Producers of the touring production of Thriller Live have been accused by dancers of offering pay that in some cases falls below the national minimum wage.
Thriller Live has run in the West End since 2009, while simultaneously touring the UK and internationally. Dancers claim that low pay has been an issue on the touring production of the Michael Jackson musical for many years, but it has only come to light now after being raised on social media by campaign group Dancers Network, which promotes the rights of commercial dancers within the UK.
They claim that dancers have gone through the audition process for the tour only to then be offered rates lower than the Equity minimum, which is what they had expected to be paid.
One dancer, who wished to remain anonymous, said they turned down the contract after being offered just £50 per rehearsal and £55 per show.
For a standard eight-hour rehearsal day, this works out at £6.25 per hour, which is below the national minimum wage of £7.70 per hour for those over 21.
The dancer branded the offer as “disgracefully low” and said it would have “belittled their talent”.
They added: “How can you have a West End show that is Equity minimum, but your tour isn’t? It doesn’t seem to make sense.”
After Dancers Network raised the issue of low pay with producer Flying Music, the latter is then understood to have offered a slightly higher pay rate of £58 per rehearsal plus £7 holiday pay, and £60 per show plus £7.24 holiday pay. However, excluding the holiday pay, Dancers Network claims that this revised rehearsal fee still falls below national minimum wage.
The campaign group also claims that the rates fall £116.60 below the Equity weekly minimum, which for the six-month tour across 18 venues would equate to a total of £3,547.55 lower than the Equity minimum.
Another dancer, who was offered the adjusted rates, said they would have been “out of pocket” for working on the tour, adding that the offer was “demoralising”.
A third performer, who worked on the tour for around six months in 2011, said the wages at the time were around £200 a week.
They told The Stage: “Obviously, because it was my first job I thought that was acceptable, but when I came into the West End I realised how drastic the weekly wage was when I was on tour.”
The performer claimed that while touring internationally, they could “barely eat” in some cities.
“It’s just ridiculous, and they’ve been allowed to get away with it for more than 10 years,” they added.
Dancers Network said in a statement: “We are trying to raise awareness of the fact that the fee is genuinely low and want the talent to get compensated fairly.
“Many tours pay this poorly and we hope by shedding some light on this we can encourage a positive outcome.”
Hilary Hadley, head of Equity’s Live Performance Department, said: “We are aware that some dancers have concerns about the terms and conditions offered for the Thriller Live tour.
“While the production of Thriller [is] on a standard Equity contract in the West End, this is not the case for the touring production and a non-Equity contract has been offered to dancers.
“Equity has not been party to the discussions between Dancers Network and the producers, but we would obviously support any efforts made by dancers and their agents to ensure that the terms offered meet our minimum standards.”
A spokesman for producer Flying Music said: “We are actively investigating and several facts as outlined to us by The Stage are incorrect. We will respond in due course.”