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First industry body representing UK stage directors launched

Jeremy Herrin, one of the founders of Stage Directors UK
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Leading theatre figures including Marianne Elliott, Matthew Warchus, Vicky Featherstone and Jeremy Herrin have launched the industry’s first body aimed at representing stage directors.

Increasing fees in the sector is one of Stage Directors UK’s first priorities. It will also represent directors on issues such as royalties, contracts, digital rights and copyright, as well as leading on training initiatives.

Directors can become members of Equity, but SDUK says the lack of an organisation dedicated to the needs of opera and theatre directors has “led to an increasing sense of anger and frustration” in the sector.

“There has never been an organisation that fully represented UK stage directors, to their considerable cost,” the body claims, adding that agents have “found it hard to stand up for a new or unknown client, or argue for change in contractual practices, or for a rise in rates that have not increased for years”.

Warchus, incoming artistic director of the Old Vic, said the body had the chance to “encourage, and oblige, our future employers to consider aspects of our job in a more fair and coherent way”.

His thoughts were echoed by Headlong artistic director Herrin, whose credits include Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in the West End.

He told The Stage: “It’s really important that as directors we unite and have a voice and make some changes. Anecdotally, it feels to me that our pay and conditions have not really changed, certainly over my working life, and the far-reaching implications of that are that there is only a particular sort of person who will be able to afford to be a theatre director. That is not brilliant for the profession or the working culture.”

One of the body’s first initiatives will be to conduct a directors’ pay survey.

Elliott welcomed this. She said: “It’s great that directors might finally have a body that protects them, that finally ensures proper working pay rates and that can support and nurture its members. It’s a very fragile, erratic and sometimes brutal profession. The pressure, the workload and the responsibility of the director should be valued and protected.”

Earlier this year, she claimed it was impossible for female directors to work after becoming mothers because pay was so bad in the sector.

According to SDUK, directors “remain at the bottom of the financial pile” and receive no royalties from subsidised theatres, unlike writers.

The body says on its website: “Most directors have to survive on their fees, which are extremely low. Even top directors in subsidised theatre often earn little more than the national minimum wage once fees are calculated against time actually spent on a production.”

On joining SDUK, members will be invited to contribute to the fees survey, with the information used to paint a clearer picture of directors’ pay.

Herrin said: “At the moment there is no data so you can’t make a sharp argument. The first thing is to have an inclusive conversation about who is paid what and how it’s changed or otherwise over the years.”

Once the body has a membership, talks will commence about what other issues it should address.

Featherstone described the initiative as a “vitally important new movement for directors in the UK”.

“We spend so much of our time creating the right environment for other artists to take risks and reach their potential: it has taken us too long to do this ourselves,” she said.

Alongside Herrin, Elliott and Warchus, the SDUK also includes Ian Rickson, Sophie Austin, Howard Davies, Jonathan Butterell, Jemma Gross, Thomas Hescott and James Macdonald.

Herrin added: “It’s really important that we represent all directors, not just people with a level of profile.”

Herrin also claimed that directors were often “lone wolves” but said there was a “great strength in joining up”.

“That is why pay and conditions have not improved, because there has not been a united voice,” he said.

Membership is free until January to those who fill out the survey on stagedirectorsuk.com. Subscription fees will be introduced in the new year.

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