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ITC backs WGGB Covid-19 guidelines

The theatre management company ITC has thrown its support behind WGGB’s Covid-19 theatre guidelines to protect playwrights and the health of the sector during the pandemic.

The organisation joins UK Theatre and leading playwrights April De Angelis, Jack Thorne, Laura Wade, David Eldridge, Lucy Kirkwood, Roy Williams, James Graham, Bryony Lavery and David Edgar who all endorsed the guidelines last month.

WGGB has now reached agreement with ITC (the Independent Theatre Council) on the key proposals contained in the guidelines. They confirm the rights playwrights continue to hold under WGGB Theatre Agreements and provide a blueprint for protecting working playwrights during these challenging times, when existing work is being streamed free, and writers are under pressure to accept digital work for low rates.

WGGB is particularly concerned about the impact the Covid-19 lockdown might have on the commissioning of new plays, and has called for the launch of a national New Plays Commission Scheme (NPCS).

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said: “The creative industries are facing unprecedented challenges and theatre has been the hardest hit. The Government’s announcement to great fanfare this week on the easing of lockdown measures contained no crumbs of hope for playwrights and theatre freelancers. Theatres may be able to throw open their doors on July 4 but not for live performances and many theatre leaders are anticipating that they won’t be able to properly reopen until 2021, and some not at all.

“It is therefore welcome news that the ITC has joined UK Theatre in supporting our guidelines to protect playwrights, and recognise the role they play in powering this vital sector of the UK’s creative economy as the pandemic continues to pose a threat to its very existence.”

Former WGGB President and theatre negotiator David Edgar commented: “We’re delighted that the ITC are encouraging their over 450 members, including most of the best and most innovative British theatre companies and producers, to join over 70 major subsidised companies who are members of UK Theatre in following our guidelines. This means that the vast majority of British subsidised theatres and companies now back policies designed to protect the present and the future of British theatre writing.

“The guidelines are intended to protect freelance playwrights now by ensuring that they are paid properly for work to be broadcast digitally. For the future, we aim to ensure that new commissions for live performance aren’t allowed to dry up, particularly for women, BAME and disabled writers.

“The extraordinary events of the past months could inspire a golden age of playwriting. But without commissions now, a reopened theatre could find itself with nothing contemporary to perform”.

ITC has decided to support the following principles enshrined in our guidelines, and set out this advice to their members:

1. The WGGB Agreements are still in force so ITC members who have issued the ITC/WGGB Ethical Manager Contract to writers should continue to follow those terms and conditions.

2. Plays that were scheduled or intended for future performance should be postponed rather than cancelled wherever possible.

3. To encourage this, writers should grant theatres a free licence extension of nine months from the date of the theatre or venue’s reopening (with the option of the theatre offering a further extension of six months, where there is a serious prospect of production).

4. Upfront fees: Writers should not be asked to return upfront fees. Where a writer has been given a further, non-returnable advance on royalties (on top of the acceptance fee) such payment should be non-returnable but entirely set against royalties when the play is presented.

5. New plays (including short plays and monologues) commissioned to be digitally broadcast during lockdown should be paid for. The spirit of the Agreement should be honoured, and fees for ITC contracts calculated at 50% of pro-rata to those in the current Agreements. For example, on this basis the minimum fee for a 10-minute script would be £500. Fees for longer/shorter plays should be pro-rata with those figures.

6. Where existing shows are streamed, and fees are being paid, writers will be included. Any donations should not simply underwrite the running costs of the venue, but – where possible – help to stimulate the creative ecology of theatre, including writers, as a whole.

7. ITC and WGGB are committed to encouraging new commissions and the production of new plays,and support the campaign for a national New Commissions Fund.

8. Donation income: Where tickets have been sold but not used because the play has been taken off, theatres have offered refunds but invited ticketholders either to accept exchanges or to donate the price of the ticket to the theatre. Where this happens companies should consider dividing donation income between the theatre and freelancers.

9. Delivery deadlines: Where a writer’s working circumstances have changed radically during the emergency (for example, through illness or increased family responsibilities) commissioning companies should be open to extending delivery deadlines.

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