Cooperative fringe model launched by former Jermyn Street director
Jermyn Street Theatre’s former artistic director Gene David Kirk has launched an advisory body to help artists stage work on the fringe using a cooperative business model.
The director has set up the group, called the CoOp Theatre, to assist creatives who want to produce work on a profit-share basis, in which all members invest the same amount of money and receive an equal proportion of the profits.
Kirk said the basic principle of the model he is advocating was that financial accounts would be available to every member of the group staging the show. All members would also be required to sign the same physical, constitutional document.
Kirk said any decisions taken to bring in or remove people from the collective would require a unanimous vote. If the matter could not be resolved then the collective and show would have to be dissolved, he added.
While there would be no hierarchy in terms of those in charge of finances, a director would be voted in by members to make artistic decisions, said Kirk.
“What I am suggesting under the cooperative is that each show becomes a mini company that everyone buys into equally. There would be a nominal minimum fee of £1, which legally binds the company, so members own the production legally and are also liable for it,” he said.
Kirk plans personally to test the model over the next year by staging a Terence Rattigan play, involving 24 cast members, and also a new musical.
The director said the launch of CoOp Theatre was in direct response to industry fears about the payment of the national minimum wage on the fringe, and also the lack of transparency on how profits are distributed.
Last year, director Gavin McAlinden was ordered to pay five actors NMW on a show he advertised as profit-share through his company Charm Offensive, following an employment tribunal ruling. He is now in the process of appealing the ruling.
“There is a terrible chill in the air of failure and people are terrified,” said Kirk. “The failure comes down to a financial one. Artistically, we should be able to fail. This case that has gone through the courts has created a sense of fear in creating work for nothing.”
He added: “If people are passionate and fortunate enough to maybe have a month or so a year where they can devote themselves to a project they absolutely adore, there needs to be a model where they can do that without the fear of being taken to court.”
The CoOp Theatre, founded by Kirk with director/producer Antonio Ferrara and actors Matthew Flacks and Ben Kavanagh, will provide surgeries at rehearsal studios in south-west London on an as-needed basis.