The Stage



It seems obvious that a publication that claims to offer independent critical opinion on a production can’t also serve as that show’s producer. But this is just what Time Out is doing, writes Alistair Smith

Penny Arcade with the cats of Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!

How would you feel if you discovered that an independent theatre critic was also an investor in a show that they had awarded five stars?

How would you feel as an audience member who had bought tickets for the show on the basis of what you believed was a reviewer’s impartial and honestly held opinion? How would you feel as a performer or director of a different production who had been reviewed by said critic but didn’t have the good fortune to also have him as an investor?

Or let’s try this: what would you think if you discovered that The Stage had been acting as a producer or co-producer of some of the shows that it is reviewing — apparently independently — within these very pages?

I suspect you, as a theatregoer or theatre professional would be angry. And rightly so. It is a clear conflict of interests.

Now, The Stage has not been acting as a theatre producer. Nor — as far as I’m aware — have any of the members of the Critics’ Circle been reviewing shows in which they have a financial stake.

Clearly, you can’t have someone reviewing a production — or publishing a review of a production — in which they have such a clear vested interest. It would be completely unethical.

The foundation of all forms of criticism or consumer advice is the idea that the advice is independent: that the person or publication offering you their opinion on a particular product does not have a vested interest in selling you that product. And while newspapers and magazines — including The Stage — have long promoted commercial events strands, which they advertise, the coverage is not positioned to ticket-buying readers as the impartial critical opinion of an independent reviewer.

Consumer magazine Which? would have its own questions to answer if it were discovered that the products that had been topping its in-house tests were being made by a manufacturing off-shoot of the magazine. Likewise, if it turned out that the Michelin Guide was investing in the restaurants to which it was awarding its coveted stars.

So, when I learned that Time Out — London’s leading listings and reviews magazine — had started acting as a producer of live entertainment, I had a few concerns as to what this might mean for its critical coverage.

Embed the community and embrace outreach

Theatres must stop ghettoising outreach initiatives and instead make engaging audiences central to everything they do, writes director Thomas Hescott

A member of the board for a small scale touring company recently asked me how we could convince the public that the arts were good for the economy, and good for communities.

Most of the industry knows, and frequently quotes the social and economic success of theatre, and the arts in general, and yet this message rarely seems to get heard. Why is that? The short answer is we shouldn’t have to convince anyone. If our work were good enough, there should be no need to tell people — they’d already know.

Over the past decade, the work of education departments, creative learning departments, audience engagement officers, and a whole myriad of similarly titled projects has exploded. Massive education partnerships have dominated the landscape of subsidised theatres. Yet in May, research published by Arts Council England revealed that public support for government-funded arts has fallen from 52% to 44%.

After years spent engaging with the challenge of opening the arts up to a wider audience, it seems that as an industry we are failing to communicate a message that, far from being a disposable luxury that should be axed when times are tough, the arts play a vital role in the social and economic well-being of all communities.

So what’s gone wrong? If we’ve spent so much time and money engaging our communities with participatory projects, and education initiatives why do people still think of the arts as unnecessary - part of the problem not part of the solution?

Memories of Philip Madoc

It was with great sadness that we must report the death of Philip Madoc, who passed away this morning at the age of 77.

People who worked with, or just enjoyed watching, Madoc during his varied and extensive career are sharing their thoughts on Twitter. We’ll catalogue some of the best below.

Do you have a memory you’d like to share? Add it to the comments below, or tweet it with the hashtag #philipmadoc or #RIPphilipmadoc.

Is acting as gay-friendly as we think?

In the week that Equity publishes the findings of its survey asking performers whether it safe to be ‘out’ as an actor, two performers share their experience of being openly gay in the industry.

Sophie Ward:

In 1994, I was in a TV series called A Village Affair, based on a Joanna Trollope book about a married woman with children who falls in love with a woman. When I did the filming for it, I was going through the same thing in my own life. But at that time it didn’t seem right to say that I was struggling with the same problem myself.

It was a raw time, and I was trying to work out who I was, how I was going to handle it, and how I was going to look after and protect my family. I felt that saying anything would have given my situation more publicity, and I wanted it to be less public when I did finally come out.

Two years later, in 1996, my partner and I decided we were going to do a quiet piece in a paper about our relationship, but the paper pipped us to the post and it became a much bigger story than I wanted it to be. Events overtook us, as they say. I don’t think it would be shocking today, but people are always interested and that will never go away. People have a prurient interest in other people’s sex lives.

Once I had come out, I didn’t notice a change in how people behaved towards me on a one-to-one level. It was quiet with work, but then it had been a big story. To be honest, I could not say whether or not it affects how people employ me. Maybe one day the employers will say, ‘Well, actually in the 1990s, we did make our decisions based on that’ but as an actor you are in such a precarious position anyway - careers come and go, work comes in and sometimes it doesn’t - that you never can tell what the decision-making process is. I have never found myself offered certain roles because of my sexuality, though.

I don’t think coming out in our industry is an issue anymore. Yes, there is homophobia, as there is in any industry. People who worry the most would be those up for leading male or female parts, where the audience is wanting to identify with and follow the story of those people.

For younger people, however, I would say they are growing up in an industry that has really changed, I believe. I am positive about it, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are individual cases where people have experienced prejudice in casting. But if I was starting out today, I think I would be comfortable about being out right from the start.

I know some people have felt strongly that coming out affected their careers negatively and would not advise people to do it, but your life has to come first. Whether or not you are comfortable with being out to friends and family is what you have to deal with, and everything else follows on from that.

People should follow their own instincts. It’s important that they don’t feel pressured and that they are true to themselves and do what is right for them.

Malcolm Sinclair:

I have never had to ‘come out’ in the industry. By the time I had gone to university, done a year of acting and then finished a year at drama school, all those sort of issues were in the past.

I don’t remember ever coming out, actually. I did seven years in rep, and people just seemed to gather it. I never had to tell my agent either. I have always felt extremely comfortable, but then I guess it depends on the type of acting you are doing. I was never the hot young lead who might have had a huge film or television career. Had I been whisked off to Hollywood then there might have been a problem and I don’t know what I would have decided then.

However, I have never felt that being gay has worked against me in the industry. Sometimes there have been roles which have gay sides to them, and I am put up for them, which might mean I’m on a list somewhere, I suppose, and that makes me laugh a bit. But generally I have played all sorts of parts - gay, straight, nice, horrible. I don’t think it has affected me.

I think, however, there may be a difference between theatre and television or film. In theatre there is no obvious ceiling that prevents the success of gay men and women, who thrive in all sorts of roles.

But for television or film, where actors are cast for a mass audience - especially in the US - things might be different. Most gay young actors today are completely out, but there can be an issue if they go to Hollywood for pilot season where they meet American agents and then different conversations are sometimes had.

I am involved with the International Federation of Actors, the FIA, and at our last conference we spoke about whether there should be a charter to protect the rights of gay people. The European countries questioned whether this was necessary, but in America it’s a hot issue, and all three acting unions there said it was a big deal for them. Young gay men and women are under pressure from producers and agents to keep a lid on it.

The finding in Equity’s own survey that just under half of all gay performers are not out to their own agent in the UK is worrying, but then work is scarce and, whether sexuality is a barrier or not, people may just err on the side of caution. They don’t want to test the water to see if it’s all right.

I think the great issue today is the nightmare problems facing gay teenagers in coping with vicious bullying in schools. But if they can get through that, and then college, and can find a job in the business then things have become much better.

My advice is that it does get better, and when you do come out you will be surprised by how many people say: “I knew that.” And in this business, when you come out, you will usually find yourself surrounded by people who are there to support you.

Shakespeare's doubters don't know much

As conspiracy theorists continue to claim William Shakespeare did not write his famous works — with a film on the subject released today — Professor Stanley Wells explains why we should all have faith in the man from Stratford-upon-Avon

I’m sorry to see two of the finest Shakespeare actors of our time, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, biting the hand and the fingers that have fed them for many years by leading a campaign to disprove Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays that have given them so many opportunities to display their genius.

Their support for Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, which opens in UK cinemas today and which portrays the greatest writer of all time as a drunken, illiterate buffoon, is only the most recent episode in this campaign.

Theatres trail behind at self-promotion

A few weeks ago, I went to the cinema. Before the film that I had paid to see started (Rise of the Planet of Apes, since you ask) and after I’d shelled out on some popcorn and a soft drink, I watched half a dozen adverts followed by half a dozen trailers for forthcoming features. Of the movies shown in those trailers, I have since already been back to the cinema to see one and intend to go and see one more in the near future, having learned about both for the first time from their trailers.

And I’m clearly not alone. A recent Mintel survey showed that a third of cinemagoers claim trailers (shown in cinemas or TV) are a big influence on choosing what film they watch, with a further half saying they have some influence. In other words, trailers are effective - to some degree - on four out of five cinemagoers. That is much more effective than reviews - whether on TV or in print - or print advertising. The only category that is more effective is word of mouth/recommendation from friends.

It strikes me that there’s a lot theatre can learn from cinema in this respect.

Who will succeed Michael Boyd at the RSC?

Stage columnist Richard Jordan writes: Michael Boyd leaves the Royal Shakespeare Company in a far more robust position than when he inherited it as artistic director nine years ago and has created big shoes to fill.

Boyd’s logical successor is the RSC’s current chief associate director Gregory Doran.

Responsible for some of the company’s most successful productions, Doran knows the company inside out, showing the ability to successfully marry the academic and populist together in his productions, which could be particularly valuable at this time of change.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011: Meet the Stage Awards winners

It’s been another exhausting three weeks at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Our core team of reviewers, Thom Dibdin, Lauren Paxman, Nick Awde, Natasha Tripney and Gerald Berkowitz — assisted by Alistair Smith, Nicholas Hamilton, Brian G Cooper, Mark Shenton, Sally Stott and Julian Hall — have reviewed just shy of 300 fringe shows, and awarded 42 of them the accolade of being a “Stage Must See”.

The fringe festival itself closed on Monday August 29, but for The Stage the climax of the fringe is the party in which the Stage Awards for Acting Excellence are announced.

There are four awards offered — Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Ensemble and Best Solo Show. This year’s ceremony was held on Sunday at Dance Base. Nick Awde, head of the Stage reviews team, hosted the awards, with the winners announced by the newspaper’s managing director Catherine Comerford.

Below, you can see clips from the presentation, including the winners’ acceptance speeches, judge Thom Dibdin giving some commentary on why the panel chose the winning performances, and interviews with the winners themselves.

British Council showcase comes to Edinburgh - and your iPhone

The British Council’s Edinburgh Showcase is a biennial platform for UK performers, designed to find opportunities for touring overseas and thereby open up new markets for the UK’s performing arts sector.

This year’s showcase will take place as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from August 22-27. But for those not attending the fringe, the Council is this year extending the showcase online with a new website, and into mobile environments with a free app for the iPhone.

There are 27 showcase artists, and the website contains video trailers for each (a selection is below), along with blogs and social media interaction.

“The iPhone app will work in two phases,” explains British Council spokesman Alex Bratt. “Initially it will provide a guide to the showcase, including specially commissioned content about the artists, as well as our Twitter feed [@Edshowcase].

“Phase two will use GPS tracking to follow the ES2011 artists as they tour internationally and allow the audience to feed their comments and reviews on the productions directly through the app.”

I read The Stage’s recent low pay/no pay issue with interest, writes Stuart Piper. As managing director of Cole Kitchenn Personal Management, my job is to protect the interests of the actors we represent, while as someone who has produced in theatre, I also know the realities of working to a budget.

Should an actor ever work for free? My answer is an unequivocal no, except if it is in aid of a worthwhile charity. The producers interviewed argue it would be impossible to pay full union rates in a small studio - but when producing in small studio spaces, I have been able to pay actors £400 per week at the New Players Theatre, £200 to £250 per week at the King’s Head and £300 to £350 per week at the Trafalgar Studios. Some have been plays, some have been musicals. So, when people are asked to perform on the fringe for nothing, for not even the cost of a travel card, I struggle to see the reasoning, other than that the producer hasn’t gone out to raise the required funds.

It’s true that it’s harder to pay at all when producing a large cast in a large musical - and I would therefore question whether or not large musicals are the best thing to produce on the fringe. Off-Broadway’s financial constraints have produced many pint-sized musicals and revues - London fringe producers should perhaps look to produce new British boutique musicals with two to six roles, where the actors can be paid.

Small cast shows can still get a transfer - Rent and Love Story are both shows without big chorus lines that made it to Broadway and West End from small theatres. Even on Bells Are Ringing, which did require a large ensemble, producer Jonathan Russell did a great job making sure he was able to pay everyone travel expenses, which actors on the fringe don’t often get.

Most of the debate seems to centre around no pay on the fringe, and work underneath national minimum wage. But I’ve also seen reports of actors complaining that their pay has steadily decreased in recent years, with many saying they are paid less than ten years ago.

My own experience doesn’t reflect this. Yes, I have had individual cases of pay being lower than it should. But across the board, I have not been experiencing actors’ overall earnings decreasing. Our agency experienced a 25% increase in turnover in our last end of year figures, which was our highest turnover in the history of our company, and we are set to better that in our next year. I think that’s because in this ever-changing industry, we look at their careers globally, and find many of our leading artists additional revenue streams to complement their TV, film or theatre contracts, be it from branding, endorsements, PAs, IP rights, digital and publishing. An agent’s job is no longer just to secure them an acting contract, now it is to market and exploit that opportunity to maximum effect.

Which is why I oversaw our company merge with Jonathan Shalit’s company ROAR Global, to become part of the ROAR Group - a group of entertainment companies. Now, when an actor reaches public recognition, we have a literary department to find them an autobiography deal, a music department to find them a record deal, and even a broadcast department to find them non-scripted television work that might be outside of our acting agency’s remit.

And for actors without public recognition, it is the agent’s job to build and sustain a successful career with the client. If there is a job with a financial offer they’re not happy with - they should simply turn it down, or realise the job is nevertheless worthwhile for them and accept it gladly.

While unions set minimum rates, agents are there to negotiate. If you’re an actor, and your agent tells you there’s no negotiation when you think there could be, change agents. And if you are starting out in your career and unavoidably working on Equity minimum payments, then look at the bigger picture and know that if you believe in your talent, your career will progress to the point where you are earning far more than the average national salary, and at least you have that possibility, whereas many working in the public sector - for instance - never even have that potential.

Take a leaf from the greens

The arts sector needs to follow the example of the environmental lobby and get to grips with economics if it is to win the argument for public funding, argues NESTA’s Hasan Bakhshi

If there is one thing we can all agree on it is the need for more sophisticated public funding decisions for culture — ones that are better understood by cultural institutions and the public. This demands a much more rigorous attempt to value culture than has been the case to date.

Economic impact is not the same as value. Economic impact refers to the measurement of the employment, output and productivity consequences of cultural activities. Properly executed, economic impact studies are essential for economic development agencies that see culture as an instrument of economic development. Valuation should be important both to cultural institutions which want to evaluate their performance against their core missions, and to funders who want to assess their return on “investment”.

Perversely, though, all the economic studies one sees in the cultural sphere tend to be of the economic impact variety. Next to none look at valuation, using the empirical tools endorsed by the Treasury’s Green Book — the government’s official guide to cost-benefit analysis — that public economists have deployed so successfully in other controversial areas like the environment and health.

Low pay/no pay: The Old Vic's John Richardson

Continuing our Low pay/no pay week, which today focuses on internships, the Old Vic’s John Richardson defends the theatre’s unpaid positions

The issue of low pay, or indeed no pay, is an incredibly important one. We applaud The Stage for shining a light on the practice of internships in the theatre world and across the board of the creative industries. Martin Bright’s piece is one side of the debate surrounding this issue. We felt it was important to give our perspective.

We are very proud of our internship programme at the Old Vic. We believe that our scheme provides a rewarding opportunity for volunteers from all walks of life to gain hands-on experience in a theatre environment. Our internships contribute to participants’ understanding of the theatre industry, and provide the opportunity to meet creatively-minded peers, thus also benefiting the wider arts community.

Low pay/no pay week: Martin Bright

On the final day of our low pay/no pay week, we look at unpaid internships. Below, Martin Bright explains why he was inspired to create a charity that helps underprivileged young people work in the arts

Kevin Spacey and Sally Greene have made the Old Vic one of the most high-profile arts institutions in the country, but it turns out they have done it on the back of a small army of free interns.

Thankfully, BECTU has now challenged the Old Vic after it advertised six unpaid three-month internships. This is a hugely important statement of intent from the trade union, which represents technical staff.

How does the Old Vic get away with this when the minimum wage legislation is so clear? The simple answer is that everyone else is doing it. As the theatre told The Stage when it broke the story last month, it sees its intern scheme as offering a valuable opportunity for people to break into the business. It also pointed out, rather scandalously, that the Old Vic is a charitable trust, as if it is not at the same time a money-making operation.

It is now up to unions in the theatre to follow the lead of BECTU, which took a film company to a tribunal two years ago to claim back unpaid expenses for an intern and ended up establishing that interns should have been paid the minimum wage.

Low pay/no pay week: Gemma Barrett

As we continue our Low pay/no pay week in print and online at The Stage, performer and Grads’ Club blogger Gemma Barrett gives her opinion

It is with great, and vested, interest I have been reading the various articles in this week’s Stage regarding the evermore pertinent issue of Low Pay/No Pay.

As a 2009 drama school graduate, 85% of my CV reads with fringe or low-budget films where the pay was either: expenses (in these cases I counted myself lucky), profit share (which as indicated by Stephen Spence, operates as a ‘partnership’ and therefore does not qualify for national minimum wage) or ‘revenue share’, whereupon the ticket sales for one particular night a week was divided between the cast (often more lucrative than the profit-share option).

In an ideal world, which is what we should all be striving for, all actors would be paid at least NMW. We have trained and are qualified to do our jobs, we have been cast and employed to do it and we deserve the same rights as the guy who works in the supermarket or the local pub.

An accountant doesn’t have to subsidise his income by moonlighting as a waiter. As a profession our worth is the value that we put on ourselves, and in an industry which is too often rubbished by many delightfully ignorant folk as ‘a bit of fun’ or ‘not a proper job’, it is even more important to stand up for our profession, our working conditions and our rights.

This is the theory. I understand it. I agree with it. Do I want to get paid for doing my job? The job which I trained long and hard for? The job which takes up every hour of my day and which I never clock out of? You’re darn tootin’ I do.

I know that it is the fear of never working again and the hope that “someone will change things on my behalf” that is perpetuating the situation. As long as this is the case, then employers will be allowed to get away with not paying out where it’s due.

I will, however, brave the branding of hypocrisy and cowardice and say that I do not, however, have the resolve to turn down the unpaid work and neither, in the current situation, do I want to. The alternative, for many of us, is simply not working.

It is all well and good to tell young graduates to abstain from these low paid/no pay gigs but in the current situation, what is the alternative? Wait for the phone to ring for that elusive PAID job? Following graduation from drama school I was immediately signed by an agent and did not get a single audition through her for an entire year. I did not have the opportunity to be employed by those companies that would pay for my wares. In the meantime I worked consistently on a LP/NP basis. Should I have sat on a moral high ground and refused to work? Demanded my rights? Frankly if I had done so I wouldn’t have got the job.

Low pay/no pay week: Equity's Stephen Spence

In the latest of our Low pay/no pay week posts to support this week’s special issue of The Stage, Equity assistant general secretary Stephen Spence explains why remuneration has become such a complicated issue in the performing arts, and what the union is doing to try and bring greater clarity

The issue of low pay/no pay is becoming more and more thorny for the entertainment industry. Equity members are increasingly reporting non-paid work being advertised. This includes fringe productions, student films, reality TV, the use of unpaid amateurs alongside paid performers, and stage management internship. Equity is currently establishing a Low Pay/No Pay Rights Working Party to advance discussion of this type of activity.

The issues are complex. In general terms, a worker is entitled to at least the national minimum wage (£5.93 an hour) but non-workers or voluntary workers for charities are not.

Many arts organisations are charities. Does that mean they can use people for nothing? Not necessarily, because workers, voluntary workers and non-workers can look remarkably similar from a legal point of view. It’s the details of how the arrangement was made and of what a person is actually doing that determines their status, and whether the NMW should be paid.

In general, though, Equity takes the view that performers and stage managers, due to the nature of what they do, are more likely to be workers than not. Equity encourages any member who wants the union to assess their situation, to bring their case to us for examination, if they think they should have been paid. In addition, if Equity believes a NMW issue exists on a production, the union writes to the producer.

The fringe can be difficult because there are cases where a genuine profit share/cooperative/collective (to use a few common examples) exists. Legally, these arrangements are probably actually partnerships, and partners are likely not to be workers and, therefore, not entitled to the national minimum wage.

As you can see, words such as ‘probably’ and ‘likely’ appear in these discussions, because one cannot make definitive statements.

Confused? I should imagine so. Just hold on to the Equity view that generally, outside partnerships, a performer or stage manager is likely to be a worker. For workers in the fringe, Equity recommends the union’s Fringe Contract based on the NMW.

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