Tuesday, 11 December, 2012
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Op-Ed. Nick Keegan is a professional dancer currently running for a position with Equity as a Dance Specialist. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of Article19
by Nick Keegan
As any of you Equity members out there might know, if you go on their website in the members section, there are quite a lot of different categories that Equity provide guidance on. There are different guidelines, conditions, and rates specific to the 17 different categories, each one with documents for performers/directors etc.
There is not one basic Equity minimum wage, as many people think.
It can be quite difficult to find the documents that are relevant for a job because it is dependant on who's employing you, where the funding comes from, if it is 'independent' theatre , West-End Theatre etc etc.
Which is a good thing, because it should be specific to the line of work that you are in. An actor wouldn't need the same level of health and safety terms and conditions in their contract as an aerialist or circus performer for instance.
If the engagement is a large budget project then the extent of your contribution to performing/devising the physical and intellectual content should be reflected in your salary as a reasonable percentage of the total budget.
For instance, in a lot of touring ACE funded projects that I've come across, the weekly expenditure per person on travel and accommodation can often far outweigh the performers weekly salary. This might not seem that surprising, because touring can be very expensive, but if you consider a few other factors it is a very clear display of how little performers are valued when it comes to arts budgeting.
1. Almost all professional dance job listings require something along the lines of at least three years professional experience before you even get an audition.
2. The salary for those jobs are very likely to be the absolute minimum weekly wage they can get away with. (Some will even find loop-holes like 'contribution to expenses' to pay you even less.)
3. A lot of touring dance projects will arrange the performers' travel and accommodation in advance in an effort to be cost effective, but not pay performers for travel days.
So to sum up... they require professionals with years of experience, who have auditioned and proven themselves to be better than up and above of 600 other applicants, but they are unwilling to pay them what even they consider to be a reasonable wage. Performers are left fighting just to be paid the basic minimum wage for their profession, which can, in turn, damage their prospects of being re-employed in future.
There are many instances where you think to yourself; "I could have worked the same number of hours in a bar and earned more money." (and lets face it, most dancers are very experienced bar workers..)
If that's not under-valued and degrading for a trained professional (with a BA degree and a hefty student loan) then I don't know what is.
OK so I went off on a bit of a tangent there. But to get to the point...
These documents and guidelines from Equity are there to protect performers from all of the above. For dancers, they are failing. One reason for this may be that they are completely irrelevant and outrageously out-dated.
The current up-to-date standard agreement document for Ballet and Dance working in theatre, was made between the Society of London Theatre/Theatrical Management Association (SOLT/TMA) and Equity on 22nd of March 1994.
It lists the minimum weekly salary as £199.00.... try living off that in London!!
Now the rates have at least been updated in a separate document from 2010, but if the conditions suggested by Equity for the safeguarding and protection of dancers' rights hasn't been updated since 1994 then what does that say about how well they are representing such a fluctuating profession??
Personally I think it is the Councillors' job to keep Equity's representation relevant to each genre, and it seems like that this has been lacking for a long time now.
Thanks for reading, and please follow and share my bid for Equity Council on the Facebook Page below, and feel free to contact me at [email protected]