What is West End in Schools (WEIS)?
Every child’s imagination should be inspired by the arts. Our mission is to use the skills of the professional theatre to provide highly creative cultural experiences which children will remember for ever.
WEIS has worked with over 300 performers, predominantly of a musical theatre background.
We provide flexible work for actors - an "in-between" job where they can use their brilliant skills of acting, singing and dancing to inspire children. Actors visit primary schools performing in original pantomimes and musical theatre shows, or teaching dance, drama and/or Shakespeare workshops.
All the work takes place in primary schools and is specifically created for this audience.
Some of our performers and facilitators come to us through their agents but many join us through personal recommendations, having friends who work or have worked with the company.
The basis of the WEIS arrangement was and is that any work or auditions that comes though agents will take precedence. When we started working in schools some nine years ago the company was basically a group of friends, and this is the relationship we still have with the majority of our actors. We have a 100% track record of releasing actors for auditions at any notice - and all our performers will testify to this! See below for more details.
Are you really casting 92 actors for pantomimes?
How do the pantomimes work?
Each actor learns one 1-hour long show over a short rehearsal period in November.
Performances are predominantly in December, though there is some work in late November and early January as well. Performances take place in primary schools and as such are typically Monday to Friday during school hours, though there are very occasional weekend or evening performances at school Christmas fetes and the like.
The shows are all two-handers, telling classic stories with original music. The songs are more mini Mamma Mia than CBeebies - and such they keep actors audition fit!
WEIS rehearses approximately twice the number of people we need to give performances on the busiest day and then shares the work around, which is how we can afford to release people for a job or an audition.
What happens in case of an audition?
If your client gets an audition on a day when they are booked to perform with WEIS all they need to do is contact their Company Manager. They don't need to do this though you or show us an email trail - just a phone call from them will suffice - but as soon as possible please!
We will release them at any notice but the more notice they can give us the easier it is to replace them and not disappoint our customers.
On occasions when we are particularly short of performers we may ask someone to perform a morning show and go to the audition in the afternoon (if this is viable) - and in turn this means a full days pay and the audition for your client!
The audition rule applies for rehearsal days as well, though it is a little more complex as our experience says performers really do need all the time the can get in the room to learn the show.
There are times when it's really difficult to let someone go, or covering them inconveniences their colleagues enormously - as we perform all over the country. If we are in a difficult situation and moving the time of your client's audition would help everyone we would be very grateful if you would try to do so.
In general performances in schools finish at 3.15pm (although potentially a long way from London) so the last audition of the day is normally a good time to allow your client to both perform (and get paid) and audition - and that means they are fresh in the casting director's memory too.
What happens if my client gets another job?
Auditions do turn into jobs - and we are thrilled for people when they get them! We are happy to release people from rehearsals and any performances they are booked into if they get a panto or other performing job.
How much work do people get?
Due to a combination of when the bookings come in and last minute swaps due to auditions is hard to answer this with absolute certainty. We say that in addition to the rehearsals people should expect 7-10 days of shows over the performance period, but they will likely get more days if they are able to cover for auditioning colleagues etc.
This can sometimes increase up to full time work for actors who are flexible with their plans and pick up days of shows at short notice.
WEIS doesn't tend to work well for people who have a lot of fixed weekly arrangements.
Is there an opportunity for more work?
On occasion we have put people on fixed contracts (ie performing every week day in December up until the schools close), which clearly increases their income over the period. This only works on the proviso that they don't take auditions that don't fit within the schedule and take excellent care of themselves so they don't get sick. If you are interested in making an arrangement like this for your client please talk to us.
How much does it pay?
Our terms of engagement are favoured nations: all our performers are paid at the same rates and using the same rules.
Rehearsals are paid on a show learning fee basis.
- All shows except Scroogical have a rehearsal period consisting of a 90 minute music call, and a three day rehearsal process spread over either Wednesday/Friday/Monday or Thursday/Saturday/Tuesday. The learning fee for these shows in £250.
- Scroogical! has a higher learning fee of £350 as it has a longer four day rehearsal process, plus the music call.
- Expenses are not payable for rehearsals.
- The payment is made on the Tuesday the week after they have successfully performed the show off book in the rehearsal room.
Performance days are paid at a rate of:
- £100 per day whether it is a one, two or three show day.
- Shows over 12 in a week are paid at an additional £25 per show.
So a typical performer's earnings if they are with us for the whole pantomime season would be around £1,000 to £1,250 - but some people may earn nearly twice that if they are always available and others are not.
We will cover expenses related to the show including travel to and from the hire car if required, petrol, accommodation and a meal allowance for nights away from home. Full details are available at www.westendinschools.org.uk/expenses-policy
How do the payments work?
Payments are made every Tuesday evening - so the payments are received by Wednesday morning. We pay every Tuesday for work done up until the previous Saturday, so if the final day of rehearsals was a Monday the payment will be made on the Tuesday of the following week.
We issue a self billing invoice with the payment each week; this is effectively a copy of your invoice to us so there is no need to invoice us. This will detail all the work done for which fees have been received but won't include the expenses, as this is a reimbursement rather than taxable income.
We have the facility to direct a payment to the agency and expenses directly to the actors if this is helpful, or we can make both payments to the same account. We ask that you denote how you prefer this to work on the starter form which we will send you.
We hire actors on a self employed basis, so they are responsible for their own tax and National Insurance contributions.
If your client is VAT registered please send us an invoice for the VAT only after the season has finished.
I heard some agents do not take commission?
You're obviously welcome to take commission, and this is entirely dependent on each actor/agent relationship.
It would be typical for agents who have put their client up for audition with us to take commission from their client's work with us in the usual way. Some choose not to for teaching work, but do for performing.
Other agents treat this as "in between" work and take the view that as their client could take a job or an audition at any notice they would rather not get involved and so they take no commission from it and don't get involved in handling the payments. (This used to be the case for everyone some years ago when all of our actors joined us through personal recommendations.)
When will my client get their schedule?
As soon as we have a schedule we will let your client know. We typically release an indication of each actors performance dates (showing whether they are spending the night away or not) around the third week of November.
The schedules themselves (i.e. with all the specifics on them) will be sent on the Wednesday or Thursday before each performance week.
Travel by hire car - and why do you make deductions?
We use hire cars, so it is imperative to the project that your client is both able and willing to drive.
They need to be:
- over 22 years old in November
- and have had a license for at least one year.
- not have any bad endorsements on their licence. Please talk to us if they have.
Due to the audition situation it isn't possible for just one of each pair to drive as if someone gets on a train from Manchester to attend an audition in London the other needs to be able to drive the car to collect someone else a few hours later. Also, it is fairer to share the driving.
We make a deduction of £2 per actor per performance day when they are travelling in the hire car; this decreases each actor's share of the insurance excess to £80 (less than a day's pay). This is detailed in the contract and there is a choice to opt out of this deduction and be responsible for half of the £750 insurance excess, with WEIS being responsible for the other half - we do not recommend this option.
We recognise that the car hire excess is a part of this agreement that isn't common to contracts for other jobs, and when the car hire company increased the excess from £50 to £750 (!) we researched what other businesses do with drivers and damaged vehicles.
In all the examples we could find the driver was 100% responsible for the excess when a hire car was in their possession, and this included people working for non commercial organisations like the NHS.
We felt asking the performer to take 100% responsibility was unfair and had an open conversation with a number of our regular performers regarding the way forward. The terms set out in the contract are what we agreed and unfortunately these cannot be flexed for individual actors but we hope that the background will help reassure you, as well as the fact that your client will have the same terms as everyone else working for West End in Schools.
We cannot contract people with convictions or police cautions for violent behaviour. If your client has any of these they will show up on the DBS check when it comes back to us, so it is best they save everyone embarrassment by not applying!
It is a requirement that anyone working in a primary school has an Enhanced DBS (previously known as CRB) check. We accept checks that have been done by other companies as long as they are dated within the last three years and your client has the hard copy, or is registered on the update service.
Should your client not have this check we are happy to submit a one for them and will pay for it as long as your client performs at least one show for WEIS.
The results will show up any criminal record, caution, reprimand or warning that your client may have.
If you or your client have any questions about a particular situation please talk to us - and of course we will treat this in confidence.