The theatre industry is collapsing, and neither millionaire producers nor their Tory representatives are willing to help. Unions like the PCS have made great efforts in protesting against unfair pay and redundancies, but BECTU and Equity have done little to protect workers during the Covid crisis. It is time that Art-Rising and the people involved with the artistic industry take a stand. We have not only the pandemic to blame, but years of austerity and poor working conditions promoted by theatres mangers and producers who have effectively made these conditions a part of theatre working reality. This is a statement of intention. We must examine the treatment of employees in companies especially operating in the commercial sector who have, up until now, kept a pristine reputation thanks to their deals with unions and their efficiency to silence artists. Their actions are of no different to what most capitalist corporations do within any private, economic sector. Reports of workplace abuse, suppression of the workforce and actively making workers afraid of losing their jobs. The workers have given their time, sweat and energy to these industries. Covid has shown that capitalists share no loyalty to them.
Let us first look at the case of Cameron Mackintosh. Actor Griffyn Gillian called out, through several tweets, Cameron’s theatre management company Delfont Mackintosh Theatres (DMT) and its questionable treatment of staff. As the laws of libel in the United Kingdom are very strict, we must state these as allegations, although they have been confirmed by many ex-employees. One of the tweets discussed the personality of Cameron and his treatment of employees. Gillian says:
Everyone in his theatres is scared shitless of him. He screams. He’s tried to fire (below-living-wage) employees on the spot for things like having a lobby chair two inches off “target”.
Griffyn then goes onto speak about the preparation and treatment of staff before the covid pandemic. Griffyn states:
We were told to be human trash cans and hold bags while people chucked used tissues at us during a pandemic. BECAUSE CM (Cameron Mackintosh) could not stand the eyesore of a few extra bins. (I refused and my manager was cool with that, thank goodness.)
Griffyn Gillian is just one of many that have made expressed criticism towards Cameron Mackintosh’s way of dealing with its employees in both his two companies, DMT and CML. Members of Art-Rising have also witnessed similar behaviours firsthand. Cameron Mackintosh has held power within the theatre industry from the 1980s, and anyone who criticises, or even dares to challenge him on his character has been – and will be – blacklisted from the industry. Gillian also reports that Mackintosh did not want to furlough his staff originally, as he expressed in staff emails sent by him and his team during lockdown. Cameron Mackintosh, a billionaire who uses his wealth to spread his power and corruption power, has poisoned the industry, making deals that affected, for example, the RSC and regional subsidised venues. Now that these venues need the most amount of help, he has not poured any investment into the subsidised companies that put him on the map in the first place. He has made over 850 of his staff redundant and with a net worth of £1.1 billion, the least he could have done is furloughing his workers until October, when the furlough scheme is supposed to end. He has also seemingly done nothing to tackle the re-phasing of theatre audiences after the lockdown period. This man has barely even spoken up for the industry. It is time to make a stand and bring down his theatrical empire.
He is not the only dangerous character in the theatre industry. Andrew Lloyd Webber, with his companies Really Useful Theatres and LW Theatres have also treated workers abhorrently. Although he has received praises for his efforts towards the “re-phasing” period of the industry, Webber has also received allegations of abusive behaviour towards the staff theatre, a behaviour often shared by his wife, who ex-employees reported to verbally and physically threat members of staff for not doing their jobs correctly. In spite of having suggested that there was no plan of making employees redundant, LW theatres has now started redundancy consultations in preparation of the end of furlough. Andrew Llyod Webber has a net worth of £800 million. Both Cameron and Webber have a history in financially supporting the conservative party in the occasion of several elections. Moreover, Webber wrote the 1987 conservative election party broadcast music and was a member of the House of Lords as a Tory peer until 2017, until he stepped down due to his conflicting schedule with Brexit negotiations. Cameron Mackintosh has personally supported Brexit, expressing his delight with the referendum outcome by exclaiming “all the world’s now a stage” in The Daily Telegraph. Both these West End supposed pillars have never actually supported the arts, and failed the test once again. Webber is only interested in re-opening the theatres to make profit, not for the intrinsic value of art.
Let’s discuss one final company who have in time damaged the industry: Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG). All “casual” staff have been laid off (according to their questionable zero-hour contracts most full-time employees are considered casual), and thousands of anti-consumer violations have been made such as not refunding tickets for cancelled performances. Worse is the mismanagement and complete lack of organisation of the company. This has frequently led to verbal harassment, poor workers conditions, and even sexual harassment allegations from senior members of staff. An ex-BECTU representative spoke to Art-Rising and informed us that there had been multiple cases of sexual harassment against members of the Wicked management team, never officially reported by members of staff for the fear of losing their jobs. ATG has now the audacity to argue over redundancy pay with BECTU, claiming that they – a multi-million-pound company – can’t afford it. Many other companies have received complaints regarding their workers conditions, and it shows how vulnerable the workforce is in this industry. When the theatres re-open, if they re-open, we must never go back to before. It is time to call for action.
It is necessary to put forth the following demands:
Extend the furlough scheme until the theatres re-open.
Guaranteed Immediate re-employment for all staff who have been made redundant.
Make the millionaire producers pay the furlough. This includes a pay rise of £10.75 for all arts workers.
More union and workers power in their workplace, giving them a fair and democratic say over their working rights.
A safe and harassment free work environment.
Equal representation for people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, BAME minorities and women in the workplace.
Create a better arts structure. No more commercial poisoning into the subsidised theatre. Make theatre equal, affordable, and accessible to everyone. Promote and reinforce a programme of nationalisation and reorganisation of the Arts Council.
How can you help?
You can put pressure on national and local governments, as well as unions. We will shortly post a template on our website that you can use to make your voice heard with your unions and government officials e.g. local MPs and Councillors.
You can also write and join the Labour Party to send letters to your CLP secretary.
You can spread the voice to real theatre supporters.
Tell theatre goers and people not directly involved in the theatre industry to stop supporting and boycott these theatre companies.
Call out the self-destructive parts of our theatre people.
Join protests including PCS and other organisations.
Now is the time to rise.