You Me Bum Bum Train under fire for not paying professional performers
The producers of You Me Bum Bum Train have been criticised by Equity for asking professional performers to work in the show for free.
It has also emerged that the actors’ union called for Arts Council England to justify its decision to fund the show with a £150,000 grant when YMBBT relies on unpaid volunteers.
The immersive production, which is running in London until November 30, features more than 100 volunteers performing in each show.
But producers said volunteers could leave the show at any point during a performance with no notice, and claimed ticket prices would be “prohibitively” expensive if all volunteers were paid.
Equity had claimed YMBBT producers were advertising volunteer positions on casting websites to encourage professional actors and performers to take part.
The union said that performers going unpaid equated to another subsidy for the production in addition to the grant it received from ACE, and highlighted that tickets were being sold at £48.50, which it said were “rates typical of a West End show”.
It also claimed the “high-quality presentations” of YMBBT “require professional skills and commitment in order to be viable”.
In a response penned to Equity, ACE chief executive Darren Henley defended the production and compared performing in it to volunteering in the 2012 Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.
He added: “YMBBT may attract the interest of professional actors, dancer and musicians as you indicate in your letter, but they take part in the capacity of volunteers.”
However, Equity dance councillor Nicholas Keegan – who took part in the Olympic ceremonies – said Henley’s argument “doesn’t hold water”, since professional performers at the 2012 Games were paid for their work.
The union’s assistant general secretary Stephen Spence said: “It’s not right that a company generating significant revenue from sell-out productions, as well as receiving money from taxpayers, doesn’t pay professional performers.”
In response, the show’s producers Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd told The Stage that while some of the performers may be professional or experienced, most are not – “and those who are professional are not compelled to be there”.
Though performers are not paid, Bond and Morgan claimed volunteers “gain numerous skills” from taking part that can be used to further their careers.
They said: “YMBBT is not simply a show being staged for the entertainment of the ‘audience’ and the commercial gain of the producers, and it is wrong to compare it to that sort of show: it is a community activity, creating opportunities and experiences for hundreds of people who are not interested in being paid – or at least are happy to do it for nothing.”
It is not the first time the show’s volunteer structure has attracted criticism from Equity. In 2010, the union told producers that they may have breached national minimum wage regulations.