National Theatre productions will restrict 50% of their rehearsal periods to five days a week from next year, limiting the amount of time performers are called on Saturdays.
It is part of a trial with union Equity that paves the way for more family-friendly working across Theatreland.
Equity has agreed a year-long trial period with the theatre, which initially means no rehearsals can take place on Saturdays for half of any rehearsal period.
The move to a five-day rehearsal week is part of a growing trend within the sector for better work-life balance, and has been hailed by the union as “key to modern, respectful terms”.
The trial will be reviewed in June and December next year, with the aim of a permanent model being rolled out from 2021.
Equity organiser for the NT, Paul Fleming, said: “It’s a really positive step from the NT that we’ve started this trial – whether it be for caring responsibilities, a better work-life balance or even work outside of the room, securing a guarantee that most Saturdays will not be worked is key to modern, respectful terms.”
Fleming said that the NT currently cannot call Sunday rehearsals, but can have rehearsals on Saturdays.
He described the trial as “essentially a 20% reduction in the working week” and said: “Most workers in the economy work a five-day week… but our members are still working six. In the performance period there is an economic imperative to do so and we are not looking to change that. But in the rehearsal period there is not.”
He said there had been a period when members tended to work five-day weeks, even though they could work six.
“But we have found over time the culture has changed and producers have sought to use that sixth day more and more, so it’s a big change to prohibit it,” he added.
He said limiting it to 50% of rehearsal periods allowed the NT to call rehearsals during tech weeks, and claimed there needed to be a “degree of flexibility in the system” to allow people to work around other commitments they may have.
“We would like to move to make it more but we would never want to move to 100% as we want directors to have the flexibility to plan schedules around other people’s responsibilities as well,” he said.
Fleming added that the union would be looking to work with other organisations on a “case by case” basis, to ensure working-week models can be made to accommodate each venue’s needs.
NT head of casting Alastair Coomer said the trial would help the organisation to understand “how to manage the competing demands of our artists and staff”.
“The NT is committed to ensuring everyone can work at our national theatre, and that can only happen if our terms and conditions respect a quality work-life balance for artists,” he said.
He added that the trial would help it create a “model for a modern working week”.
The trial’s review will take into account the experience of performers, stage management and creative team members.
It has been described as a “terrific step towards embedding more sustainable working practices” by campaign group Parents and Carers in Performing Arts.
Co-founders Cassie Raine and Anna Ehnold-Danailov said: “A five-day rehearsal week sends a strong message about the value of work-life balance and is of huge benefit not just for the parent and carer workforce, but for all.”