As my train powers through England to reach the greatest show on earth I ponder a question asked of me last night by a member of the audience at Titanic at Southwark Playhouse. What is my view about the unpaid performer debate.
Last night I witnessed 20 of the best West End performers deliver one of the finest ensemble theatre productions I have seen in a long time. Musically powerful, emotionally draining, dramatically tight and with a phenomenal sense of the passion and joy of bringing great theatre to an audience. None of them were paid. Is that right?
I will nail my colours to the mast. Yes. As long as that's the only way to get great large scale theatre or new work in front of an audience. As long as everyone comes into the process with their eyes open. As long as the show is such that it will attract attention and credits and interest from potential future employers. As long as the process feels fair and open to all involved and noone else is getting rich in the process. Then yes.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if this company and this production moved on to a legit run in a major salary-paying house? But even if it doesn't the performers show from the passion and commitment that they are there because they want to be.
Thank you to the whole company. And now it off to Edinburgh where all but a few of the 40+ shows I will see will feature unpaid performers being there because they want to be. Some will be Equity members taking time out from paid work. Some will be aspiring professionals. And most will be there as professionals hoping to be part of a great show they can be proud of and which will delight producers and critics for the future.
Some will be supported by the Arts Council so that minimum fees can be paid. Let us hope, in time, there will be more funds available to make even more productions pay. But in the meantime let art happen, cheer artists who choose to take risks and make theatre whilst finding other ways to pay their rent, and let's cheer new producers and Off-West End producers for scrabbling around to find sufficient money to put on great theatre which gives artists an opportunity to shine.
So - if you want to help actors get paid, grab loads of tickets for great Off-West End and Fringe productions, pack shows to the rafters, cheer and tweet and shout about good shows, encourage commercial producers to take risks and bring these productions to a commercial arena - touring or west end or limited seasons where actors are paid. Then the unpaid work will have been worth it and, in the case of Titanic, 20 fine artists can be paid for offering their art.
Edinburgh spotting starts in a few hours.
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