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Backstage theatre staff working to “breaking point”

Industry bodies warn that long hours and low pay are forcing backstage theatre workers and other live event production staff to work to the detriment of wellbeing

By Anna Grace on 19 Mar 2019

Backstage theatre workers and production staff: working conditions

image © Jorge Royan

Industry bodies and workers’ unions have warned that backstage theatre workers are being “pushed to breaking point” due to a lack of work-life balance, with workers often expected to work 15-hour days.

UK trade unions BECTU and Equity, along with professional associations for stage managers and lighting and sound practitioners, have argued that “excessively long working hours” are leading to “burnout and serious mental health issues”.

Chair of the Association of Lighting Designers, Johanna Town, raised concerns stating that an “expectation to work under intense pressure for periods of 15 to 18 hours per day, six days per week” is standard for theatre production workers.

BECTU, the UK’s media and entertainment trade union, recently launched a set of standards for the live events industry to combat such issues and fight for better working conditions for its members, ensuring reasonable working hours, sufficient breaks and the development of fair and consistent payment rates.

Helen Ryan, assistant national secretary at BECTU, says that a “long-hours culture” affects all backstage roles, indicating how low wages and high expectations were driving production staff to work unreasonable hours.

“We just want to make sure things are done sensibly – all this guidance needs to do is promote good sense”

The effects that long working hours and inadequate rest exerts on production staff was a topic of discussion at this year’s ILMC Production Meeting (IPM).

A panel of industry experts and healthcare professionals stressed the need for change and suggested IPM members create a “guideline document” to outline good working practices and implement a standardised framework for working conditions and staff treatment.

“We’ve received a lot of interest for an IPM welfare project within the production industry, and even from promoters and venues,” venue consultant and chair of the IPM Advisory Group, Carl A H Martin, tells IQ. “Now people want to take action, and importantly they want to do so internationally.”

Martin noted that the shipping and oil and gas industries have such guidelines, laying out standards to be followed industry-wide, “so we need to do the same”.

“We just want to make sure things are done sensibly – all this guidance needs to do is promote good sense,” adds Martin.


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