-By Sunita Hinduja

I’m not delusional I knew I couldn’t work in this industry forever but I had hoped there was a few more years left in me.  I love it so hard, we all love it –  sometimes too hard.

This industry has paid my way for the last 20 years. We have shed tears together, worked to the point of breaking, howled with laughter, nursed sprained ankles and hangovers together. Our community’s collective love of the work and the joy it brings to others is what makes us extremely vulnerable in this moment.

Two things have happened in the last 24hrs that are genuinely making me question if I really do have a few more years or whether I am destined for pastures new.

Firstly yesterday I was sent an email by Equity asking it’s members to vote on a 2nd Covid Variation to the SOLT/Westend Agreement. I have no doubt that the committee worked incredibly hard to get to this point and I have much respect for them giving their time to negotiate on our behalf. Below are a few of the terms the members are being are being recommended to agree to:

⁃Pro rated payments to allow producers to essentially do a soft opening while audiences build – 5 show minimum. (Subject to 4 weeks notice)
⁃50% of holiday pay can be allocated in pro rated weeks. (Subject to 4 weeks notice)
⁃Suspension of Sunday show payments.
⁃6hrs per week of unpaid Covid related time.
⁃These variations are to remain until January 2022 or possibly May 2023 with a 3 month review.
⁃If the MU membership refuse the variation when they are balloted then Equity will re enter into negotiations so we aren’t on worse terms than our musical colleagues.

I can’t align in my brain agreeing to this and still being able to preserve the tiny amount of diversity we have in the WestEnd. I believe it could exclude all the people we are trying to retain and elevate. Parents, Carers, Global Majority, those without a trust fund, Disabled Practitioners and anyone who isn’t able to find a flexible second job – we run the risk of losing this beautiful mix of people – even if it is a temporary change.

The second thing that happened was that Rishi Sunak flippantly suggested that we should retrain. This caught me off guard, I had already been looking into this for my own sanity. But really how dare they? Rishi you are literally giving my parents all the ammunition they need to win the when will you get a proper job conversation.

I was very lucky I had a grant for my first year of university, my fees were lower so my student debt was small compared to some of the ASMs and Drama school graduates I work with who have a £30-40K debt following them around. They don’t need to retrain!? They need to be able to work in our industry as soon as they possibly can and be paid as well as they can be to do it.

In this absolutely insane time all I have left is half a Naked Wine box, my instinct and my integrity. I encourage you all to make your decisions as informed as you can and if in any doubt or just want to talk it out get in touch with the community here at FMTW.

A photo of the west end