This might ruffle some feathers!

  • Sharon Cannings

    Actor

    Hi all,

    I've been keeping a close eye on the lo/no pay debate and had a thought-

    What if equity became a type of "closed shop" again, by only admitting actors that had been to an acredited NCDT drama school?

    Now, please believe me when I say that I'm playing devil's advocate here, (before several of you organise a lynching!) but I thought that it might be an interesting debate.

    In the same way that we have been requiring these profit share companies to budget properly so that they can pay actors, should it be any less resonable for them to require a little commitment from the actor?

    Yes, we all know that it's ridiculously expensive to train, (and some might question the quality of some institutions) but you wouldn't expect to become a lawyer by learning "on the job"! So becoming an actor needs the mental and financial commitment to do what is required, even if that means your student loan is still being paid off when you're sixty.

    Maybe there is some room for flexibilty here- possibly someone wanting to do it the hard, but cheaper way might be able to get in with eight fringe credits.

    So then the lo/no pay companies would have a choice. Budget for trained actors, or use untrained actors- which could be a risk.

    The new companies wanting to improve and expand would soon want to use "professional" actors, and those that want to tread water would be instantly blacklisted if they employed equity members for no pay. That's where the Equity members would have to hold their nerve.

    There would still be room for a bunch of actors to get a show off the ground, as no-one would have the desire to shop themselves to Equity!

    Now, please feel free to pick holes in my argument, as I'm sure that there are many!

    • 7th Aug 2007
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    Great idea, Sharon! However it isn't up to Equity to introduce the closed shop, I'm afraid! It is Law which states that no-one will be discriminated against for any reason. One of those is Union Membership.

    When Magie(the b**ch)Thatcher ended closed shop working agreements she was well armed with public support after the Miner's strike of 1983 and the Ted Heath government's collapse because of three day working weeks and constant strikes.

    Since then the support of Unions has dwindled to the point where everyone thinks it is a Commie thing to do to be in a Union. Regardless of the fact that Employers have exploited that position and made the working week a complete pain for a lot of workers and that their rights and priviledges were gradually reduced to the detriment of employee relations all over the place.

    Equity is an organisation that runs just like all other unions in as much as it works 'By Consent of the Members' to try to improve the working conditions of all its members whichever discipline of performance art they work in. Bear in mind that there are also Variety Members who are, for example, club acts (singers, jugglers, magicians, hypnotists etc) and circus acts too.

    Actors make up about half of the members.

    Nowadays the membership of Equity is becoming a much more important thing because more and more employers are finding innovative ways of not paying actors. That is a fact. We only have to check out the casting sites to see that out of ten entries for work only two at most are in fact paid work.

    I agree with you that if the closed shop existed that it would be far easier to stop this cheap practice. But the only way it will ever end is if EVERYONE, Union member or not, actually stops it by refusing to do it!

    ThaLaw still states that n-one will be expected to work for less than the Minimum Wage which is £5.35 per hour.

    It need everyone, including the casting sites to stand up and be counted.

    If some companies were actually taken to court for refusing to pay the Minimum Wage this practice would end overnight.

    As long as we allow them to exploit us and are conned into accepting Deffered Contracts or Profit Share where it is inapropriate we will be fighting a losing battle against this practice.

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • User Deleted

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    Interesting idea, but your version of the closed shop would mean that Michael Gambon, Charles Dance and Sir Ian Mckellan wouldn't be eligible for equity membership as they didn't go to an NCDT accredited drama school... Or any drama school in fact.

    Training is sadly no guarantee of quality. I have seen actors who have been for three years training at the best schools who still couldn't act their way out of a paper bag and vurtually untrained actors who have been dazzling.

    We have to accept that there are many routes into this profession of ours. Would we really want everyone to follow the same homogenized path?

    Equity status is for professionals and yes, it may indeed help actors get decent pay for a decent days work if the union were more powerful and being stricter on the entrance requirements may help that, but as it is now illegal to operate a closed shop we'll never find out!

    • 30th Jul 2007
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    Sorry if the above is riddled with spelling mistakes or makes little sense but I've just given blood and am a little bit woozy....

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    Your point of view is valid, Geoff. In as much as Equity is a Union for professionals and that you need to prove that you are working professionally within the Industry by providing contracts.

    However if you take that to the extreme that you need to be in Equity to work professionally we now end up back in the old paradox of the Catch 22 I had to overcome when I joined.

    If, to get work, you HAD to be in Equity how would you ever get into Equity because you'd not be allowed to work?

    There is a very powerful argument that says that ANYONE and Everyone should be allowed in to Equity because that way everyone would follow the Union's directions and it would immediately smash the Employers stranglehold. The more people who were in the Union the stronger that union would therefore be!

    However, since people think that they don't have to join but can sit back and let the Union's endeavours benefit them just as much as the members by the negotiations for better standards of income, working practices, health and safety etc etc THEY are the ones who get my back up because they are 'sponging' off the hard work others are doing to benefit the WHOLE not just the members of Equity.

    BUT when it comes down to a dispute...the only ones who will EVER benefit from membership will be those members 'in benefit'! Pay for your own legal expenses as a non member? I think that is why the employers are laughing up their sleeves at non members at that point.

    So from the point of view of Solidarity in the Workplace, the MORE members the better! Let's not denigrate the Walk-Ons or the untrained. If they are working to make an income from the business then they are 'professionals'. Jeremy Irons is not trained either. He's not done so bad, has he?

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    All really cogent stuff, Alan. I hope lots of people are following this thread, because it explains why being a member of Equity is important for actors today, and also why (on the downside) there is far less power vested in the Union (because of changes in law) than there may have been 30 years ago.

    I understand where your constant requests for 'boycotting' of no/lo paid work stem from - such 'boycotts' are one of the few tools actors have left in order to try and get union demands to be met on their behalf. And, maybe, if the grass - roots movement was strong enough, it could make a measurable difference.

    I also agree that the buck does not solely stop with the actor - we also find most of the industry tacitly supporting the notion that actors are *happy* to work for little or no pay. Casting sites, PCR, many of the better drama schools, all (presumably in an attempt to face modern 'realities') are all, at least in part, culpapble in propogating the idea that 'no pay' is fine. Why aren't there much concerted campaigns to get, say, PCR to take a stand against advertising such work? Presumably, I assume, because of a combination of legal complications, the fact that Equity writ can only run so far, and concerns about generating advertising revenue?

    I still remain interested in the problem of taking companies to the courts over breach of minimum wage law -if the law is clearly in the actor's favour in this case, and Equity willing to promote the case of any member who has fallen afoul of it, then why are there no test cases of this sort being pushed? Because the actors never wish to come to Equity, and air the grievances in the first place?

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • User Deleted

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    personally i agree with you Sharon, for instance I wouldnt employ someone ie to cut my hair who had no training in it etc, and personally i think acting is a trade as much as anything else is, ie plumbing, and we should train in order to get the better jobs, it doesnt have to cost the earth there are plenty of accredited drama schools with god reputations that are normal university fees. I think it should be a closed book,as should agents be, as im hearing all too often of people being dropped in favour of 'untrained actors' and quite frankly didnt waste three years of my life at drama school for that.Please dont lynch me either,its just my opinion x x

    • 30th Jul 2007
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    I have no intention of lynching anyone... I think training is great and, for most people, very necessary indeed!

    I just think people have to be open minded with regard to peoples abilities otherwise no one would ever get given an opportunity. None of us would get that big break we're working towards if people didn't give us a chance.

    Also, the closed shop system did prove too limited in the end with the above mentioned "catch 22" situation re: equity membership.

    Perhaps a more moderate "third way" is the answer?

    Oh god, don't mistake me for a Blairite...

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • Sheri Copeland

    Actor

    I did not 'train' at drama school. My training came from private lessons, oodles of am-dram (some great, some appalling, I learnt more from the bad stuff) and 2 seasons with the NYMT.

    At that time there was 1 grant for drama students in the whole of East Sussex and there would have been no way for me to have gone if I didn't gain that. I didn't even have a way of coming up with the fee the schools and the council chargeed to audition for them...

    I became a member of Equity when it was still a closed-shop to a certain extent, fortunately for me I was employed by E&B panto's and I got my card through that and a few low-pay/fringe jobs.

    Spending 3 years at a Drama school should not be the only way to be respected and accepted in this industry.

    • 30th Jul 2007
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    Personally I do not think returning to the close shop is the solution. Firstly as it would be impossible to reintroduce a close shop union. This practice was outlawed in the 80s because of the miners strike. And there will be no return to unions being close shop. This applies to all unions and not just Equity.

    So I think what would help to improve pay and conditions within the industry is for far more people to get involved with Equity. Far too few Equity members are aware that there are regular meetings with important industry guest speakers organised by ordinary jobbing Equity members such as myself.

    These meetings are organised for professional Equity members to network and have the opportunity to be involved with their union and find out what is going on and how they can effect change.

    So please if you are an Equity member look in your Equity diary and you will see a list of contact numbers for your nearest Equity general branches. Find out when the next one is and please go along.

    If you are not already a member of Equity please join you will be made very welcome. If you need more information on how to join please visit the Equity Website.www.equity.org.uk

    Cheers

    TRACEY

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • User Deleted

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    Furthering my point from earlier (and agreeing with Sheri), I think on the job training has to be respected almost as much as (if not more than) drama school. I think we would all agree that you learn more about acting and about the realities of the business through working. Training should give you a good grounding, a framework, a launchpad. It is not the be all and end all.

    It's like the age old wisdom that only once you've passed your driving test do you actually learn to drive...

    The best thing for me about training is that it gives you room to experiment, learn and grow whilst introducing you to the key skills the actor needs. If you're lucky you meet great teachers who inspire you and bring about great changes in your work. If you're unlucky you still leave with a sound technical footing and a respected qualification.

    I think it's in some ways much harder to learn on the job. You don't have the protective environment to make mistakes in that a drama school should provide.

    I don't know, I could talk around this all day long... I can see both sides of the argument!

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • Sharon Cannings

    Actor

    Thanks for the contributions so far- Alan, as always the font of knowledge and reason!

    It's so true, we should all be Equity, if we can't be a "closed shop". (thanks for clarification on that)! Hopefully then we would have strength in numbers. And yes, I'm always paying my subs late due to poverty, but I would never dream of leaving the security of Equity for good.

    So back to my "acting utopia" I think that we would have to have some sort of allowances for the older generation who didn't have the access to the training that is around today. Listen to me- as if I'm a spring chicken! And it's true, that some people that get into Drama School are of questionable talent, but if suddenly the top 15 schools were the only way in, the demand on places would be higher and the quality may well go up. Or quite possibly, they would just take on more and more students... sigh!

    Yes, it's tough getting a place at Drama School- it took me three years. Things have moved on luckily, from when I was trying to get a grant from my council. Gone are the days, I hope, of auditioning in front of some council officials to get one of the few grants available, being judged by someone who didn't know their a*** from their elbow.

    I had to wait a year when I didn't get a grant, apply again the year after with my place deferred -and in the meantime had kicked up such a fuss that they didn't DARE not give me a grant.

    And I was one of the lucky ones! Now that there are many places that are affiliated with universities, getting funding is relatively easy, though lumbering you with debt, of course. Education, education, education...

    Right, I'll stop rambling now!

    x

    • 30th Jul 2007
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    This is a bit of an irrelevance given that the thread has moved on, but I just noticed one of the last statements that Alan made, and wanted to discuss a few ideas relating to the training vs. no training issue.

    Jeremy Irons may be many things, good or bad, but he *hasn't* suceeded on the basis of 'no training' - he is a pretty prominent graduate of the Bristol Old Vic, I believe. Alan, were you thinking of someone else?

    Which is not to say that there aren't prominent actors out there who never trained - Bob Hoskins is one, if all the stories about his 'falling into the career' are to be believed.

    Sometimes, actors can, of course, so obfuscate their past that you completely lose sight of whether they ever trained anywhere or not. It took me a long time to work out that Daniel Day Lewis, for instance, was also a Bristol Old Vic graduate, but given that he graduated sometime in the 70's (it seems), and his 'breakthrough' role only happened in 1985 ('My Beautiful Launderette') - I can only imagine he spent a fair few years in the wilderness, and all biographies about him have now drawn a veil over this undistinguished period. And so it is with hundreds of well - known actors today. You'd be hard pressed to work out whether he trained, dropped out, never went anywhere near a drama school, or what.

    Equally, 30 - 40 years ago, a lot of actors *genuinely* never went to drama school because it had not become the prerequisite for being 'taken seriously' in the theatre that it has now become. There may have been a big north/south divide over this question, but, by and large, I believe it was the wealthy, well - spoken Gileguds of this world who went to drama school once upon a time, and for them, it was equivalent to going to 'finishing school'. There were also a whole host of 'regional' actors of great merit (Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay? etc.) who, I think, didn't train, but were able to get careers going because they shone in rep, to begin with, and this got them noticed.

    The situation is no longer the same - not least because the industry has lost its hold on establishing criteria for actorly 'integrity'. With the collapse of Equity's 'closed shop', the destruction of subsidised theatre and the rep system, etc., it's much harder for employers in the industry to know that they are going to be employing those whose merit and professionalism has some kind of guarantee attached. Therefore, by and large, they look to the accredited drama schools to provide this. And I doubt, unless you are lucky enough to be given a quick entree into television work (where your look is as important as anything else about you), that there are nearly as many 'untrained' actors who are as sucessful in the profession as they would have been 30 years ago.

    One other final point relating to this issue: you will frequently find the 'myth' of the 'untrained' star is widely resorted to by the tabloid press, in an attempt to write wish - fulfilling stories. How great it is to hear that somebody totally ordinary and untried has leapt to stardom on the basis of sheer talent! Nine times out of ten, this is just selective storytelling - investigate the people concerned further and you'll find that their 'job as a fishmonger' was, in fact, the temping career they took on in desperation to support them when they couldn't get any decent acting work straight out of drama school; or that they haven't performed since they were 15 (but they performed at that time with the National Youth Theatre)...or whatever, really.

    • 31st Jul 2007
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  • Sharon Cannings

    Actor

    So true- look at Connie Fisher- the "call centre girl"! And very often you'll see in the press about an "unknown" actor getting a plumb role. You read on with great interest, willing him to be some unrepresented actor who got a lucky casting... and then you see that his dad's a producer and his mum's a casting director, and he's been working at the National for three years!

    Didn't know that about Daniel Day Lewis. Good things come to those who wait- especially the trained ones...

    only joking!!

    • 31st Jul 2007
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    I was just alerted by PM to the fact that Albert Finney went to RADA, which I wasn't sure about. However, it was also pointed out that he went on a scholarship, which says quite a lot about the background he was coming from, and the assumption that the type of wealth which wouldn't have ordinarily been available to such a 'working class' actor was needed to sustain him at Drama School. Plus c'est change...

    • 31st Jul 2007
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    As to Bob Hoskins, he has always maintained that he got his break when he was working as a taxi driver (I think you can see that), and accompanied a mate who was an actor to an audition. Thinking he was there for the audition, someone asked him to come in, and being game for this sort of thing, Hoskins went in, wowed the panel and won the audition. It's a great story that I have always wanted to believe was true.

    Of course, how many years Bob then had to spend between getting that audition and working at the RSC / doing 'Long Good Friday' and 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' is anybody's guess !

    • 31st Jul 2007
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  • Sebastian Palka

    Actor

    Hi

    I'd like to share some experience. We have an Actors Union in Poland and it is for "professionaly" trained actors only. It is so rare that someone from outside the group will join and will get a job!!!. The union is stiff and no one really cares, some of the actors don't even know something like that exists.

    I am a memeber of Equity here and it means so much for me. The theatre/film industry in this country is so good- lively and strong, partly because of the competition and so many talented people - I think. In Poland we don't have so much fringe theatre, low/no pay jobs like over here. Everything is so dramatic and professional. good but not very fresh.

    there are so many talented people who don't fit at the best drama schools.

    From my point of view it is good if selection is based not on just training. this means nothing.

    thanks to all of you.

    • 31st Jul 2007
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  • User Deleted

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    Well, Vinnie Jones didn't train, did he?

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    The Bristol Old Vic thing - is there a muddle between actors who were at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and those that were members of the Bristol Old Vic Company? Perhaps that is where the confusion about the two notables mentioned so far who started at Bristol Old Vic.

    Fairly insignificant point, but I just felt like saying it.

    I'd like to also make the point about people like me who have graduated previously in another discipline, in my case a degree in Business. I did not then have access to funding to go to an accredited drama school. I think it would be a little unfair to automatically rule out people in the same sitaution as me from legally being able to become an actor (if the argument that the only actors allowed to join a closed shop union were from accredited drama school is followed)?

    • 1st Aug 2007
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  • Sharon Cannings

    Actor

    That's a good point, Nick. People should be able to change career path still, whatever they were doing before. Maybe that's a failing of the education system, where once you have your degree or whatever, that's it- you can't be anything else.

    Maybe if everyone joined Equity, it would have surplus funds- and hand out some bursuries!

    • 1st Aug 2007
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  • User Deleted

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    That would be good Sharon! If only!

    I was lucky enough to get some excellent training for two years that worked around your working week, although it wasn't at an accredited school. It does mean I only was entitled to student Equity on graduation, although I now qualify for full membership which I have applied for. I think it's incredibly important to be a member of Equity and I am so grateful I am able to join.

    You only have to look at CWU (postal workers) and RMT (tube drivers) action over the last few years to realise that unions still have a voice - if only members are actively involved.

    Nick

    • 1st Aug 2007
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