Equity Variety Conference ’22
The actors and entertainers trade union Equity held its first ever conference for variety artistes in Longbridge near Birmingham last month. Three entirely separate speaker panels made speeches and fielded questions from the conference floor on a variety of topics and areas of concern. Equity official Michael Day made a welcoming speech and here are some of the highlights from the event.
Theatre safety official Philip Brown informed conference;’ I have been called many things while doing my job, from the fun police to the safety Taliban’. The fact is that there has been a huge spike in problems in terms of audience behaviour and this is reflected generally in society with drug use and the influence from football’. Brown then pointed out that problems for entertainers are not covered by the influence of the health and safety executive. Instead, the local authority is the main point of contact when safety or behavioural problems at venues arise.
Caitlyn Lee, an official from the Unite Union, spoke about trying to induce venues to make sure hospitality workers get home safe, by having taxi-fares factored into their wages. Ms Lee suggested that entertainers who do not have their own transport should be offered the same terms in their contracts with venues.
New Equity Variety organiser Robert Lugg was introduced to one and all. Mr Lugg will be pushing ahead with a number of initiatives and will strive to introduce a new comedian’s network, in which audience behaviour and promotors passing on fees were both topics of particular concern.
Concerns about the environment was covered by Sandra Green, who was representing a group called Car-Free Birmingham. Ms Green mentioned a climate cabaret show, which was broadcast via Zoom during the pandemic and alluded to the event being recreated as a live show in order to raise awareness on the issue. Yorkshire based official Valerie Mann questioned Ms Green about an upcoming clear air act, which could exclude entertainers with equipment to load and unload. from using cars to reach inner-city gigs.
Neil Tomlinson, representing the entertainment agent’s association, pointed towards some of the practicalities of life in clubs, events and holiday centre cabaret venues. Mr Tomlinson bemoaned the lack of training for many of today’s younger cabaret entertainers, citing the choices and aspirations of the young as taking ‘the quick Simon Cowell route to fame’. Mr Tomlinson’s views were heavily criticised by some attendees, but by then he had left the conference on order to catch a train, so could not answer the criticisms.
Equity general secretary Paul W Fleming made an impassioned speech, which covered many of the subjects and comments raised at the conference. Mr Fleming made mention of the history around industrial action in show business, pointing towards the Victorian Queen of the music halls Marie Lloyd and her efforts in campaigning for better wages and conditions. Mr Fleming concluded by pointing out that he was the youngest trade union leader in the UK.
It is hoped that similar future events can take place, where perhaps the apparent schism in terms of many views expressed by variety members and entirely separate and disparate concerns from the acting fraternity of Equity members can be addressed.