Actors call for longer notice periods after last-minute closures

Jesus-Christ-Superstar Ben Forster
Ben Forster in Jesus Christ Superstar, who was due to appear in the US arena tour. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Equity is under pressure to renegotiate the two weeks’ notice period agreement for performers included in its current contracts following a number of high-profile and abrupt show closures.

West End shows I Can’t Sing! and The Full Monty have closed early, giving performers just two weeks’ notice, while this week it was announced that the US tour of Jesus Christ Superstar has been cancelled just days before its opening. The cast was to include many UK performers, who have now been left out of work.

Currently, if actors are employed on an Equity contract that includes a two-weeks’ notice period clause and a production is unable to go ahead or ends before its scheduled closing night, then they are entitled to two weeks’ pay. This is regardless of whether they work the notice period or not, and means if a show closes overnight actors will not be left empty-handed.

However, actors are now calling on Equity to negotiate an increase to this period, prompted in large part by the cancellation of the 50-city US tour of Jesus Christ Superstar starring Ben Forster just days before it was due to open.

Responding on Twitter, the union said: “We’ve received lots of notifications this morning re #JCS closure and two week notice. All your comments will be fed back to our industrial organisers so we can try to make the changes you want to see in the next round of negotiations.”

A spokesman for the Society of London Theatre, which negotiates agreements with Equity, said it was unable to comment on future discussions between the two bodies.

The news about Jesus Christ Superstar led I Can’t Sing!’s lead performer Cynthia Erivo to accuse Equity on Twitter of failing to support members of the show’s cast when its closure was announced.

She said: “I do have to say on #ICS there was no physical Equity representative at all throughout the process, she showed up once at and then never again. There was no follow-up for us when we finished; it was in fact a couple members of the cast that called and asked for something to be done, but it seems it’s taken another abrupt closing for anyone to take real notice.”

Fellow cast member Scott Garnham added: “I thought @icantsingUK got it rough! What horrendous news! Gutted for all involved. @JCSTheMusical.”

Equity confirmed it was providing support to its members who had been due to perform in JCS, but said that no actor in the show had signed an Equity contract.

Options Clause Entertainment LLC, an affiliate of S2BN Entertainment, which was co-producing the tour with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s the Really Useful Group, did not give a reason for the show’s cancellation.

However, according to The New York Times, promoter Michael Cohl blamed ticket sales, stating: “In the end, it just did not make business sense to continue, and we didn’t want the cast to endure playing to disappointing audiences.”

The arena production of Superstar previously toured the UK twice, produced by Really Useful and AEG Live, first in 2012 and again in 2013. However, the second leg of the tour was postponed, with producers at the time claiming this was  “largely due to the enormous demand across the globe with tours in Australia, Europe and USA to be announced soon”.

Superstar cast member Rob Copeland is now leading a campaign to relaunch the production at Glastonbury Festival.

He confirmed via Twitter that the festival organisers said they would programme the show, provided they receive approval from the Really Useful Group.