Proposals have been put forward to cut the pay of West End musicians by up to 50% in some theatres, as managers look to secure renegotiated terms to allow a swifter recovery of the sector.
The Musicians’ Union has been approached about renegotiating terms to “help bring about the recovery of the West End from the devastating impact of Covid-19”.
A letter from the Society of London Theatre to the MU, seen by The Stage and written last month, outlines the “dire situation” faced by the industry as a result of the pandemic, and claims both parties will need to “agree to a number of temporary variations” to the current agreement to give “shows the best chance of reopening as soon as is practicable”.
In the letter to the MU, SOLT has proposed clauses that would apply for the first 26 weeks after a show opening. These include:
However, discussions have been ongoing since the letter was written in May, and it is understood both sides are negotiating, with no terms yet fixed.
The letter, signed by SOLT negotiating committee chair Robert Noble, warns that theatres may not be able to reopen until next year, with some planning to reopen as late as the autumn 2021.
“Of course, we all hope that a vaccine or alternative practical solution is found more quickly, and this bleak picture is somehow reversed. At the present time, however, it seems all too likely that the pathway back to normality will be much longer and slower than many of us envisaged just a few weeks ago,” he writes.
He adds there will be a “critical need and mutual obligation to adopt difficult measures and continue to make sacrifices”.
“In this regard, SOLT and the MU need to agree a number of temporary variations to the agreement that will give shows the best chance of reopening as soon as is practicable, and to give them a period to rebuild and re-establish rewarding, sustainable and secure engagement, not only for musicians but for all of us involved,” he continues.
Noble claims that, to get the shows up and running again, all elements of the industry will need “to work with variations as to how we work to get the industry back to where it used to be” and sacrifices will be needed to “protect jobs within the sector”.
Noble describes the proposed variations as the “minimum measures that are required” to “find a way through the terrible situation we all find ourselves in”, but writes that they would only apply to situations affected by Covid-19.
He says all elements of the industry will be required to work with “variations” to get the industry “back to where it used to be and for all of us to make sacrifices simply to protect jobs in the sector’. However, he admits he has “immense sympathy” with musicians and says the proposals will help protect members in the long term.
SOLT confirmed the letter had been sent and said both SOLT and the MU were “looking at various scenarios for reopening and the implications in terms of revenue and costs for those respective scenarios”.
“Both SOLT and the MU fully appreciate the very difficult position that all parties are in, and, together with all the other stakeholders, are keen to get back to work as soon as they can, in a way that is financially viable for all concerned,” a spokeswoman said.
MU deputy general secretary Naomi Pohl said the MU, SOLT and UK Theatre were working “in collaboration to try to get the sector back on its feet as soon as possible, with the safety of musicians in mind as well as the economics for all concerned”.
“Opening with partial capacity will obviously be extremely difficult. SOLT and UK Theatre are doing an excellent job of highlighting the issues to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Our members also have serious economic issues, with many of them falling through the gaps of government support. 77% of theatre musicians will be in hardship by September. They need to get back to earning a living as soon as it’s economically viable and safe to do so,” she said.