Equity is to lobby the government for a law change to make it harder for rogue producers to set up and dissolve companies repeatedly, leaving actors and backstage crew unpaid and out of work.
The vow comes after a touring production of Thoroughly Modern Mille was cancelled earlier this week, with cast, crew and musicians given no notice. The tour was cancelled with immediate effect, leaving actors concerned about alleged outstanding payments.
Thoroughly Modern Mille was produced by David King through Modern Millie Ltd, an offshoot of his company Spirit Productions.
In an email sent to cast and crew, seen by The Stage, the company said Thoroughly Modern Millie had been “playing to very small audience numbers” and the revenues generated at the theatre box offices “had not been enough to cover the costs of the production”.
“The show has been existing up to now by borrowing funds to make sure that the cast and crew are paid every week. Due to the poor ticket sales on the performances already played and for the remainder of the tour, the company is no longer able to borrow any more money to keep the show going,” the email states.
It adds: “A meeting was had over the weekend with a firm of insolvency practitioners, which has advised that the company should stop trading immediately. All the remaining shows on the tour have all been cancelled.”
Equity confirmed it was assisting members who have been affected by the cancellation. The Stage understands 28 actors were in the cast, but that the show was not being produced on an Equity contract.
Equity industrial organiser for theatre Paul Fleming said that, in seven years supporting members, no tour on an Equity contract had collapsed.
“Our system of collective agreements with management associations gives a quality assurance that members are entitled to notice, and that producers are vetted to ensure they meet their obligations,” he said.
He said recent tour collapses had not been on union agreements but said members still had legal rights and that the union would support members throughout a liquidation process.
However, he said the union would be lobbying to change the structure of company law that allows a producer to liquidate a company and then set up another one, despite owing actors and crew money.
Fleming said the law was legitimate to assist people not in theatre, such as entrepreneurs, who need to be able to take risks.
“But it allows some rogue producers to head up multiple companies again and again, and then dissolve them,” he added.
He said the union would be looking at ways to raise its profile, and would be considering a rally to put pressure on the government to address the issue.
“We would like to lobby to see the way in which the law allows people to set up companies so frequently changed, to improve accountability,” he added.
He added that the union and its members should demand that producers use Equity agreements, to prevent actors being left out of pocket when a show collapses.