Article by APDG Live Performance Committee Chair Stephen Curtis.
Over the last month or so I have had 3 emails/phone calls from distraught young and emerging designers over the way they have been treated by producers, companies and directors on various productions. The issues range from directors not settling on a concept and constantly changing their minds (with the designer racing, unpaid to redesign over and over again), being unpaid for hours worked, being locked into a last-minute production schedule without consultation or any understanding of the need for the designer to meet commitments to other projects, not being reimbursed for production expenses, production dates changing without consultation, verbal contracts being disregarded….
Other cases that have also been mentioned to me by experienced designers include a company refusing to pay to get an interstate director together with their designer in preproduction to design the production (it ‘wasn’t in the contract’), companies withholding superannuation payments, companies giving feasibility on a design more than a month after design delivery – by which time the designer has gone on to finalise design documentation, directors and producers demanding unfeasible design solutions or enforcing design deadlines even when the design delivery date fell on a public holiday (yes, really!)…..
I think Designers understand that we are the nexus between ideas (in scripts and concepts) and concrete reality (in set, costume and props designs). It is in the nature of the work we do, with practical budget and schedule implications of every decision that we make. But we don’t have to accept being cast as the meat in the sandwich, wedged between the dream and the reality.
Over the last year the APDG has been active in advocating for designers caught in difficult situations with their employers. We are not able to give the industrial support that the MEAA offers, but we are able to go in and bat on our members’ behalf: over recent months the Live Performance Committee has met with a recalcitrant management and argued the case for fair fees (they listened attentively and fees have increased a little), met with producers and production managers of the major theatre companies to promote best collaborative practice (we don’t agree on everything, but we are making headway), written to a management on a member’s behalf, and continued mentoring support through difficult times. These are all ways that we can advocate for our members.
So if you have been treated shabbily by a management think about how we can work to improve the situation. Carefully document situations that look as though they might be going off the rails. Let the Guild know what we can do to help. It is important work for the Guild and we are happy to do it. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.