it could work practically. It’s called repertory theatre.

Peter Rep is different from job-share, though.

Albert I agree, but we have to make job-sharing work in our industry. It wouldn’t work in TV, would it? You won’t get characters being played by different actors between commercial breaks or in different episodes. And given that we know, even in this room, how keen people are for work, I don’t think people would want to give up half of it – and, I assume, half the salary.

Jon In 42nd Street, it was an ensemble part that was shared. One actor [Charlene Ford], who had just given birth, did three shows a week, the other five. Interestingly, the producers were initially very resistant.

42nd Street performer becomes first in West End history to job-share [1]

Seamus I’ve seen one or two non-West End shows sold on the gimmick that two (big-name) actors are sharing roles. But otherwise I can’t see the benefit of it unless it is implemented to give principals and stage managers on big commercial gigs a bit of a breather.

Annie I think both parties would have to want the job share, and the role would need to be advertised as such.

Jon I have been directed by job-sharers, and it was a living nightmare.

Ros I can imagine.

Beryl Yes, director swaps can be awful.

Peter It can even be tricky with assistant directors. They change a scene only for the director to change it back.

Annie It’s nice having two in the room with different ideas… but having one person making the final decision is good.

Jon The production I’m referring to was an Ayckbourn that lost its director at the last minute. The replacement director the producers wanted couldn’t do all the rehearsals, so we got a second one. One rehearsal, director A told us to play it like Chekhov, the next day director B said: “It’s Jonson, isn’t it? It’s panto!”

Ros Oh God.

Seamus I’ve realised I’ve been very principal-focused in my assessment. I’m not suggesting that ensemble performers and assistant stage managers are less worthy of a job-share. I just wanted to suggest that in big West End gigs in which holidays are rare (or even non-existent) then some job-sharing would be good to alleviate pressure among the company. I’ve learned this the hard way through working on that kind of show.