TMA offers backstage a voice

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Which of the following is not what the letters TMA stand for? a) Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association? b) Traffic Management Act? c) Theatre Managers’ Association?

The answer is c). The first two are correct, the third should be the Theatrical Management Association. But don’t feel bad if you got it wrong – it is a mistake that even some of its members have been known to make. And don’t bother to remember it because the association announced a couple of weeks ago in The Stage that, from January, it will become UK Theatre.

If you are a backstage worker, why should you be interested? You have had no dealings with the TMA and you cannot join. You probably think that they talk about box office figures, funding agreements and marketing strategies. They have never been seen on a fit-up and are slightly bemused as to why you need to go home and sleep between two shows and a get-out on Saturday and the next day’s get-in.

You might be right but, unless you are working in the West End or the small scale, the conditions under which you work will almost certainly owe something to the TMA whether your employer is a member or not. TMA collective agreements with BECTU and Equity set the minimum levels of pay and conditions which serve as a benchmark even for those who do not, or are not obliged to, abide by them.

[pullquote]If you have ambitions to get a job where you occasionally need to wear a tie and get weekends off,  rubbing shoulders with these guys and having access to training in tie-wearing and weekend awareness is a good first step.[/pullquote]

Not much you can do about any of that. The unions are representing you and it is up to them to get the best deal they can. But how can they (or you) be sure that the people they are negotiating with know what the real issues are? It is true that BECTU and the TMA were jointly responsible for the successful code of conduct on get-ins and get-outs, but that is the exception that proves the rule.

But now is your chance because it is not just the name that is about to change. Details are yet to be finalised but the aim is to expand the membership of the organisation. No doubt there are a number of reasons that have nothing to do with helping you but there may be a chance to get the backstage voice more clearly heard.

It is likely to mean that there will be a chance for anyone working in the theatre to become a member. There will also be additional membership places for companies in addition to their main representative. Suppliers will also be allowed to join.

You still don’t know why this might be of interest to you? Well if you have ambitions to get a job where you occasionally need to wear a tie and get weekends off, then rubbing shoulders with these guys and having access to training in tie-wearing and weekend awareness could be a good first step.

If you are with a company and are a head of department or above – get yourself on the additional members list. That way not all the places will be taken up by the marketing department and the management won’t be able to mislead you about what goes on at TMA (sorry – UK Theatre) meetings. And you will be able to make sure that the interests of you and your technical colleagues have a direct voice in the new organisation.

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