Frances Rifkin, 27 January 2013

Convened by Frances Rifkin and Pat Ashe

Contact for Frances: [email protected]

Present: Leah, Mary, Ed, Pat and 2 others.

First question was: I wonder if we, as performance artists, are we too far outside the

scope of unions, do we sort our own organisations or do we talk to them?


I would never talk to Equity - I'm not an actor, I don't know the intricacies. But what to

do about problems if venues don't pay you, there problems with producers. Young

people starting out don't know these things.

Good point: I'm a writer, I like to be paid but I can't see how. The organisations asking

me to produce stuff may have no money at all. Why not? For writers? Who do I go to?

Writers' Guild is not a Union. I don't qualify for Equity or BECTU.

Our huge sector is not covered by existing unions. We need a support network.

Equity works very well. For a company aiming to work ethically, on contract, paying

minimums etc, they are very good for actors and managers. The grievance and

dismissal processes are clarified, assisted and helped by them: an ethical outcome for

disputes is achieved. A healthy process.

I agree with unions: I'm a producer and Equity is a good intermediary for sticky issues.

It's easy to turn to them.

You need to know how to avoid problems. The sector needs the Equity framework:

there's too much underworld. We need to make sure that everyone in the sector can

be represented by Equity.

There are problems with Union organisation in the creative industries where stuff is

based on informal relationships.

Equity tends to put up barriers to those who need support most of all: young people

starting out.

Equity should understand how things have changed: We're not just one thing now,

we're theatre makers moving between design, writing, performance, digital etc

unpredictably. The world is changing: there are now really ethical companies who can't

pay though they want to.

Need a new definition of who can join Equity - people at the start of their career.

You can join if you can show evidence of paid work.

NUJ have a freelance branch but you seem to have to have an MA to get into it.

If Equity doesn't want to cover the whole industry, do we invite them in?

The thing about membership and contractual safeguards is that you don't value them

til something happens, goes wrong.We're not aware of the benefits. There's no profile

for them.

Yes: the public conversation about unions has tended to be about strikes, not support

for members.

You should have to opt out of unions!! I wish!

Bring back the closed shop!!

Equity is important when it names and shames producers: we need it in this sector.

No, that can be divisive.

U me bum bum train. I worked with hundreds of people - I worked with them and I was

proud to be equal: no one was paid! They got round Equity by not paying themselves.

That was disputed.

The audience pay - what is the point of this? They spend a lot of money on sets etc.

They've got to have enough money to make it work.

It has to be done for NO money: mates, sharing door money.

I would prefer to work with an Equity company, as a writer.

When there is money, it's tricky: there have to be contracts.

Writers are asked by big companies to do treatments, for nothing, and never hear


There are a lot of low pay no pay problems, addressed in Equity. Some companies got

away with it. If the unpaid work is part of a guerilla action in an unspecified venue,

that's one thing: the Barbican was not taken to task for the bum bum train situation -

they got away with it.

Workshop contracts: crucial now after the Savile revelations. Things could arise years

later. Support for workshop practitioners by a union crucial on safety and other issues.

The future of union strength rests in the relationship of younger practitioners/artists

with existing union practice: we need to connect the last 10 years experience with the

previous 30 years to make sense of for this generation.

We will meet up, hopefully form a satellite. Emails exchanged.

A passerby added: those of us who are in Equity, as members, are responsible for

what it does! We should hold to this and push for changes.


equity, theatre-makers, low pay no pay, practitioners, performance artists, producers,

Actors, bectu, contracts, ethical, actors, Producers, unions, BECTU, Equity