SMA Cueline – The Modern Day Buyout

I wrote the following article in 2015 for the UK Stage Management Association publication Cueline.

The Modern Day Buyout

The rise of the buyout contract has been significant to many of our working lives in recent years. My personal experience has led me to wanting to raise awareness amongst stage managers of how best to negotiate with employers and what to be on the look out for when entering into these agreements.

“SMA support Equity contracts. SMA does not oppose buyouts, but advises members to be especially careful with ‘full’ buyouts under non-Equity contracts. Watch out for phrases in contracts such as ‘no other payment will be made’ or similar phrases.  Remember that there are some EU employment rules which protect days off and overnight breaks (although at present they are quite weak).”

There are different types on offer: buyout connected with an Equity agreement or a non-Equity agreement otherwise known as a fee or manager’s own. If it is connected to an Equity contract you are protected by the minimum terms and conditions of that agreement which your employer should send to you before you sign your contract.

 What you need to consider before accepting:

  • Firstly ask the employer for a Buyout Breakdown, they should be doing this anyway as stated in many an Equity agreement so don’t feel afraid to find out what you are being ‘bought out’ of.

SOLT Agreement 2013


2.1.1 The Manager shall issue a Standard Contract to any Artist engaged to work under this Agreement.

2.1.2. Any addendum or rider which forms a part of the Contract shall not worsen the overall position of the Artist over the period of the engagement from that provided for in this Agreement or the Standard Contract. Where an element of contractual entitlement is bought out for an enhanced sum, the addendum or rider shall clearly state what is included in such buy out.

  • As a general rule I always ask for a staffing structure as well so I know what roles are being filled and if I’m being expected to take on more that I would normally associate with that job title. I started to do this after I realised on day 1 of a rehearsal period that no ASM had been employed and between the CSM and myself we would have to take on that role.
  • In relation to the above point, find out if any additional duties will be expected of you for example lighting or sound operation, wardrobe duties etc. Will they contribute to an increase in your weekly hours?
  • Calculate if it’s a good buyout or a bad buyout. Work out your entitled minimum weekly wage depending on what contract it is connected to and add on extra payments such as a 12-show week, Sunday performance fee, Bank Holidays, pension and overtime. I’ve been on both! A good buyout was when an employer bought me out of 6 hours overtime per week that was added onto my weekly wage but also any additional hours I had worked (as we kept timesheets) were paid at the end of the contract.
  • Holiday Pay should never be calculated into a buyout. It is a separate payment, which all employers have to legally pay and show separately. Holiday pay can be estimated at 1/13 of the overall pay for a contract (minus holiday days agreed and taken during the contract) but each agreement has their own calculations.

 When you are employed on a buy out contract:

  • Keep timesheets and encourage others to do so. If you are working a 60-hour week consistently and there is no way to reduce your hours you can talk to your employer with evidence.
  • Now I love a good moan as much as anyone else but we need to keep an open dialogue with producers so they are aware of our hours as some of the time they can be completely unaware and very willing to help out by either providing more people or extra payments (more people always being the preferred option!)
  • Make sure you are being paid the National Minimum Wage! This especially applies to jobs advertised as ‘Opportunities’, it is illegal to pay below this rate, so if someone is offering £200 a week fee and you are aged 21 and over then you should only be working 30.7 hours. On the other end of the scale even if you are getting £450 a week on a buy out but are working 70 hours a week consistently then you are dropping below the minimum wage.

National Minimum Wage

Year 21 and over 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice*
2015 (from 1st October) £6.70 £5.30 £3.87 £3.30
2014 (current rate) £6.50 £5.13 £3.79 £2.73

*This rate is for apprentices’ aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year. All other apprentices are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their age.

 Seeking help:

  • Be brave! I know it’s scary, I get scared of taking a stand and I’ve been professional for seven years but what we need to realise is that if we don’t start to question unfair contracts then it will only get worse. The industry is a business, employers want to make a profit and their biggest outgoing is wages so if there is a way to pay us less then we can’t really blame them for trying. If you are not sure: talk it over with SMA or Equity or colleagues first and make a list of points.
  • Members should check any contract you are not sure about with SMA and Equity- i.e. any contract if you are not certain of the provisions- especially any ‘non-standard’ contract. Please remember that we can help you much more if we see the contract before you sign it, rather than after the event. An employer should always give you at least a day to read over a contract and come back with any questions before signing.
  • Equity is always there to help even if you are not a member. You can get in touch via phone or email and they will always get back to you with advice.
  • For more informal chats and discussions there are Equity and SMA Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as other stage management forums.

@SMAssoc @EquitySM @EquityUK @EquityLPNP

  • Talk to each other! We need to keep an open dialogue between stage managers of what we are being offered and how best to negotiate. If you are unhappy with an offer or are unsure whether it is actually a ‘good deal’ don’t feel like you have to accept it. We don’t have agents to do the dirty work for us but remember that the company want to employ you and you are often worth a lot more. Remember SMA can put you in touch with other members or board members who can help- we have over 600 professional members to help you!

 Useful documents:

  • Stage Management Committee Buyout Guidelines can be found in the members’ area of the Equity website (Home > Constitutional Registers > Stage Management > Documents) and on the SMA website under ‘Resources: Useful info & advice documents’. This document is currently undergoing an update.
  • Agreements can be found on the following websites. Generally you have to be a member to access them but your employer or Company Manager should provide you with a copy. Large national companies (e.g. ROH, RNT, RSC etc) may have their own agreements and should also provide you with a copy of this.



Theatre needs to be a dictatorship

I know a lot of people like to think that the rehearsal room is a laid-back room of creatives organically building beautifully experimental and bold work BUT there is an unspoken hierarchy that must be adhered to, to prevent chaos and confusion.

The Director sets the tone of the room from day one. The first day is very important to set the schedule of what he or she wants to achieve and laying down the ground rules to the cast and stage management team. Despite the image of us being floaty artsy types, we need structure, stability and direction that can only come from a strong leader.

The rehearsal room is a psychologist’s dream, the fine line between fear and friendship, respect and ruthlessness where the balance can shift very quickly if frustration grows from either side of the room. The cast need to feel comfortable to express themselves by throwing new ideas into the mix but then the director must be firm in their vision explaining the process and meaning behind tasks so not to keep veering off in the wrong direction. Schedules are always tight and are becoming even more so with budget cuts so wasting an hour a day over a three-week period equates to 18 hours or 2.5 days of lost time.

You never realise how much influence a strong director has on a room until you encounter one that isn’t and if you have you will know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s hard work on everyone, the actors don’t know what’s going on and why would they if no-one else in the room does, it impacts design and stage management because decisions aren’t being made and therefore knocking on to the creatives who are trying to get kit and designs in without having a show! I believe the term ‘organic’ should be banned from theatre, it is defined as “denoting or characterized by a harmonious relationship between the elements of a whole” or “gradual or natural development”. I may be being old and bitter but ‘harmonious’ is not what the cast or stage management experience when someone refers to the process as organic because it should be as defined without using the word as an excuse for lack of vision.

Fortunately, we, in theatre create a safe environment for talent to flourish with differing levels of experience in a team helping and guiding each other through what is a stressful but joyous experience. I just wish sometimes it was easier….