Update: This story was amended on April 7 to reflect new information that came to light about the nature of the four-week holding deal and producers’ obligations.
A series of pay agreements to support performers and stage managers during the period of theatre closures has been agreed with union Equity.
Fixed terms have been negotiated between the union and UK Theatre to cover the subsidised sector. However, no long-term agreement has yet been reached with UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre to cover those working on commercial contracts in the West End and on tour beyond an initial, optional four-week “holding period”.
For the period from March 16 to April 13, the holding arrangement with SOLT means those working on shows in the West End are potentially entitled to two and a half weeks of their applicable minimum salary, based on theatre sizes, and spread over the four weeks. The Equity minimum is currently £728 a week in the biggest venues.
For those who were on tours when theatres closed, the optional sum agreed is two weeks of the applicable minimum rehearsal salary, paid over the four-week period. The minimum weekly rehearsal rate is currently £468 a week in the largest venues.
“Equity has commenced further discussions with SOLT and UK Theatre as to the arrangements that will apply after April 13,” the union said, although details have not been disclosed.
Producers have the option of either using the holding agreement or reverting to a contract’s standard terms. The Stage understands that under the SOLT and UK Theatre/Equity agreements’ standard terms, there is a force majeure clause that would allow producers to pay nothing under certain conditions. In these circumstances, producers are being encouraged to make an ex-gratia payment to actors and stage management.
In the subsidised sector, Equity said it had entered into a separate agreement “which is for a longer period due to the ongoing future consequences brought about by Covid-19 and the need for long-term planning”.
For the period up to May 31, performers and stage managers whose contracts had or would have started during this period, but have been or will be cancelled by managers because of coronavirus, will be entitled to receive a minimum payment equivalent to three weeks at 80% of minimum pay, according to the pay grade of the contracts, which is up to about £555 a week in the top grades.
“Many subsidised theatre producers have already arrived at local agreements to help those whose contracts had started in excess of these minimum terms,” Equity said.
From June 1 this year to April 6, 2021 it has been agreed that no payment will be due if four weeks’ notice is given. If between two and four weeks’ notice is provided, compensation equal to one week’s applicable pay will be due.
“This agreement has been made during this period of intense uncertainty to give theatres the ability and confidence to contract performers and stage managers and schedule productions to take place once the restrictions [relating to Covid-19] are lifted,” Equity said.
For members engaged on Independent Theatre Council contracts, it has been agreed that three weeks of the ITC minimum will be paid, while negotiations have been taking place with “each and every fringe producer working on the [Equity] fringe agreement to ensure that the best possible arrangements have applied to each production cancelled”.
The union said that it had been “monitoring the position for directors, designers and other creative team members whose contracts have been interrupted by the crisis to ensure contractual rights are protected”.
It added that it had negotiated with companies such as the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe to “protect members’ income”.
“These negotiations for members have been unprecedented, at a time when the entire theatre industry has suffered great damage due to Covid-19, with both the devastating and immediate effect this has had on our members’ earnings and producers’ ability to pay, with collapsed box office and calls for refunds. Continued working together with a shared vision of a future healthy theatre industry is needed to see us through these terrible times,” the union said.
This week, SOLT confirmed theatres would be closed until at least June.