Outside of our industry, the notion of working for free is a baffling one. Ok, people intern at large banking corporations and city jobs, students work for a few quid an hour to gain experience whilst training but when an audience sees a cast of 25 on the fringe (of all different ages and variations of experience) and finds out they have been working unpaid for six weeks, they are usually as stunned as an audience catching a glimpse of Ruthie Henshall’s bare breast in Marguerite.
The reason I bring this up is not to bitch and moan about unpaid work or even to put producers straight on the scam of advertising a a show as ‘profit share’ with no profit TO share – quite the contrary.
To me, the fringe is a place for new talent, whether it be actors, dancers, choreographers or new producers. People looking to build up some experience, acquire credits or simply learn their trade can do so in a professional yet scaled down and experimental environment.
As well as those new to the industry, there are the experienced people looking to fly the nest. Performers who have not yet proved their worth as a leading man or lady can play roles that they may not other wise be cast in on a West End stage. Directors such as Michael Strassen can build a portfolio of experimental musical theatre work and producers jumping ship from large companies such as Playful and Kenwright can set up small productions on a shoe string and show their worth as producers in their own right.
Ok, so no one is being paid – that’s not ideal. The words profit share are bandied
around when producers should just be honest and say, “Look, it’s for free…” But the real problem is the rapidly growing group of haters, the people kicking up a stink about how unfair it is that producers can expect people to work for nothing. It’s funny how most of these people have never done a profit share production. The fact is, no one is making people work for free. Everyone knows the deal before they go to the casting and most people are hugely excited about the prospect.
Now I’m not a mug, and I know there are people out there looking to take advantage. A show sells out for six weeks at 15 quid a ticket, the set was made from old egg cartons… and apparently there was no profit. Strange. However, more and more pressure is being put in these producers to use an ‘open book’ policy.
Show your actors the accounts, the tickets sales and production costs and how much profit or loss was made. Show willing, show them you tried and failed and they’ll be happy. Well, not happy but content and for an actor that’s really something. Show them you tried and succeeded and that every actor is taking home £150, and they’ll be ecstatic! Do you know how many gin and tonics that can buy?
People demanding that all work be rewarded with minimum wage is unproductive. Forcing theatres such as The Union and the Gatehouse to pay wages will force them out of business, and we rely on these inventive, groundbreaking theatres to keep our industry alive and exciting. Actors need it to flex their wings and try new skills, directors need it to work with new people and give life to old shows, to revive lost pieces of theatre and show our audiences something different to Mamma Mia! and Les Mis.
Ok, so not all fringe productions are quite….ready. There have been some horrendous car crashes, but that happens in the West End on a regular basis. The Kings Head Theatre in Islington are leading the way in Equity Fringe pay schemes, paying something like £30 per six hour rehearsal (correct me if I’m wrong), which is a great compromise by Equity but still highly unaffordable for many fringe venues.
As I see it, have someone from Equity keeping an eye, encourage open book policies, bring simple contracts into place so actors have some rights, but if we make working for free illegal on the fringe then fringe is dead.
And the day we have a surrey without a fringe on top will be a sad, sad day for our beloved industry.
RA XBLOG: Resting Actress - Fringe benefits,