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by dr andrew cousins

The Equity Strike

"To strike or not to strike. That is the question."

If William Shakespeare were alive today he might very well have written those particular words. On the other hand he might have been too busy writing gritty urban dramas about twentysomething lawyers like every other television writer in the country seems to be doing. What is certain is that it’s been a summer of strike action in America where both the writer's and actor’s trade unions threatened strike action at what they saw to be unfair pay conditions. Now Equity, the union that looks after the interests of British actors is joining the debate. It has instructed its members not to accept any film work after December 1st. I went to talk to two representatives from Equity, Adrian Smegma and Daphne Lymphnode-Carcenoma.

AC: Just before we move onto the strike itself I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what Equity is and what it does?

AS: Would you like me to answer this one, Daphs?

DLC: Do darling, Do. Love your hair by the way.

AS: Thanks poppetina. I’m trying a new shampoo.

DLC: Really? Which?

AS: ‘Radiance for Men’ 59.95 a bottle but the results speak for themselves.

DLC: It’s super dear. Really you.

AS: Cheers sweets.

(Long pause)

AC: Lovely.

DLC: Ades babes, he’s waiting for you to answer the question.

AS: Sorry! Miles away. Yes, Equity. Well we’re a trade union, obviously. So I suppose our role is one of support. Fair Daphs?

DLC: Absolutely, peaches. We’re here to negotiate better rates of pay and working hours for actors and performers.

AS: Negotiate, well done darls. I’d forgotten about that bit. You see if we don’t stand up for actors then who will?

DLC: Well quite.

AC: Equity does tend to have a reputation of being a bit secretive doesn’t it?

DLC: I don’t know. Does it? Would you have said that Adey baby?

AS: No. I mean, it’s not like we’re the Masons or anything is it? They’re an entirely different kettle de poisson. Apart from the initiation ceremonies we’re completely different.

AC: Er, what initiation ceremonies? I’ve never heard of them.

DLC: Oops! Let the cat out of the bag, Ades!

AS: Oh well it’s nothing exciting really. Just a simple ceremony.

DLC: And a few tests. You know, tolerance to pain that sort of thing.

AS: And a blood sacrifice.

DLC: Yes, it’s all terribly, terribly gothic. You do look so good in black, Adey.

AS: Bless you, my chiquititta. Bless you. As do you, of course.

DLC: You’re only saying it because it’s true.

AS: You go girl!

AC: If I could just interject for a moment. Are you telling me that all new members have to take part in a blood sacrifice before they’re allowed to get an Equity card?

DLC: Well of course. We don’t give them out like sweets. They have to earn them.

AS: And it’s not like it’s a human sacrifice. We use goats and chickens. And the occasional Peregrine Falcon.

AC: Which is an endangered species.

DLC: So are talented actors.

AS: Exactly. Which would you prefer, a bird that nobody ever sees except a few loonies with binoculars or a company of actors who can put on a really good production of ‘An Inspector Calls’?

DLC: Or ‘Death of a Salesman’?

AS: Ahhhh, Mr Miller really knows how to craft a play.

DLC: So true. So very true.

AC: So apart from that is there anything else that Equity does?

DLC: No.

AC: Tell me about the strike action then.

AS: Well it’s beastly isn’t it? Ghastly. What are they thinking of?

DLC: Adrian, we’ve called the strike.

AS: Oh that strike.

DLC: It’s all to do with royalties you see.

AS: Yes indeed. Film producers are getting richer and actors are getting poorer.

DLC: Super summarisation.

AS: Merci.

AC: So the basic problem is that producers get paid a sum every time they sell the broadcast or video rights for their film but actors only get a one-off payment. Is that right?

AS: I sense a nail/head interface here.

DLC: Absolutement.

AS: It’s a disgrace. However is Dame Judi supposed to make ends meet? She is a widow, you know.

DLC: Ah, Dame Judi. Have you seen her Lady Macbeth?

AC: No I must confess I haven’t.

AS: Oh you must. Superlative!

AC: But she’s not exactly starving.

AS: What the good lord gives us today he can just as easily take away tomorrow.

DLC: Indeed. To utilise a sporting metaphor, he’s a ruthless umpire.

AS: Meanwhile the film producers are getting fat.

AC: Only a few surely?

DLC: A few is still too many. Actors should get an equal share of the cake.

AS: Do you mind if we stop talking about food? I’m on the fifth week of my diet.

DLC: Slim Fast plan?

AS: No it’s a Chinese diet which works along the same principles as Feng Shui. As long as I don’t eat any carbohydrate while I’m facing north then my Chi stays in balance and I lose weight. Simple eh?

AC: Well that’s one word for it.

DLC: Did I detect a note of sarcasm?

AS: A note? I detected an entire symphony!

AC: So the action you’ve called means that actors shouldn’t accept any film roles after December 1st. What if that doesn’t have any effect?

DLC: Then we shall simply up the ante!

AS: Tally ho Daphs!

AC: And what will that involve exactly?

DLC: We’re going to get really tough.

AS: Frighteningly so.

DLC: Brave heart, Adey-pops.

AS: Right back at you, Daph.

AC: Er, you still haven’t told me what you’ll do.

DLC: We shall take to the streets!

AC: What? You mean a demonstration?

AS: No. Street theatre.

AC: Street theatre?

DLC: We’ll bring the country to it’s knees.

AC: By using street theatre?

DLC: Oh yes. Imagine the chaos. People won’t be able to move for jugglers, mime artists, performance poets…

AS: Shopping centres will be clogged by people doing one-man versions of ‘Moby Dick’. David Jason is working on his whale costume even now.

DLC: Patrick Stewart is going to fly across London in a hot air balloon reading passages from Richard Burton’s autobiography through a megaphone.

AS: Alan Rickman is going to storm the BBC television newsroom in character as Richard III.

DLC: We’re going to occupy the public galleries of the House of Commons and put on panto 24 hours a day.

AS: Helena Bonham-Carter will be performing a selection of songs from ‘Annie’ around the streets of Sheffield.

DLC: Lynne Redgrave, Peter O’Toole, Paul Schofield and Martine McCutcheon will be doing a ‘Celebrity Stars in their Eyes’ in Leeds. O’Toole’s Jason Donovan is definitive in my opinion.

AS: It’ll make the petrol crisis look like a little girl’s tea party.

AC: Er, right. Well. Good luck.

Talks over the Equity strike are continuing.

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