There is a hot debate going on between a fringe theater director and producer, Gavin McAlinden, and four cast members who argue they deserve minimal wage for their involvement in a production of David Edgar’s Pentecost. Upon reading the headline for the article from The Stage, I was immediately disturbed. Once I finished the article, I was left with a few questions.
Now, let’s all be aware that just saying the actors were denied minimum wage sets up McAlinden as a villain. The actors were denied minimum wage, but they also were working under a profit share set up with the company. The actors were told they would receive 60% of the profit. They were also informed that they shouldn’t expect much come back from the production.
The group of actors initially took action against the director after two actors were let go. They argued that the production was not at all a profit share environment, but no different from a regular job. They said the play was not a collaborative process, which is part of the justification for profit sharing. They said they were in a clear hierarchical structure that gave them demands as though from a patron.
After they took action, a judge ruled that the actors were classified as workers under the Nation Minimum Wage Act and the Working Times Regulations 1998. Therefore, they were required to be paid minimum wage. However, after an appeal, a judge ruled that the previous ruling was incorrect in saying that the actors were workers. The second judge rules that the actors are self-employed professionals, which doesn’t guarantee the minimum wage that accompanies workers.
Wow, okay, where do I stand? As an actor, I am lead to ask myself: Am I a worker or am I self-employed? When cast in a play, I am an employee or am I doing freelance? I want to say that I’m self-employed, because I prefer that connotation. However, actors need to get paid. The lack of funds accessible to actors kills the sustainability of our theaters. So, classify me as a worker! Get the actors their minimum!
But, that’s only a portion of what I believe. At the end of the day, I side with the director. The actors walked into the process aware that they are not receiving minimum wage. They agree to profit share. They are aware there will be little money in return. But then, somewhere along the way their opinion about that set up changes. Fair. It didn’t feel the way a true profit share should be, but we choose the projects we take. When you are informed of the circumstances of the production and agree to it, then you must deal with the consequences. If you sign onto a project with one agreement, you stick with the agreement until its over. I’m sure their experience was more like a job than an artistic collaboration. And I’m also sure that if they had known that going in, then they would have demanded minimum wage or not joined on at all. Unfortunately, they made an agreement.
Part of me is disturbed by how easily the tribune could rule actors of undeserving of minimum wage, however, I would have made the same decision.