Actors working in theatre in education are facing “abusive” working conditions, prompting a vow from Equity to address the situation.
Speaking at the union’s Annual Representative Conference, actors cited 16-hour working days, low pay, four-hour car journeys without a break and unwashed costumes as some of the things they had to deal with.
The issue was raised as part of a motion, which was passed unanimously, calling on Equity to do more to improve working conditions and to campaign to recruit new members from the TiE sector.
Proposing the motion, Martin Williams from the Liverpool and District General Branch said that while TiE was many actors’ “bread and butter” and could be a hugely rewarding job, workers in the sector were frequently mistreated and underpaid.
He added: “On one tour to primary schools, I witnessed my fellow cast members working from 5.15am right the way through till 6pm, building the set, travelling and performing. Of course that’s in potential breach of working time regulations. All that for the award of £25 per show.”
South West councillor Xander Black agreed that Equity needed to “step up” to combat working conditions for actors on all small-scale tours, recalling his own experiences of working in pantomime.
He said: “The 16 to 18-hour days, then having three hours of sleep and being sent out again for £800 for the whole month. Doing six days of three shows a day in many different locations, doing the get-ins, get-outs.”
He added: “The companies don’t actually give you the opportunity to be a human – they are trying to make their own budget. This is why Equity needs to step up on this with pantomime and theatre in education, basically small-scale tours that go into schools, social clubs, holiday parks and community centres.”
Daniel York, of the Minority Ethnic Members Committee, echoed these comments, arguing that this was “just the sort of thing Equity should be tackling, but historically hasn’t”.
He said: “TiE is the most inclusive sector [for ethnic minority actors] but sometimes the most exploitative.”
Matthew Field, from the Northern Area AGM, added: “It’s a form of abuse, and we need to start to stand up for ourselves and say ‘No, this is no longer acceptable’.”
This follows a motion from Equity’s Women’s Committee last year at the Trades Union Congress Women’s Conference , calling on TUC to recognise the “almost Dickensian” conditions faced by actors on small-scale tours.