A few days ago I drafted a blog about the joy and sorrow that the fringe has brought us this year in terms of theatrical delights and actor’s livelihoods driven woe. It read a little something like this:


This year I have spent a lot of time visiting and loving fringe theatre. Indeed, this year was my first (can you believe it?) trip up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it’s safe to say I fell head over heels in love with the whole thing. Fringe theatre offers unparalleled opportunities in creativity to actors and creatives alike – taking risks that mainstream theatre entrepreneurs wouldn’t dream of – resulting in exciting and innovative productions that have the industry raving and flocking in attendance. The questionable conditions that its creators work in inevitably become part of the charm – especially when up in Scotland, on the Mile, in the rain, still going strong – but they are equally the reason that the fringe ends up under the firing squad. Whilst watching the show it’s hard to forget that the actors are being paid a pittance (if anything) and have probably come from an 8 hour shift just so they can pay their rent and buy the occasional value sandwich. Consequently, it’s also hard to escape the accusations of acting increasingly becoming a career solely for the middle/upper classes because it’s boiling down to those who can afford to a) train and b) sustain a life on predominantly no income!

I’ll be honest and say that I feel like I’m on a see-saw of opinions – never settling on what I think is the right option. On one hand, I am an actor and of course I should be paid to do what I do. It’s not a hobby, it’s a profession and all that jazz. But then I consider the flip side suggesting that the fringe simply wouldn’t exist if everyone was paid (the investment could never be matched and therefore wouldn’t go ahead in the first place). The latter has been brought to light recently with the director of a “profit-share” fringe show winning an appeal against his actors demanding minimum wage for the work they had done. The result was applauded with “sense” prevailing and producing for the fringe remaining financially viable.

Read the full article in The Stage HERE.

Whilst I believe that actors should be (or should I say are) entitled to at least minimum wage such an ask would likely prevent producers from producing and then we would be robbed of the exemplary work that we do have on offer on the fringe scene. It’s of a high standard, it’s highly regarded and some of theatre’s biggest and brightest talents come to use it as a creative outlet – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And I know I am not alone when I say that my favourite works of 2014 were to be found on the fringe. In The Heights and Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse created storms of inspired audiences, Carousel at the Arcola had broadsheet critics bowing down, Drunk at the Bridewell brought together dance and theatre audiences and left them craving Happy Hour, Sweeney Todd (both in Twickenham and currently Tooting Arts Club) had us blood-thirsty for more, the Howard Goodall season at the Union (which is still running with ‘Girlfriends’) had us swooning at the scores….I could go on and on (you know I could). If an enforced minimum wage had prevented the producers from bringing us these pieces just think how deprived we would have been.

The same can be said of Edinburgh – “don’t go to Edinburgh if you want to make money”. However, that doesn’t stop thousands of people (this year 3,193 shows ran) being mad, making art, sharing it and having a bloody good time in the process. And it’s no wonder – the whole experience is intoxicating. (If you haven’t been, it’s truly impossible to try and imagine what kind of effect being surrounded by all that creativity will have on you. There’s nothing like it. You simply must go. But anyway, back on topic.) In Edinburgh, I was working with an American and he said that with their union standards, nothing of the sort could ever happen in the USA. Isn’t that such a sad thought? With all that talent that country harbours they don’t and can’t have the same creative playground. I then started noticing the numerous American companies present at the festival. People had come to our little island in order to put on a show and revel in the unique collaboration of actor and audience that we have on the fringe (you know, when you could be the only person in the audience but the company still give you their life and soul at 11 in the morning). So here I am torn again between having the strength of a union (that I am sure many of us crave) or having the chance to frolick around Scotland for a month and be a deliriously happy thesp. I’m pretty sure I favour the latter.

2014’s fringe offerings have truly been a theatrical treat, providing solace from the increasingly treacherous West End. I did three shows on the fringe this year – two in London and one in Edinburgh – and I’d do them again in a heartbeat. That’s the problem with us actors, we do it because we love it. Therefore we agree to things no normal (sane?) person would and accept a nomadic lifestyle (as my physio put it so nicely) all for the love of the craft. I truly feel caught between a rock and a hard place – where the rock is the right to earn a living in this profession and the hard place is the life rich with inspiring art. After all, the earth without art is just ‘eh’.


So that was the draft (NB: DRAFT).

If it wasn’t for my impending move to the Midlands yesterday I would have posted this on the fence piece without knowledge of how the fringe could move forward to exclusively spreading joy (no equity woe). Then, as if by some miracle, the heavens above answered me in the form of Paul Taylor-Mills & the Morphic Graffiti team Stewart Charlesworth and Luke Fredericks.  On Friday it was announced that the team will be bringing us a revival of ‘Bat Boy’ to the aforementioned gem of a fringe venue, The Southwark Playhouse in January 2015. Great news right!? But the ever greater news is that they have agreed with equity to ensure that everyone on the production will receive at least the National Minimum Wage. WOOOHOOO. 

Emmanuel de Lange of Equity said: Equity members want to see a fairer fringe and I am commited to tackling the endemic culture of low pay and no pay in theatre, but we often hear management claim it’s just not possible to pay. This agreement shows that we can work together so professional performers are treated ethically, even when they’re starting out their careers.

Paul Taylor-Mills said: We’re committed to doing everything we can to prove better rates of pay for our actors and at such our break even point for Bat Boy is terrifyingly high. This is a risk we are prepared to take if it means we are moving in the right directions to try and make the fringe a model that can work for everyone. It isn’t a battle; this is a dialogue and requires openness, humility and a greater understanding from both actors and producers.

I don’t think show announcements come much better than that. But you’ve heard the man, the break even is high so make sure you book (…ASAP….CLICK HERE) to show prospective producers that it can be done and that they should follow suit. Don’t be like the hundreds who flocked to see Dogfight in the final week and were turned away disappointed when they could have booked without trouble in the weeks prior. Guarantee yourself a seat to say “I was there when”!

We’re having art created for us AND people are being paid to do it. That’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year rolled into one and it’s only November. If I thought fringe was on top this year, I can’t wait for 2015.

Please let me know your thoughts on any of the above. Have you ever boycotted fringe on principal? Do you think we’ll be able to move forward in this way? Any other fringe joys you’d like to highlight? It’s truly something I could talk about all day so please join in the discussion.

In the meantime, happy fringe working/attending!

Final walk down the Mile on the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Final walk down the Mile of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

 

“If we prove that they’re wrong, they’ll come round before long and we’ll all sing a song full of comfort and joy!”

– Rebecca Ridout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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