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Mamma Mia - time for a fight scene

THOSE in the performing arts "have always been in the gig economy," says Nicola Hawkins, an Executive Committee member in actors' union Equity. At LFB's event on precarious work, she described a "low pay and no-pay industry... the fringe getting worse... 80 per cent are earning less than £20,000 a year" and gave an invigorating presentation of the fight scenes.

Ursula Huws; David Hoffman

Nicola Hawkins

An actor, musician, promoter, temp, lifeguard for a bit, Nicola recalls being handed a two-page contract while in the ensemble with Mamma Mia in the West End. Her "first professional job" had been working in a bank, issuing contracts, so she read it - and discovered it referred to book-sized West End Agreement, which included stuff she'd not been told about like being paid to attend a costume fitting.

After getting "angry" about the rights of actor-musicians, in some cases effectively doing three jobs, she was headhunted as an Equity deputy (rep) by activists and "started to understand what collective agreements were." She set up the "Ensemble" Facebook group for musical performers. Thanks to her efforts and colleagues' ,175 productions have now signed up to Equity's "fringe contracts", meaning hundreds of millions more in wages.

There's been some "good negotiation", with a "12 per cent pay rise for our members on tour in the next few months". Equity has grown by a thousand members a year to its current 40,000, helped by "nurturing student and graduate members". When Equity knock on the door, "disorganised employers know something is wrong." Pointing out that they don't want to go to court is usually enough to get them to say, "OK". Employers now believe her when she threatens a walk-out.