5 years ago, the Hope Theatre was started as an experiment – the King's Head Theatre had just begun trialling our now standard model, created in association with Equity, to run a pub theatre that offered fair pay at a fringe rate, that would radically alter the chronic issue of underpaying performers in Off West End theatre. We were told it couldn't be done – especially not in a pub theatre space, and especially considering the Hope only seats 50 people. The whole venture was deemed impossible.
5 years later, the Equity Fringe Agreement has been adopted by over 300 different theatres and productions, changing the face of Off West End theatre and proving that fair pay is achievable. After trialling the scheme at the Hope, we have adopted it at the King's Head Theatre across all of our productions, and are proud to be at the vanguard of a fairer, more professional Off West End.
We set this ball rolling at the Hope with our inaugural production, a double bill of the inaugural Stella Wilkie Award 2013 winner Sand Pits Avenue and League of St George, and since then leading the charge with new musical Ushers, which played in the West End and at the Edinburgh Fringe; Adrian Pagan award-winner Dead Party Animals, which I directed; and the premiere of Joe Orton's Fred and Madge, directed by Mary Franklin and produced by myself.
After starting the Hope, we found we could not manage two spaces, and handed the reins to Matthew Parker in 2014. He and his team have proven, through hard work and determination, that the model works, even in the smallest of spaces, and that fair pay is an achievable goal for Off West End theatres. Why, then, have so many others not adopted it?
I'm continually amazed that there is any real argument against fair pay, especially in an industry that is in such dire need of it. The arguments are always the same – that it is too expensive for most companies, or that it would hamper productions with large casts. And yet a 50 seat pub venue, with even less capacity than other spaces making this argument, has managed to survive – what we began as an experiment in making theatre fairer has now become a shining beacon of what this industry can do, with numerous awards and West End transfers to its name.
The Hope is proof that fair pay is an achievable goal, and it is a testament to the tenacity and inventiveness that all of the companies passing through have shown, and to the Matthew Parker's leadership and drive to go. His Off West End award for Best Artistic Director in 2017 is truly deserved.
I am looking forward to what the Hope Theatre do over the next 5 years, especially as the King's Head Theatre become even bigger with our planned move in 2020. Never has there been a more important time where venues of the Hope's size have needed to demonstrate disruptive production models that put equality and excellence on equal footing.
Top of page - Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Right of page - Adrian Pagan award-winner Dead Party Animals, directed by Spreadbury-Mayer
Below - the premiere of Joe Orton's Fred and Madge, directed by Mary Franklin and produced Spreadbury-Maher
@November 2018 London Pub Theatres Magazine Limited