West End performers with contracts in place have secured some job security post-lockdown under a new deal struck by U.K. actors union Equity and industry body Society of London Theatre (SOLT).
Under the new deal, casts who are currently under contract will be able to continue on those pre-existing contracts, and can restart rehearsals or performances with revised dates once the shutdown ends.
The deal, however, assumes that a show will be able to return post-lockdown, which may not be the case for all West End shows. The Adelphi Theatre’s production of the Sara Bareilles-fronted “Waitress,” for example, was set to run until July 4 and will not be returning post-lockdown, according to producers.
However, for the shows that do come back, Variety understands actors’ contracts will be extended to cover the lockdown period, and productions will not be able to recast those roles for that duration.
The agreement covers long-running musicals, plays with limited runs, productions that are yet to open and even shows that were still in rehearsals when the shutdown went into effect.
The U.K. went into lockdown officially on March 23, and it is likely that the measures will be extended. The government is expected to confirm its plans later this week.
SOLT and Equity have been locked in negotiations in recent weeks, trying to work out deals for the West End, which has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak and the theater shutdown.
The West End has been dark since March 16, when the government first suggested the public “avoid” social venues including pubs, clubs and theaters. While theaters were initially slated to remain closed until April 26, guidelines were extended to May 31 last week.
The larger issue facing the West End is protecting the livelihoods of its extensive freelance workforce. While a proportion of actors and creatives are covered by the U.K. government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, a significant percentage of self-employed workers fall between the cracks.
Freelancers who aren’t eligible for government schemes include the recently self-employed, who don’t have a full year of accounts, as well as many employed on PAYE (Pay As Your Earn) fixed-term contracts or via limited liability companies. According to recent survey figures from entertainment union Bectu, 47% of 1,900 respondents said they do not expect to be eligible for support through the coronavirus job retention scheme.
SOLT and Equity have said they are continuing to lobby the government for further support.
Julian Bird, chief executive of SOLT, said: “Equity and ourselves have worked tirelessly since the shutdown to protect jobs and address the needs of our West End workforce during this crisis. We all need to work together to ensure that we can get through this as an industry, and are ready to welcome audiences back into our theatres as soon as possible.”
Hilary Hadley, head of Equity’s live performance department, added: “It is only by our closely working together that we have managed to develop this agreement, which provides a route map for our West End producers, performers and stage management. It is our joint hope that this new agreement will see the West End theater industry through this bleakest period and enable the smooth resumption of the rehearsals and performances which were so abruptly stopped by COVID-19.”