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Musical theatre stars: Equity calling us performers not actors is offensive

David Thaxton. Photo: David Jensen David Thaxton. Photo: David Jensen
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Union Equity has been accused of being “divisive and offensive” after failing to describe its musical theatre members as actors.

The union has written to its members ahead of negotiations with the Society of London Theatre over a new West End agreement.

It has asked its members to complete a survey, stating: “We have three versions of the survey: one for performers in musical theatre, one for actors in plays and one for stage management.”

However, Equity has come under fire from those who appear in musicals, who feel the union is undermining them. They argue that the term ‘actor’ should be applied to them too.

Olivier award-winner David Thaxton, whose credits include Les Miserables and Jesus Christ Superstar, told The Stage: “Equity’s word choice is not only ill-thought-out but divisive and offensive. It creates a hierarchy within theatre, implies that the kind of ‘acting’ that happens in plays doesn’t happen in musical theatre (only ‘performers’ are in MT after all) and robs anyone who works in theatre of their right to describe themselves however they want.”

He added: “It’s also idiotic to suggest that you only act, sing or dance at any one time and is, as far as I’m concerned, a further nail in the coffin of Equity’s relevance. I am and will remain a member but only because there is no other union option available to me. It’s a deeply disappointing yet sadly unsurprising state of affairs.”

His thoughts were echoed by actor Gerard McCarthy, who has appeared in productions such as Legally Blonde and will star in the forthcoming Tina Turner musical.

Writing on Twitter, he accused the union of “snobbery”.

Meanwhile, Stephen John Davis, who recently starred in Mamma Mia! in the West End and who is in the new production of Company at the Aberdeen Arts Centre, told The Stage Equity was “perpetuating the differentiation of its members”.

“Because I work in musical theatre, my own union do not consider me worthy of the description of ‘actor’ but use ‘performer’, which conjures images of the organ grinder’s monkey,” he said.

He acknowledged the need for Equity to conduct different surveys, adding that musicals and plays require “specific agreements”.

“However, the people on stage in both forms are actors. No other description is acceptable,” he said.

Equity could not be reached for a comment. But responding to Thaxton’s concerns on Twitter, it said: “We used the term ‘performers’ for our members working in musical theatre as this includes dancers and singers as well as actors, and we want input from all our members working in these productions.”

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