This week, leading theatre critic Mark Shenton tweeted “Have decided to no longer review shows for which actors are not paid, unless they’re in a collaborative, non-hierarchical venture. The only way to stop the exploitation of actors by directors & producers is to only cover those that commit to paying properly (Equity agreement).”
This has caused much debate online and I’ve tried not to wade in on it all. Mark raises a valid issue with many theatre actors in off-west-end productions being paid well under the minimum wage and many times nothing at all. It is brave to say he will no longer review any shows where cast and crew aren’t paid properly. This statement could be the start of change for how fringe theatre is produced (one way or the other) but in the mean time, surely there are less drastic things that can be done.
Actors who agree to low paid/unpaid work are either doing it simply because they love performing and want continue doing this alongside their other work that pays the bills, or they do it because they want to raise their profiles, be seen by agents, get credits on their CV’s and have reviews of them written by critics that can be used to build a portfolio of work.
So whilst some critics are trying to change the world (and good luck to them, it’s about time someone stood up and tried) I’ve been thinking there must be more that can be done in the short term.
Perhaps producers could offer each performer a certain number of free tickets if they want to invite agents/casting directors to see them perform. Or perhaps producers could have industry performance nights where these people are invited to scout the talent on stage.
And what’s wrong with putting boards up in the theatre foyer with headshots of each actor with their name and social media profiles on, so that audiences can show their support for actors whose performances they have enjoyed. Why not even make an announcement at the beginning of each show saying it isn’t possible to pay everyone fairly for this production and so if you enjoy the show please tell all your friends and follow the performers you liked on social media.
Maybe even performances could be filmed and made available to the cast/crew to help create show reels or to help them get themselves seen by people who can ultimately help them further their career. I know some of these things are already done in some theatres but perhaps there is more than can be done to help actors get to where they want to be.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and point blank refusing to review any shows where cast/crew aren’t paid properly isn’t going to make Producers find extra money in their budgets to pay people more but there are many things a producer could and should be doing to pay it back to the actors in other ways.
Maybe that’s worth some thought?