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Immersive theatre facing fresh scrutiny following reports of abuse

Thomas Maller in The Great Gatsby when the immersive show was at Vault Festival, London Thomas Maller in The Great Gatsby when the immersive show was at Vault Festival, London
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Immersive theatre is to come under increased scrutiny from union Equity, over concerns that performers are being “exposed to many forms of abuse”.

The union is vowing to tackle immersive theatre as one of three areas it plans to make a priority as part of its Professionally Made, Professionally Paid campaign. It will also look at the pay and conditions of small-scale touring and at introducing an agreement specifically for creatives working on the fringe.

Although initially launched to tackle low and no pay in the industry, Equity is now expanding the campaign’s remit to “tackle the real issues” of the fringe, including immersive theatre.

Charlotte Bence, Equity low pay no pay industrial organiser, told The Stage the majority of issues reported to her relate to immersive theatre, adding that these were an “equal split between health and safety concerns and bad contracts”.

Last year, producers of an immersive production of The Great Gatsby introduced safeguarding measures following two incidents of sexual assault.

Immersive Great Gatsby show introduces ‘panic alarm’ for cast after sexual assaults

“So there is a real need to tackle this and do something about raising member awareness, in terms of their rights and what they are entitled to. But it’s also about working with employers to remind them what their obligations are,” Bence said.

An immersive theatre network has been established by the union, which will work towards cresting a set of standards for the genre.

Charlotte Newton John, who works in immersive theatre, said: “Too many shows have alcohol available and that, coupled with the close proximity to the audience, can leave performers exposed to many forms of abuse.”

In addition, Equity plans to tackle small-scale touring, an area it says has been a “hotbed of exploitation” for too long.

Bence said small-scale touring can suffer from low rates of pay, alongside poor-quality accommodation and bad allowances.

She said there is no reason why the union’s current fringe agreement could not be used on small tours and be amended in association with employers to suit particular engagements.

The union will also work to create a fringe agreement for creative teams working on productions. This would aim to create a “baseline of acceptable working standards”.

A motion at this year’s ARC called for a two-day symposia to “examine the best way to protect creative team members working in fringe theatre”.

Bence said: “This is about beefing out the information we provide to members and employers to make them see that union agreements will work for the projects they are trying to do.”

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