Is This The Death Of The Fringe?

Last month the courts ruled that five actors in a fringe production of Pentecost were entitled to National Minimum Wage. The actors had previously agreed profit share contracts, but as the production made a loss there was nothing to share.

Equity, who encouraged the action, hailed the decision as a triumph in their campaign against low pay/no pay work for actors. To fringe producers it was a disaster.

That actors have been exploited by unscrupulous or lazy produces is beyond doubt. However, the union’s stance that paying the minimum wage will bankrupt nobody seems to bear little relation to reality. Pentecost had a cast of over twenty. Would a producer find the extra funding in today’s climate? Unlikely.

The keen-eyed will have spotted that the majority of the Pentecost cast did not join the case, despite the urging of their union. Indeed, some have publicly condemned Equity. For good reasons of their own, they wanted a part despite knowing that the prospects of being paid were negligible.

My guess is that both the triumph and gloom is overdone. Many actors see the advantage of profit share work. By giving them roles that they would not otherwise have, it can be a stepping stone to paid work. For that reason,  I think they will work with the fringe to find structures that work round the court’s decision. As the regulator for NMW is the Inland Revenue, who think such engagements should be self-employment for tax purposes, the prospects of anyone interfering in such arrangements is remote.