What is the point of a Theatre Union?

 Convener(s): Tony Simpson

Participants: Mark Price, Caterina Loriggio, Lucy Taylor, Rob Swain, Jennie Scott, Sophie Jump, Rosaleigh Nickerson, Ben Neale, Vicki Willing, Rikki Tarascas 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

  • For street artists and circus performers it is normally hard to find any insurance. Promoters and producers wont employ you without insurance. Equity now have a scheme where all practitioners in this field are covered under the public liability of Equity.
  • Pros include ownership of your name; cheaper theatre tkts in some places and various other discounts elsewhere; the actors job website – but it contains minimal info regarding actual paid acting work.
  • Why do people/creatives roll their eyes at the mention of the name ‘Equity’?
  • Answer….because they take our money. This is okay if you’re working – but what if you’re not?
  • Pros – Equity’s legal department – Equity is therefore in essence INSURANCE! Paid up members get £5m worth of cover. The theatre equivalent of BUPA. Thus when things go wrong, Equity have one of the best legal departments.
  • MINIMUMS – A dirty word! Common misconception of what Equity is there to do. Answer – Equity are there to negotiate minimums – NOT to negotiate salary scales. Equity set a lower limit guideline (ie for graduates)
  • Therefore the question is should there be a salary structure based on experience and training? Answer: No. Equity puts minimums in place for all to protect the bottom end.
  • Old days…the Equity Card enabled actors to be taken seriously/get auditions/maybe get into Rep. Since the deregulation of the unions Equity is open for anyone to join – therefore the membership is no longer an exclusive shut-door Union. Anyone can join.
  • Economics v’s Equity minimums doesn’t work. Eg If a producer applies for ACE funding and the funding doesn’t meet the projected costs, the producer cannot pay Equity minimums. Why is this the case? What can be done about it?
  • Whole structure of the industry based around a closed shop. Too many drama schools/acting students being sold a false future. A third of Equity members out of work 20 yrs ago – now the figures of unemployment has increased, yet more are being trained to do the work!
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  • Not enough jobs.
  • Vicious circle – the government statistics show that the theatre is a growing industry…so government puts more funding into new courses…spew out more students…for jobs that don’t exist.
  • Less and less sustainable for people to earn an income from being an actor. Lower and lower rates.
  • Re-iterated the value of Equity as an Insurance Company
  • How much leverage does Equity put on the Treasurer? Eg if funding is cut from a regional theatre venue, the AD would essentially need to employ fewer actors in order to continue to pay Equity minimums. Shouldn’t there be another way? At least Equity have access to the relevant ministers in government to lobby.
  • Successful directors/actors/designers drop Equity membership when they begin to get very successful. The deals are done through the agents, and so Equity lose the clout and support of ‘famous’ names.
  • Equity – there is a point to Equity simply being a trade union that one can belong to. That is itself a point. Yet it has a collective body of only 37,000 people – this does not make it a powerful enough lobby
  • How does Equity attract new people?
  • Answer – should it just offer itself as legal dept?
  • Answer – go for the jugular of drama school students and graduates of all arts-related courses.
  • Answer – Offer cut-price membership for the first year (as it does)
  • Therefore perhaps those that work straight away will carry on paying – those that don’t will get their renewal subscription and think ‘Bah humbug, what have Equity ever done for me?’…and then they’ll take a year out.



Equity = Insurance (First and Foremost)

Name protection

Good to be a part of a Trade Union that can protect you