Since announcing our 2019 season, we’ve been inundated with enquiries about the lack of a Gilbert and Sullivan title in our line-up, so we thought we’d let you know why.
The simplest answer is that, after more than 8 years of producing G&S, we decided to take a bit of a creative break. There are only a small number of G&S titles that are popular enough to make an outdoor tour a success. It’s also been a long-held passion of our Artistic Director, Oliver Gray, to put Frankenstein on the stage. We felt 2019 was a good time to create a musical production of this. We thought this would appeal to our long-standing G&S fans and entice a wider audience into Illyria’s fold, to whom Frankenstein would be a well-known title.
We hope that our valued G&S patrons will very much enjoy this musical version of Frankenstein, and we’d love to see you at our performances this year.
However, there are more reasons why we took this decision, and we thought it would be good to explain why.
Putting on a G&S operetta is no simple task. Each tour requires a minimum of 6 actors, sometimes 7, as well as a musical director. This year’s production of Frankenstein will only require 5 actors. The maths is simple. The extra cost of paying more actors and a musical director, and providing accommodation for them on tour, makes these productions much more expensive to mount. This means we have to charge venues a higher fee, and attract larger audiences, to make them viable. Which raises the next question…
If we build it, will they come?
We never know how many people will come and see our plays. It’s always a gamble with the weather, but in any given year our average audience is around 250-300 people per show. We debated whether repeating a show from the small commercially suitable G&S back-catalogue would attract as many people? Would they be enticed by something new to Illyria’s canon?
Add to this the potential for geopolitical and economic uncertainty in 2019, with Illyria performances planned across the UK, Northern Ireland and The Netherlands, and we felt the risk was too high to put on a show that may end up making a loss.
More competition on an uneven playing field
This is, without doubt, is the most important part of our decision.
If you’ve read our programmes over the last few years, you may have noticed us banging on about Illyria being Equity-compliant - adhering to the rules for professional outdoor touring theatre set out by the actors’ union.
Illyria pays its actors a fair living wage meeting the professional minimum. We provide good quality accommodation and a meal allowance, and we provide basic legal minimum rights such as holiday pay, overtime etc, where accrued.
The stark fact is, the majority companies operating in the outdoor touring theatre sector DO NOT do this. In fact, many pay their actors less than the National Minimum Wage and, in contravention with employment law, do not provide any of the rights mentioned above.
This allows these non-compliant companies to cut their overheads and reduce the fee they charge venues. This in turn has driven down the fees that all companies in the sector, Equity-compliant and non-compliant, can charge to venues, to a point where being Equity-compliant is almost unfeasible. But the higher cost of creating a G&S tour, with more actors and a musical director, and being Equity-compliant, means that we have to charge more to venues to mount these shows. The dissonance between these two competing economic imperatives is exceptionally difficult for a small-scale unfunded professional arts company to resolve. Hence our decision to step back, raise support from our valued audiences, and redouble our efforts to encourage the authorities to enforce the law in this sector.
What can you do to help?
Our simple message is that you, the audience, should only ever support companies that are Equity-compliant and pay a fair living wage to their actors.
These companies, like us, will advertise their compliance loudly and proudly. Look for the Equity logo [see image] and don’t be fooled by companies using weasel-words on their website such as “endeavouring for” or “striving towards” Equity compliance. If they’re still striving after 27 years they can’t, in our opinion, be striving that conscientiously!
Compliance is binary – a company is either Equity-compliant, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then it’s not paying a fair living wage and certainly not a professional one - or providing their actors with the rights to which they are legally entitled.
It would also really help us if you raised these issues with your local venues, or with the companies whose productions you see. Please think twice about spending your hard-earned money on a company that is unfairly, and illegally, exploiting its workers.
We're adamant that you shouldn’t be paying professional level ticket prices on a production that was advertised to you as professional, but which, for most definitions of the word “professional”, isn’t.
We would absolutely LOVE to bring G&S back to the Illyria line-up for 2020. If you’d like to see this happen, then we encourage you to speak to your local venues. Let them know how much you value our work and how much you value the work of actors who are paid well and treated properly. Tell them to only book Equity-compliant companies and don’t go and see shows by companies that aren’t.
If you have any questions about this, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch here.
See you on the road soon!