The Boycott Poll

Actors have been discussing not working on unpaid or underpaid work for a long time. But now the disussion is shifting to not ATTENDING unpaid theatre. In effect: a boycott.

There is good reasoning behind choosing a boycott over a strike. First of all, actors need to respect the choice other professionals who are free to choose to undertake unpaid work or not.

Therefore a boycott is tenable where a strike is not. It is fair to ask actors, casting directors, producers, directors, technicians and other theatre workers to choose to spend their hard earned money watching shows that pay actors and technicians at least minimum wage.

The boycott would perhaps last a month, sometime in 2011.

A boycott of this nature would bite more; since the audience for unpaid theatre is, ironically, largely made up of other theatre professionals and workers. And this may have a more persuasive effect on employers to pay their actors and technicians at least the legal minimum.

So please vote, and make comments below!

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23 Responses to The Boycott Poll

  1. Peter Roberts says:

    and what of those theatre artists who make work that the state is not willing to fund? Those who are not currently in vogue? Those who follow a passion rather than a governmental ‘policy’? If the only theatre that is to be supported is theatre where everyone is paid, then the only theatre that will happen will be made by those that the government (or proxy government in the ACE) find acceptable or will be made by those who have access to private patronage. It is not the job of theatre artists to be servants of the state.

    It would be better to boycott half the work that goes on where everyone is paid because the art delivers ‘social policy’, but where the quality is negligible and audiences are patronised.

    • Dear Peter,

      You are correct that UK taxpayer money must be spent lawfully. Therefore anyone who receives ANY Arts Council spending is required to act lawfully and pay their workers at least minimum wage or better. (I will point out that ACE guidance recommends they are paid union minimums see So ACE funded companies that do not pay at least NMW to their workers should be reported to the HMRC. ( And the arts council has agreed not to advertise on Artsjobs any underpaying work.

      You make a presumption that a theatre management must have corporate or public backing in order to pay the cast. I think I will let someone else challenge this presumption. I can’t help saying this: there are many producers that work very hard to pay their staff lawfully. The underpaying producers that create work at the expense of hardworking professional actors and technicians, and do not pay them are undercutting lawful, paying producers. They are also undermining the value of actors’ labour. Can you answer this to me: How is it not possible that a company can have both an artistic AND a commercial success?

      I believe in artistic freedom and fair wages. I cannot live without both.

      And finally I am in full agreement with you that there is ” ‘social policy’ theatre in the UK, where the quality is negligible and audiences are patronised.” May I politely point out this is a separate issue for a different blog. Many people agree that this is worthy of a boycott. In fact, I believe that many people don’t go to the theatre already because they feel as you do. So in effect- you have achieved a partial boycott already.

      Congrats on that. In fact, with this government you might even see the end of arts funding altogether. How far would that go to solve your problem?

  2. Karen Rickers says:

    It’s my understanding that, in Canada, only 2 to 3 percent of Actors Equity is employed under an Equity contract at any given time. For the large percentage of actors, directors and playwrights who just want to do the work, equity coops and other unpaid ventures are the only venue in which they can explore creatively. I don’t see the justice in boycotting these endeavours.

    • Hi Karen.

      This may be true. And I appreciate the point you are making. Do you think there is a way to objectively define which productions are collaborative artistic explorations, and which are exploitative?

      Right now any time a professional production goes ahead unpaid or underpaid the employer is taking a risk that the HMRC may get involved. After that the employer is looking at payment orders and tribunals.

      Currently there is only one way for an employer to be absolutely secure from a NMW infraction and HMRC payment order; make sure that any worker (or actor) you are hiring for a professional company is paid at least NMW.

      The application of the NMW to the arts is a very significant development. That will profoundly affect actors and producers alike.

      As far as Canadian law goes, I do not know how they define ‘worker’* or if they have an exemption for this sort of share endeavour. We don’t in the UK. I do know that the UK has an exemption for Share Fishermen which exempts them from NMW, since everyone in a crew is ( so sorry about the pun) in the same boat when it comes to risk and their profit/loss.


      *In the UK ‘Workers’ are people who work under a contract of employment or a contract personally to perform work or provide services to another party to the contract (but not the genuinely self employed). Paid staff in the charity sector are eligible for National Minimum Wage as in the public and private sectors. It is not possible for any organisation to contract out of the statutory minimum wage obligations. (see

  3. Tim Miles says:

    I find myself in an equivocal position here. Clearly, a decent days wage for a days work is right. However, the way that many young people get their first experience of ‘working’ in professional theatre is by offering their services for little or no money. In this way they build up a skills set making them more likely to get proper paid work.

    I worked in professional theatre for 15 years, often interviewing young people for positions in theatre marketing, box office, front of house, and so on, mainly, before moving on to academia. I feel I have no alternative other than to encourage my students to take unpaid work experience places, internships, and the like, for such practical experience, vocational skills, together with academic qualifications, is what is needed in today’s ever increasinglt demanding jobs market.

    While I am sympathetic to a ‘boycott’ I feel it will serve to exclude many from working in the profession, and discourage theatres and theatre companies to give young people that first step on the ladder.

    • There is an exemption for students in the NMW legislation, and work experience, apprenticeships and internships exist lawfully. Visit our sister organisation for more info.

      The boycott, as I understand it, would be restricted to companies that are seeking to employ professional practitioners below NMW. A professional could objectively be defined as someone who has established a professional interest, by 1)joining a union or 2)taking a listing in Spotlight to promote themselves for work in the industry. Productions that openly advertise unpaid or underpaid work through professional level listing services such as Spotlight, PCR, ACID and other professional casting notices would be identified and posted.

      Therefore there would be no subjective criteria. The companies identify themselves to be boycotted by their own advertising.

      No one wants to undermine amdram or student productions. In fact, these would probably have a boost in attendance in the month long boycott.

  4. The dilemma of “art” over “pay” has been the stumbling block for a long time and it’s why nothing has happened in the last couple of decades apart from an erosion of pay and respect in all sectors.
    I will be pushing Equity’s ruling Council from my place in the Midlands Area Committee to look into viable business models that can be utilised by collaborative productions to ensure that they don’t fall foul of the NMW legislation. Then we can pursue the exploiters with a clear concience.
    Peronally, I don’t see anything wrong with a boycott. In my first year after graduation, I was asked by my union to strike against the advertising industry and turn down work in that period. THAT was tough. This will not dent any careers in the long term but it will send out a strong message.
    I’m fed up of being an easy target. No-one has ever declared the theatre venues as villains for demanding that they have their rent. Why? Because they will not budge and producers pay up. The only reason that actors wages are optional because we’ve let them be. Don’t let producers con you into thinking that their lack of funds is somehow your problem.
    As long as we can protect those productions that are genuinely collaborative then we can pursue the rest. There are solutions, I’m sure of that. Banning the advertisement of unpaid jobs by law would be a good start. Equity stepping up its education of members is another one. Making all unfunded productions co-ooperative, with all participants equal partners; bypassing NMW legitamately keeping productions legal- is another.
    Transparency in accounts for all productions large and small, an absolute necessity.
    Time to do something, as debate can only go so far.

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  6. Bridget Escolme says:

    I wouldn’t be willing to boycott the work of a group of performers who had got together to produced work on a profit-share basis and whose profit turned out to be nothing.

  7. Rick Alancroft says:

    The Fringe Question
    By Rick Alancroft

    In response to an issue raised by Jenny Goodall at NW London Equity Branch Meeting 7 Novemebr 2009

    I ask you, ‘Is it unreasonable as an actor to assume I will receive a fair days pay for a fair days work?’ Further, ‘Is it unreasonable to assume as an actor a safe environment to work in?’ And, ‘If I am a professional actor, is it unreasonable to expect to be paid a living wage?’ And, ‘Can I rehearse between 9am and 6pm without remuneration and still focus on the job of acting without worrying about paying the bills?’ And, ‘If I desperately need to showcase my work, is it right for me to do so and settle for no pay?

    I have been thinking about the above issues for some time, probably since 1990. Clearly we are talking about, The Fringe, or pub theatre which has established itself in many locations across the country and extensively in London. How much does it cost exactly to run a fringe theatre in London? How many full time staff does it take to run this theatre? What are the fixed and variable costs? What is the breakeven point and income and expenditure of such a theatre?

    My work in the early 90’s with the Theatre Writers Union was to draw up a contract and guidelines for low/no budget and profit share productions for writers in theatre. There were three alternatives:
    1. A contract fee, if a percentage was not advised (similar to a fee per performance as in amateur rights).
    2. A contract fee and a percentage of the door (not less than 5%).
    3. A percentage of the door (not less than 10%).
    In addition to the above, full access to the accounts of the production and till receipts was to be made available within a reasonable time period by the management to the writer. There were also a number of other clauses specifically for writer/management contracts.

    Clearly we have here three areas to look at, which lead us to the question of exploitation. Are we being exploited or are we availing ourselves of a showcase ‘service’ provided by the producers of The Fringe. How much is the going rate for a fringe theatre manager/producer/artistic director? What are the variations i.e. what do they actually receive? Are they all rotten apples or are there exceptions? Clearly, any campaign to get actors paid and certainly any radical campaign must identify the worse ones. It is therefore very important and highly desirable to carry out an audit of The Fringe. Time is of the essence.

    Once the audit has been completed in the first instance we can consider the plan of action. We must look at radical plans which are effective against offending (exploiting) theatres. We have to get everyone on board. Make no mistake. That means Equity and Non-Equity actors, established and straight out of drama school and anyone in between. The message must be clear. We are going to win and who dares wins.

    I propose that for a full month e.g. January, in the first year no actor does any non paid work including expenses only. The following year, it is February when unpaid work stops. In the third year it is March and so on. In the eighth year it will be August. This rolling tsunami of no pay no work will be seen by The Edinburgh Fringe organisers rolling towards them eight years in advance. That is plenty of time to find the funding. If not, the tsunami will roll on to December.

    In addition, we must also look into fringe theatre kudos by casting/exploiting actors with impressive resumes especially when they include the actors’ biog in their programme which a paying audience see. Possibly a programme biog blackout might remove kudos from offending theatres. ie payment must be received by all actors for biogs to be printed in the programme. A further approach is to take up funding issues with the Arts Council of England so that if a theatre applies for funding some of it must be ring fenced to pay actors as a contractually binding requirement for acquiring a grant.

    I believe the rolling tsunami and no pay no biog, will work as it does not stop the showcase element but it does disrupt the theatre and festival programme should they need to be disrupted. Equity can issue exemption certificates for theatres and festivals with a good track record. Eventually, a contract fee or percentage of the door takings can come in, with account disclosure clauses similar to the writers’ contract for no/low budget as mentioned above.

    In addition to carrying out an audit of The Fringe, we must enlist the support of our partners. The PMA, the Musicians’ Union, Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, and also consult with the Arts Council of England. I believe this will necessitate the convening of a Fringe Committee dedicated to these issues.

    I believe we can clean up this area and I believe we can win.

    © 2009 Rick Alancroft

    • An audit is an excellent idea. Some people still need convincing that this problem is widespread. We would need the help of Branches and Committees which might be tricky as we’re all (hopefully) working actors. A combination of Equity staff and willing helpers might ease the load. My worry would be that many non paying companies will not co-operate. Would we just assume that they are not paying anything anyway?
      PACT have a system in place for films where a certain amount of money is held in escrow for the payment of actors’ wages. It must be easy enough to set up the same thing with funded companies? At least with ACE it would be simple; the other funders might be completely unaware and untroubled by the fact that actors are “donating” their time. Many funders are charitable organisations, we must remember, and might start to re-think their funding criteria if wages have to be factored in.
      And why stop at a boycott of non- paying theatre? Low budget films, are even more guilty in my opinion, as the wage bill for a few day’s shoot is a lot less money to find than three weeks rehearsal and a two week run for a fringe show.

  8. Demon Lee says:

    This is a controversial subject and I can only really comment on what I know from experience and my sector of the Industry (Stills Photography). I have over the last 27yrs in the Industry seen a massive change in the production of Film & TV whereby every Tom, Dick & Harry wants to be a Producer/Director/Writer etc and this has led to a multiplication of Independant Production Companies like I have never seen before, largely to the advancement of Video Technology.

    Whilst the Industry needs ‘Diversity’, ‘New Blood’, ‘New Ideas’, instead of simply setting up on their own, they could search for like minded people in the Industry and instead of setting up 10 Independent Production Companies, set up 1 larger entity that has a stronger ability to get funding, a better chance of obtaining more investment and potentially therefore the ability to make at least minimum wage payments to Artistes and Crew with a ‘profit share’ element and produce a better quality finished product….!

    I get really fed up of hearing crew being asked to work for nothing for ‘experience’, after all, if you blew up your car engine, you could not take it to someone and ask them to repair it ‘just for them to get experience’!

    The area of photography is just as bad, too many people with a Digital Camera want to call themselves photographers and are prepared to work for nothing, give away copyright etc and what they do not understand is that it damages the Industry in the longer term and we need to encourage people to have ‘careers’ in the Arts, not just ‘hobbies’ as that can be covered by the Amateurs….

    If you set yourself a low target, you will never fail to achieve it… if people were prepared to stop working for nothing, then the industry itself would have to learn to change and this applies equally to Theatre, TV & Film. There is and always will be sectors that do work for nothing and allowances need to be made for these ‘one off’ productions and steps put in place to stop the system being abused by the unscrupulous out there….!

    • Hey Demon Lee,

      Photographers do have it tougher than actors. Since photographers more often than not meet the criteria to be genuinely self-employed, most of the time they are exempt from NMW.

      But there is truth in the thrust of your argument. People are entering theatre and film chasing opportunities instead of careers.

      Those of us here for the long haul know better. Most unpaid opportunities are exploitative and devalue the labour of the professionals.

  9. Laura Eades says:

    1) How will you know which shows have not paid people properly to boycott them?
    2) The entire fringe survives on a currency of favours and voluntary work. I think this still comes into the sphere of professional theatre. All emerging companies start out on a shoestring – and probably stay on that shoestring for several years before they secure any funding. Without work for nothing, you couldn’t have the amazing cast-of-200 You Me Bum Bum Train, or a thousand other smaller shows. There are simply too many shows that are below the funding line full stop. So you’re not going to see any fringe theatre for a month? You’re not going to support people who manage to make their work DESPITE a lack of resources? I think the opposite. You should spend a month seeing this work, admiring the ingenuity and perseverance of people who are doing it anyway, and demand the same level of passion and imagination from established companies.


      The boycott, as I understand it, would be restricted to companies that are seeking to employ professional practitioners below NMW. A professional could objectively be defined as someone who has established a professional interest, by 1)joining a union or 2)taking a listing in Spotlight to promote themselves for work in the industry. Productions that openly advertise unpaid or underpaid work through professional level listing services such as Spotlight, PCR, ACID and other professional casting notices would be identified and posted.

      Therefore there would be no subjective criteria. The companies identify themselves to be boycotted by their own staffing advertising.

      I am not arguing that a production is not a professional one because it does not pay. I’m taking the view that a production with actors who have a professional interest have an obligation to pay those actors.

      As theatre workers we should support the companies that put their resources into helping the live as much as anything else.

      And I have spent many of my months watching and making amazing theatre and not being paid for it. I have watched more than a decade of actors that should have been paid, and I believe that the theatre is worse off for their exploitation.

      We need to invest in the producers who have the discipline to pay actors at least enough to get by. They have DESPITE the temptation of the current no-pay-culture not to pay actors, they PAY. They have shown actors RESPECT and have earned our support. And they deserve to be supported if they can keep making good theatre.

      What do the performers in ‘You Me Bum Bum Train’ get from the experience? A photograph and a credit that over 200 other actors have. The production is trading on the labour and talents of the performers. What do you think of Equity for their stance? see


  10. Red says:

    Yes I would boycott any upaid profit making theatre that charges the public to see, but probably not if the play was free of charge but I guess that would be something else

  11. Red says:

    The sad outcome could be that only the well off or supported by mummy and daddy will be able to follow a career in these particular arts as they will be the only ones able to go without earning a living

    • I think that is the way it works now. Those actors who manage to work a lot in the unpaid ‘opportunity’ sector come from some sort of affluence.

      Have a look at the WIDENING PARTICIPATION page from the ARTS GROUP ‘Emerging Workers Report’ (

      “The broad objectives of enabling those
      from a wider spectrum of socio-economic
      backgrounds to enter and flourish in the Arts 
      is essential. Much of the work in the field of 
      Widening Participation (WP) by educational
      establishments understandably focuses on
      the recruitment and progression of those
      from targeted groups. This work has yet to
      engage with the issue of how these individuals
      are expected to enter a careers market that
      demands the level of unpaid experience after
      their qualification. 
      The widespread perception that the Arts do not
      represent a profitable career path is justified 
      (as the graduate premium scales show),
      and the experience of many young people
      being discouraged by parents from creative
      aspirations in favour of more ‘academic’ routes
      is familiar to us all.
      Though we do and must continue to support
      initiatives to engage WP groups, to truly enable
      a cross-class demographic to flourish in the 
      creative sector, the potential of the individual
      to earn at a decent level compared to their
      peers in other disciplines must be properly
      established. “

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  13. Daniel Coonan says:

    Unless an actor is developing something with a director or is part of a company trying to make something happen and that company are friends and have a mutual understanding they should never work for free. End of. It always ends in tears and downgrades the respect within the industry for our skills. Just say ‘no’ to unrewarded work. It’s a disease that needs to be wiped out for good.

  14. Great blogg – with things going the way they are with arts funding it’s essential we start discussing all the issues around subsidy, wages and sustainability. I’ve recently been discussing the idea of a ‘Fair Trade’ theatre ticket… Here’s the thinking:

    Unpaid work is a vicious circle.

    I (as a director/producer) want to pay my cast minimum wage, to do that i’d need to charge £ for tickets to my show. A different producer decides they are going to undercut my tickets by not paying a decent wage, a cast of actors agree to it and then they can sell their tickets for £10. I then have to lower my ticket price to match which either involves me paying less or keep paying minimum wage in the hope of a sell out show, but risk going bankrupt if it isn’t, which will lead to no one getting paid. Neither of which is good for the industry as a whole. But the former is still better than the latter (small pay vs no pay)… so i end up having to run the show with low pay which then means the next producer along who wants to pay a decent wage is unable to as i’m now undercutting their ticket price. Unless the state steps in to subsidise the project there is nothing that can be done. The producers hands are tied as there is simply not enough money coming in to pay everyone.

    So what’s wrong with this? All actors want to be paid – everyone who works has a right to be (legal as well as moral). Now, as has been said above, everyone, in every industry where there is competition for jobs people are expected to intern before they get onto being paid. There is nothing wrong with that in principle, the problem is that for most industries that period would be 6 months to a year at most. In theatre you have people 5, 10 and even 20 years into their career still being expected to work on profit share shows that have no reasonable chance of ever making a profit.

    So to recap – at present I want to be able to pay actors, actors want to be paid, but there simply isn’t enough money coming into most projects to do this. So it’s a simple question of getting more money into projects which it either done through more subsidy or more expensive tickets. The government have made it clear that subsidy isn’t going to be the answer in the short term, and have pointed to the USA as evidence we should all be chasing subsidy from the corporate sector and individual giving to replace government spending. Now as they themselves admit that this wont amount to as much as the Arts Council (ACE) used to give out, and the amount ACE used to give still wasn’t enough to pay everyone this isn’t going to be the answer. The only way that subsidy (either state or private) could possibly now lead to a decent wage for all is to radically cut the amount of work happening. In effect this already happens. ACE is funding a decreasing number of projects and those projects are properly paid. Everyone else putting on shows outside of that are in effect deciding that given the choice between underpaid / nopaid work in the theatre or giving up and stopping making theatre all together they’ll choose the poor pay. So we’re back to square one

    An alternative?

    So the problem is there’s simply not enough money to pay everyone. Subsidy (both private and public) wont be able to fill the gap, unless there is a radical change in government in the near future…. so we need to find an alternative means of bringing more money into the theatre.


    We have no problem with the idea that if we want to buy coffee where the producers have been paid a decent living wage for their work we have to pay more. So what’s wrong with letting an audience know that if they want the cast they’re seeing to be paid a living wage they need to pay more for theatre?

    Very rough figures (feel free to ignore this bit if figures bore you) but just to get a sense of how much we’re talking about:

    Director/Stage Manager/Lighting Designer/Costume Designer/Set Designer each working for 3 x 40 hour weeks @£5.93 minimum wage would cost £3,558
    Cast of 4 working 3×40 hour weeks rehearsal cost £2683
    and then the cast + technician paid for 4 hours 6 days a week for 3 week run costs £2142

    Giving a total wage bill of £8383

    Add on a rehearsal room at £500 a week (for 3 weeks), hiring an average 80 seat fringe venue at £1,200 a week (for 3 weeks), another £500 for set, costume and £400 publicity design and print, and 10% contingency and you’ve got another £6600

    So for a fairly normal fringe show if you’re paying minimum wage – not equity – you’d end with a budget around £15k

    If you budget to try to break even on 50% sales in your 80 seat fringe venue over 3 weeks (720 tickets) you’d need to be charging an average of £20.80 per ticket.

    (If you wanted to turn it to equity ie minimum weekly wage of just under £400 then your overall wage bill goes up to £16k, giving an overall show budget of around £22.6k. So if we accept that Equity MINIMUM is the minimum living wage for a performer a fair trade fringe ticket would cost £32)

    The suggestion we’ve been discussing is a campaign to introduce an industry standard fair trade fringe theatre ticket to run along side standard tickets. People should still be able to pay £10 to see a fringe show if they wish, so it wouldn’t put anyone off attending, but they should know that that wont be enough to pay the performers they’re watching a legal minimum wage (let alone a decent living wage!).

    The idea of the scheme is two fold – 1st it would raise money, sadly not enough to pay everyone a decent wage as many people would still opt to buy cheaper ‘unfair-trade’ tickets, but it would raise more money and therefore allow for better pay, even if not good pay.

    Secondly, and more importantly, it would raise the issue of the appalling pay in the arts. Audiences simply aren’t aware of the scandalously poor pay in the arts. People who would never buy clothes they thought were made in sweatshops are perfectly oblivious to the fact that when they go to see fringe theatre the performers have often been paid less than a sweatshop worker.

    Long term i don’t believe the answer is for audiences to have to pay more – I believe we need a government willing to subside theatre to the same level we see on the continent. But in the mean time we need to raise this issue in such a way that we don’t damage our own careers, or threaten the careers of others.

    If you’d be interested in discussing a Fair Trade Theatre scheme more please feel free to drop me a line at Artists Anonymous –

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