An agreement has been reached between Equity and the Society of London Theatre to maintain contracts for West End actors and stage management following the coronavirus crisis.
A joint statement from SOLT and Equity confirmed the two parties had agreed a “route map” for the commercial West End, which has been dark for almost a month amid the Covid-19 outbreak, as they pledged their commitment to “ensuring actors and performers still have a job once theatres reopen”.
Under the plans, casts and stage management teams currently under contract will have those contracts honoured once the current shutdown is over and theatres reopen.
Prior to then, actors and stage management will be expected to access the government’s self-employed income support scheme where applicable, however individual producers may also provide additional support. The details of these arrangements have not been revealed and remain confidential.
SOLT and Equity said the government’s self-employed support would offer “financial protection for many actors and creatives”, but that they would be lobbying for those who the scheme does not support, which includes graduates and those whose work combines freelance and PAYE engagements.
“There is currently no clear indication from government when theatres will be allowed to reopen, but it is clear that some productions will need longer than others to regain their foothold. Producers are therefore contingency planning for their individual shows,” the statement added.
In the joint statement, SOLT and Equity said this was “the best possible framework” to ensure the long-term security of the West End and covered all shows, “from long-running musicals to plays with limited runs, productions yet to open and shows still in rehearsal when the shutdown began”.
At present, all West End performances are cancelled until at least May 31.
Hilary Hadley, Equity’s head of live performance, said: “It is only by our closely working together that we have managed to develop this agreement, which provides a route map for our West End producers, performers and stage management. It is our joint hope that this new agreement will see the West End theatre industry through this bleakest period and enable the smooth resumption of the rehearsals and performances which were so abruptly stopped by Covid-19.”
SOLT chief executive Julian Bird added: “Equity and ourselves have worked tirelessly since the shutdown to protect jobs and address the needs of our West End workforce during this crisis. We all need to work together to ensure that we can get through this as an industry, and are ready to welcome audiences back into our theatres as soon as possible.”
Theatres across the UK have been shut since March 16, with West End management taking part in an optional holding agreement covering the period to April 13. This meant that performers and stage management working on West End shows would be potentially entitled to two and a half weeks of their applicable minimum salary, spread over the four-weeks period.
This covers up to May 31, and entitles individuals whose contracts had or would have started during this period to a minimum payment that is equivalent to three weeks at 80% of minimum pay. From June until April next year, the agreement states that no payment will be due if four weeks’ notice is given.
Meanwhile, fellow union BECTU, which represents backstage and front-of-house staff, has also reached an agreement with SOLT and UK Theatre over the government’s job retention scheme,encouraging employers to use the programme to maximum effect and ensure that workers continue to be paid despite the closures.