Producers of touring shows will have the option to designate up to a third of a contract as unpaid ‘weeks out’, under which performers and stage managers will be able to accept other work, as part of a new agreement created especially to navigate the pandemic.
The ‘weeks out’ clause is one of a number of variations being made to UK Theatre’s commercial agreement with Equity, which covers tours and other productions outside of the West End. Other changes include extending the definition of force majeure, to protect producers against cancellations.
In a joint statement the two parties said the variations recognise the additional difficulties of dealing with regional responses to Covid-19 with each venue “being affected in multiple different ways as a result of venue, government or local restrictions”.
It added: “This makes planning and producing a consistent tour over a number of guaranteed weeks extraordinarily difficult.”
Without the agreement they warn productions will "cease indefinitely until the country is entirely clear of the current crisis”.
The revised terms include:
• Fixing pay at 2019/20 rates until April 2022.
• Clauses allowing managers to vary commencement dates of tours, including postponing a show’s start date by no more than 25% of the total contract length.
• Designating up to one third of the total number of weeks as ‘weeks out’, meaning four months for a year-long contract could be unpaid if declared from the start.
• New cancellation policies, including no pay due where more than four weeks’ notice is given for cancelling prior to opening night.
• Specific clauses around force majeure, where performers will not be entitled to pay for performances affected.
• Allowing a third performance to be added to an 8, 9 or 10-show week, provided break provisions are observed.
Under the ‘weeks out’ clause, performers will not be paid if the weeks were declared at the point of contract. Producers can designate up to a sixth of a contract as unpaid weeks out once contracts are signed, provided a minimum of four weeks’ notice is given. During weeks out, the artist may take other paid work and does not have to remain available to the manager.
Equity explained the definition of force majeure has been extended to protect producers who decide a tour is no longer viable. The agreement states that force majeure may include any performances cancelled after the date of the artist’s contract following a reduction in seating capacity by order of government, local authority or theatre management for Covid-19 reasons.
“Force Majeure may be applied at any time to the entire remainder of a contract where more than 20% of scheduled performances have been cancelled under force majeure”, it adds.
In a joint statement, UK Theatre and Equity said their main objective is to ensure artists continue to be contracted and that “the current situation necessitates that this must be done on terms that balance some of the risks of production between manager and artists”.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre chief executive William Village led the negotiations on behalf of UK Theatre and said both parties were “committed to continue working together to make touring and other commercial theatre outside the West End a possibility again”.
Hilary Hadley, head of live performance at Equity, said the revised agreement allowed for the “chance of safely returning to work at the earliest possible time”.
The terms will return to the standard Commercial Theatre Agreement once a vaccine or other permanent solution is found that allows the sector to operate normally.