Bodycams for West End Staff as ‘Entitled’ Theatregoers Turn Nasty + More News

Welcome to The Business, a series that focuses on the issues that impact how actors find, do and keep their jobs.

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Photo Source: Disney Theatrical Productions. Pictured – The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre

Developments in the business of acting are not always front-of-mind for time-pressed creatives, yet can have a major impact on how their careers develop. That’s why we’ve created The Business, a series to help UK actors and performers stay updated on the key stories that will affect the nuts and bolts of their professional lives. This week we’ll look at the issues faced by ushers dealing with aggressive theatre-goers, a visiting Belgian theatre company’s outdated approach to casting disabled characters, and how BAFTA is offering unconscious bias training.

Ushers given cameras to combat aggressive punters
Ushers working in West End theatres have trialled body cameras in an effort to combat aggressive behaviour from audiences. The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre have introduced wearable cameras for front-of-house staff in a bid to de-escalate incidents after reports of ushers refusing to work on certain shows or on Friday and Saturday nights because of drunkenness and aggression from audience members. 

The Stage spoke to ushers from some of London’s best-known shows and found a slew of incidents involving swearing, homophobic abuse, and violence had left ushers feeling audiences were becoming “entitled” and expecting VIP treatment because of high ticket prices. Ushers, many of whom are actors and performers in their own right, also reported issues with pay and management, including not being able to take time off for auditions and getting “poked” if they were found slouching. 

Those working as ushers past and present revealed stories of violence, threatening behaviour and abuse from audiences; and in one graphic story from an usher at hit musical Wicked, an audience member reportedly smeared their faeces on another patron after an argument (an incident insiders have dubbed “poogate”). One usher working for The Lion King said their management were now “phenomenal,” offering support and time off for mental health issues arising from the job, but added that this was not always the case. Read more here

MIF production goes to the heart of debate on disabled casting
A visiting Belgian theatre company were criticised this week for being “behind the times” after being forced to rework a disabled character for a play at the Manchester International Festival (MIF). Studio ORKA’s production of Tuesday featured an able-bodied actor playing a disabled character before MIF demanded they recast the role. MIF’s artistic director John McGrath said their policy was to ensure disabled actors were given priority for disabled roles and that producers should “create authentic representation.” He confirmed the festival would not let the production go ahead without a disabled actor. Studio ORKA admitted the original casting was because of “huge cultural differences” between the UK and Belgium and the compromise had been “made in the right way.” 

Disabled talent agent and boss of VisABLE Louise Dyson criticised the theatre company for being “behind the times” and argued the rewrite was “insensitive.” The affair has reignited the debate over whether able-bodied actors should play disabled characters, also sparked earlier this year by Bryan Cranston’s role in The Upside. Cranston said at the time that actors were “asked to play other people” and that his casting was “a business decision.” Read more here.  

BAFTA backs unconscious bias training for voters
BAFTA is following in the footsteps of the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) by offering unconscious bias training for industry voters. BIFA’s introduction of the training last year was in an effort to boost support for talent regardless of their background. Now rolled out for BAFTA members, the programme sees industry professionals aim to better understand how unconscious assumptions about gender and ethnicity have an effect on decision making. 

Completing the training will be optional for jury chairs and committee members alike, but BIFA co-directors Amy Gustin and Deena Wallace said in a statement that they “encourage all those in decision-making, gatekeeper roles to come along to a session” and that “the skills that participants learn through the training have a much broader application than just voting.” Unconscious bias training has been used by industry bodies and broadcasters such as the BBC to complement strategies to diversify the industry, which overwhelmingly does not reflect modern Britain. Read more here

‘UK version of Netflix’ BritBox to launch this year
ITV and BBC streaming service BritBox is to launch later this year, with the broadcasters squaring up to streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime. ITV are taking the lead in producing the service, with a 90% stake in Britbox against a 10% stake from the BBC. Costing £5.99 a month, the service will undercut Netflix subscriptions and see ITV and BBC content pulled off other streaming sites. The launch will see “thousands of hours” of content, including Love Island and BBC3 sketch show Famalam alongside classic box sets like The Office and Gavin & Stacey. Both broadcasters have committed to a regular flow of fresh programmes, though Britbox will not become a producer in its own right, as Netflix and Amazon have become in recent years. 

READ: BBC + ITV Officially Unveil Netflix Rival Britbox

ArtsMind announce return of safe, quiet space at Fringe
The Sanctuary will return to this year’s Edinburgh Festival, with the charity offering performers a chance to “get away from the crowds to a calm, completely quiet space.” Also on offer will be free head, neck, and shoulder massages each day, on a first-come, first-served basis. The Sanctuary will open on 8, 11, 14, 18 and 23 August. Equity has also launched its full list of events over the festival, including a guide to not losing your voice and managing anxiety. Read more here

Union calls for actors’ experiences of harassment in the workplace
Equity has called on members to contribute to the Government’s consultation into sexual harassment at work. The social media team asked followers on Twitter to tell the Government “it’s time for change” as current laws don’t do enough to protect workers from sexual harassment at work. Read more here and fill in the survey here

READ: What Is Equity + Why Should You Care?

Major film and TV studio proposed in Leeds
Leeds could see film and TV production follow in Channel 4’s footsteps, as the broadcaster relocates jobs to Leeds and opens a base there next year. A studio is being proposed that would take over an old printworks site and become the “missing piece” in the development of Yorkshire into a major media hub. Read more here.

For more from Backstage UK, check out the magazine.

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