Thursday, 20 June 2013

What went wrong, and why did Young Vic let it happen?

(Received anonymously by email).

I decided to write a blog post after a tweet by Lyn Gardner. I’ve been reading the blog since it started and broadly support what has been said. One of the problems is that the issues covered are widespread and varied and the blog has opened up a number of nasty wounds. The recent loss of jobs and redundancies have caused outrage but the root causes run much deeper and reflect a need for systemic change within the company.

Lyn Gardner said it perfectly and succinctly with only 140 characters at her disposal when she wrote “Situation with @YoungVicUshers seems to be less about what's been done as how it's been done which often reflects culture of a building”. I will aim for similar brevity in this post, although I feel I am doomed to failure.

First of all I’d like to say that each day there are members of staff heading into the Young Vic who are doing an amazing job. I think it’s fair to highlight the Taking Part team who engage new audiences, work with hard to reach groups and do everything in their power to uphold the heart of what we think the Young Vic to be.  I don’t want the fact that upper management have treated their lowest paid workers badly to take away from that, even though I am all too aware of the contradictions it brings.

As Lyn Gardner said the issues are not what has been done but how. Members of staff lost their jobs with no consultation and with no option of union support until the damage was done. The statement from the Young Vic offered little in the way of understanding the real issues and was more a limp explanation of what happened. Understandably they said they cannot comment on individual cases posted anonymously on a blog – I think we can all see why that is the case. However, saying that misses the point. They do not need to comment on anonymous grievances, rather they need to acknowledge that they are steering a ship with lots of unhappy passengers.  They need to come out publicly and say, we are sorry for the way in which we handled the job losses, we really screwed up, we screwed up big time.

After that they need to take a long hard look at what has gone so badly wrong, and they need to take responsibility for it. Why is it, that a couple of years ago their lowest ranking workers loved the building, loved the theatre, loved the ethos. And why is it that now they feel undervalued, not respected, and most importantly of all not listened to. The Young Vic doesn’t need to respond to individual grievances to do that, they just need to be open to the fact, that that is the reality for many of their staff and then address it.
I worked at the Young Vic for a long time, however I left a couple of months ago before the job losses took place. I was aware of what an unhappy place it was. When I was there, I was vocal and cried out for change whenever I could. Sometimes I think management relished my passion, other times I think they just wanted me to shut up and go away, but crucially whatever problems I highlighted were never acted upon. This not only made day to day working harder because things that were broken never got fixed, it also made me feel less and less valued. I was powerless. It was much easier to ignore staff and let them suffer, than to listen and make changes.

There have been a few comments bandied about that suggest David Lan has been protected by senior management as to what is happening in the organisation. I am not convinced this is true. I think David is aware but through no fault of his own, his perspective is skewed. The problems arise in the chain of command. The information he receives is refracted through the prism of the managers he speaks to. So when a problem occurs at the bottom, it is not the people at the bottom reporting to David, it is the managers of the people at the bottom. Those managers will not say “I’m just letting you know my staff think I am managing them badly”. The consequence of this is that the issue gets warped. I think it is this that gets in the way of what is really going on.

 In an article printed in the stage he is quoted as saying “If the people who are running our box office are part of our in-house teams and consequently come to our meetings and are better informed about our shows and what we are trying to achieve, they will be fully integrated into the life of the theatre.” This partly illustrates my point. It would appear he has been given the impression that change is needed as the front of house are not integrated enough. This would be better solved by asking the staff to come to meetings and involving them in conversations about the life of the theatre, not excluding or refusing to hear them.  On numerous occasions staff asked for meetings, and asked for involvement, but were told it’s too difficult to get everyone together. It seems that staff have lost their jobs because they aren’t integrated enough, which is a missed opportunity because integration is just what they have been asking for.

Since the treatment of staff has been made public I have received numerous emails and text messages from past staff members. Not front of house staff members, but staff working in many departments at all levels of seniority. They have all told me HR horror stories of the way redundancies and maternity cover have been handled. Obviously I can’t and won’t comment on others experience except to say, that these people aren’t bitter at losing their jobs (although they were obviously upset and angry at the time) every single one of them was just saddened, by the way they were treated. I mention this to reinforce the depth of the problem.

I hope with all my heart that the Young Vic can turn it around. Admittedly there is little they can do for the people who have lost their jobs. Even if they did a huge u-turn and changed their mind on everything it is too late, people are too winded, angry and upset. They have seen what value the Young Vic puts on their heads. But maybe, just maybe the Young Vic can put something in place to show those that work for them that they do care, that they are important, that they will be heard. They can of course only do this, if they mean it.


As always we are incredibly grateful for people coming forward with stories, opinions, and issues like this one.

From a National Theatre staff member

"I was interested to see the NT brought up in your post from an anon contributor here: 

As someone who works FOH at the NT, I have to say that their treatment of us is really exemplary. We have extensive training and are made to feel like we are ambassadors for the theatre, and that our contribution to the organisation is just as important compared to staff in other areas.

Management are very accessible and weekly meetings about what's going on in the organisation as a whole, as well as just FOH concerns, are open to everyone. While things are by no means perfect (, I think it's good to highlight that if a huge theatre like the NT can manage it, there's no reason why smaller places like the YV can't do it too."

From a former Young Vic staff member

"I was lucky enough to have spent many happy years at the Young Vic, though never admitting   just how many.  I  worked with enthusiastic dedicated BO staff,  but one thing that always worried me was the term "Casual" there were 3 of us who were lucky enough to be contracted staff left over from a bygone era, one of us still at YV, but new staff were employed on this "Casual" basis even though they went on to work for years and not just months or weeks, they were always happy to do any shifts that were on offer, train up new staff and work unsociable hours, without the benefits of holiday or sick payments.
The Ushers were always a happy group of people, I remember Louisa & Kirstin employing staff all ages, students, actors a great team of people, some of which I believe are still there and there was always time for training, it seems a shame if this is not now the case.

It is sad that BECTU seems to have let these staff down, for even if there were just a couple of members there should have been some negotiation.

I can only wish you all well."

Hush money

It has recently been reported to us that an usher who was dismissed via email with no discussion or warnings has been offered compensation with a clause that they do not talk about Young Vic in a negative light on social media.
We have heard this directly from the individual concerned but do not know more, or indeed concrete details of the case.

From a former Box Office Team member in response to the article BECTU posted on 17th June

A couple of days ago BECTU posted an article on their website in response to a post on this blog about their involvement with the Young Vic's decision to let go all of the Box Office staff and dramatically reduce the shifts offered to the Duty Managers.

BECTU do not agree with the post on this blog and believe they worked with the Young Vic with the staff's interests at heart. However, as an affected member of staff I do not agree that this is the case and I would like to address the points that BECTU raised in their argument.

"A restructuring proposal was discussed at an initial meeting between management and BECTU."

 Yes, this was the case. However, it was a meeting that excluded the Young Vic's BECTU representative - the one person who should have been there to speak on behalf of the staff. BECTU have not explained why this person was not invited.

"The original proposal improved significantly as a result of that meeting and was then the subject of two consultation meetings with BECTU members. Both of those meetings were open to any affected BECTU member to attend."

 I do not know what the original proposal was, but the new proposal involved people losing their jobs with no warning or consultation. The two meetings open to staff involved very little consultation as the Young Vic had already gone ahead with their decision.

"At the second of those meetings the members were given the choice of seeking further improvements to the compensation package on offer, or to reject the proposal completely and inform management that it was not supported. The members' decision was to pursue the first option and in doing so they also identified what improvements they wished to see."

 BECTU said we could stick with our token severance pay or they could hold up the red card and say they do not agree with the new staffing proposal - a little late considering the four replacement jobs had already been advertised. The only 'improvement' to the process that could have been made was earlier consultation, but by the time BECTU had spoken to us, our jobs were dead in the water. In many respects the meeting was futile.

"Following that, further negotiations produced an improved package, particularly in the areas the members had identified. This improved package has now been accepted in principle by the members but individual details are being worked through."

 To make clear what an improved package is, we need to separate the box office staff from the duty managers.

Duty Managers: Not being involved in these negotiations I can only provide a brief overview of what I understand. Initially, the Duty Managers were told that between four of them there would be a couple of shifts available in three months time. This meant they had not officially lost their jobs, they had just lost their work, consequently they would not have to be paid off. Now they will be compensated for loss of earnings in some way, so it is true to say that they now have a better deal than originally.

 Box Office: All Box Office staff have had their jobs cut and offered a token amount of severance pay with four weeks left to work. BECTU did propose introducing a 60 day consultation period, but this was after we had been sent letters informing us our jobs would no longer exist and after the new roles were advertised. It was too little, too late. As I have already said the time for consultation was before our jobs were cut, not after. This has been a difficult and upsetting time for all involved particularly because of the lack of respect we have been shown by management in not only this instance but for the past year. Our thoughts on how box office can be improved are not wanted and the lack of warning or consultation has made it an unbearable place to work our remaining shifts in.
Since this meeting it has been agreed that staff can leave their roles earlier but be paid for the remaining shifts (a few hours each), however, this has been arranged not by BECTU but by a member of the Box Office team.

"No formal agreement was given until the members had their say."

 I am not sure what this references as the new jobs replacing the box office team were advertised hours after we had learnt we had lost our jobs. This was before the two 'consultation' meetings with BECTU.

"BECTU always has, and always will, be guided by its members when it comes to negotiations on their behalf."

 This has not been the case in this instance.

"It is unfortunate that a couple of selective quotes, taken out of context, are being presented as an accurate portrayal of a meeting which lasted over an hour and a half."

These quotes are of course snippets of a much longer conversation, however the context of the longer conversation was that things had been handled badly by both BECTU and the Young Vic. "It's not my finest hour" was in direct response to us asking why the Young Vic's BECTU representative had not been included in initial discussions - what I believe to be the missing link in all this.

I am deeply saddened and disappointed by how this situation has been handled by both the Young Vic and BECTU. Particularly because for the last year we have been crying out for better communication and help to solve problems and our concerns have constantly been brushed aside. They are now using the problems we have highlighted as reasons to why the box office and front of house are being restructured, as if we were the problem.

 Lyn Gardner tweeted "Situation with @YoungVicUshers seems to be less about what's been done as how it's been done which often reflects culture of a building" which hits the nail on the head. Sometimes jobs do need to go, but do it properly and professionally and this blog would not have been created.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A note...

At this stage, we, the organisers of this platform, feel it is of paramount importance to highlight that although we are incredibly supportive of the comments and posts written on this forum, we are not the authors.

We have been publishing material which has been submitted to us via our email address. The blog has been created to be an open forum. We feel and indeed, felt, that there were many opinions and pieces of information that need space to be aired and so this blog was created. Posts, comments or accusations about activity such as blackmail are yet to be fact checked.

This is absolutely NOT to undermine our case, but rather to remind readers, supporters, and others, that there are many authors to this platform. We firmly commit to our cause and hope that there can be, soon, some positive action made by the relevant parties. We are upset but positive.

This note was written in inspiration to a comment beneath the 'BECTU' post.

Sunday, 16 June 2013


BECTU have been cited on twitter and in statements from the Young Vic, suggesting their involvement in the recent troubles means that the situation is being dealt with professionally and fairly. This is not necessarily the case.
The Young Vic had been planning the changes (unbeknown to the staff) for some time and contacted BECTU to ask how they could implement the changes.  BECTU agreed to work with the Young Vic and held meetings in private, without the Young Vic’s BECTU representative being present. Why they acted in this way we do not know.  BECTU have offered no explanation. For the avoidance of doubt the Young Vic’s BECTU representative should be present at any meeting between the theatre and the union.
Consequently the only voice being heard was that of the Young Vic Management, whose agenda was pretty clear. If the Young Vic wanted to proceed with their plans BECTU gave them two options: 1) A 60 day consultation period in which to work out, alongside the affected staff, the best way to proceed and make changes 2) Pay the staff a paltry sum and get rid of them asap. Obviously the Young Vic opted for the latter. Obviously the staff would have opted for the former. The choice the Young Vic made was sanctioned by BECTU. They agreed to it. They wilfully excluded all affected staff AND the BECTU representative from negotiations. Consequently I do not believe the claim that BECTU’s involvement has made the situation any better.
Secondly in his email, the Chairman of the Young Vic board stated that BECTU were issuing a statement saying why it was a “good thing”. This claim needs to be challenged on BECTU’s own terms.  After the announcement was made staff were given the opportunity to meet with BECTU. In this meeting the man from BECTU said, and I quote “this has not been my finest hour” and agreed that it had been handled badly. He could not however answer the question why a consultation wasn’t offered, nor why he had allowed private meetings to take place. So there would appear to be big disconnect between what BECTU is telling its members in meetings and what it wants to say to the outside world.
He also said he was “appalled” at the Young Vic’s decision to advertise the new jobs less than 24 hours after staff had been informed their jobs would cease to exist.  On this point I should mention that staff who had only just lost their jobs were having to take telephone enquiries and answer questions from applicants for the new positions.
There has also been an assumption, that because there are jobs to apply for there is no problem to solve. This is wrong on a number of counts, but primarily 11 members of staff have been affected and only four jobs are on offer. Secondly the new roles exclude the majority of current staff who cannot work full time and every weekend, as they have freelance careers, child care issues, or are combining this job with other work. As with front of house jobs in the majority of theatres, part of the attraction is the flexibility involved. Furthermore, part of the reason the Young Vic front of house team is so strong is because of the variety of experience and personality the current staff bring.
So when the Young Vic says “Their concerns are being addressed and we have agreed a proposal for affected staff with BECTU.” please take it with a pinch of salt. And to be very, very, very clear their concerns are NOT being addressed, and they haven’t been for a very long time. That is why this blog exists, that is why there is a social media furore and that is why the Young Vic are having to make a statement at all.

An email we received in response to Young Vic's statement yesterday

I just received an email anonymously which is in response to Young Vic's statement on their own blog about what's been happening with redundancies. (N.B. I've edited it a bit as it was quite long).
Please note that we are generally not writing posts ourselves but posting material emailed in to us. It is always indicated when a post has been sent to us.

The Young Vic know very well which dismissals are being referred to, they choose not to comment because they have been unfair.
 Well done Young Vic for mentioning BECTU here and paying them lip service. At what stage were any of your employees contacted to discuss decisions which would have major implications on their lives alone? And  only after pressure was exerted were BECTU brought in...but mentioning BECTU is meaningless now, they had to be forced by their own members to fight for adequate compensation.  No one can be reassured by BECTU anymore, their reputation is  in tatters. So to mention BECTU now does not wash.
I wish the complaints from FOH were merely  FOH complaints. They aren't and they can't be because they are a micro of the is being indicated on the blog, most staff are afraid for their jobs and will not speak out. The emphasis has shifted from a holistic approach to a more compartmentalised one, where workers are stuck in their own departments and do not mingle, a bit like the NT... this is due to a regime change at the top.
Where once there was a creative synthesis- which in a small but crucial way involved the Ushers and their treatment of the audiences- there is now disparity. I was once proud to wear my Young Vic red tshirt.
I am speaking because I care and if that is wrong, misguided or whatever, then you may say that of everyone when they choose to care passionately about anything. ..I agree with a comment made by a full time and years long member of staff not representing FOH views, when they say the Young Vic has lost and is losing its most passionate and dedicated workers and supporters, and that this fact is concealed from the Artistic Director by some members of senior management.
To anyone who thinks these issues are resolved now because BECTU have waded in and everyone can go phew! they are not. For as long as the Young Vic continues to be blase about how they treat their employees there will always be a problem.
Young Vic, you have taught us, your own employees, to expect better. You have taught us too well. And that is what is demanded now- better. Just better.
n/b- as a note I do not wish to detract from the artistic work the Young Vic endeavours to concern itself with. I do not wish undermine the work some of its senior staff are preoccupied with. In the end though, people matter more. In the end a petition is better than a play. Maybe. I only write this because I loved the YV and hate to see what is happening to it now.
It is to be regretted that all that has been happening over the last few days has probably caused stress and anxiety. I think everyone regrets this  and there is probably a wish that things could have been resolved in other more adult ways. Hearts and minds are at stake here.

Do you recognise our struggle?

Dear other theatre and arts centre staff,

Today we are really really keen to hear about your experiences of working in Arts Council England funded and socially orientated arts centres. Do you feel respected? Do you feel like the ethos of your organisation is embodied by the way you are treated by your managers?

The people who run this blog have many friends in other arts centres across London and beyond and so often we are told of bullying behaviour, lack of integration into organisations, and general maltreatement and feelings of vulnerability.

Please email your experiences to

With solidarity to all those employed, casually employed, and underemployed in arts centres.

Saturday, 15 June 2013


Remember to follow us on twitter- @YoungVicUshers
We really appreciate all your views!
Also feel free to email us, opinions and testimonials from all are very very welcome!


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Date: Saturday, June 15, 2013
Subject: From a FOH team member
 I would be greatful if you could anonymously add this to the blog:

To echo comments made in a previous post, all of this doesn’t come from nowhere. As a current member of the Front of House team, I have seen this coming for quite some time.

Events that have taken place in recent weeks have merely been the culmination of ongoing dissatisfactions. Poorly handled dismissals, an unhappy relationship between management and ushers, lack of communication over job security and a general feeling of being undervalued have inevitably resulted in low morale and anxiety within the team.

The Front of House team at the Young Vic are, for the most part, big supporters of the company, its ideals and its ethos and wish it well. We are the most diverse of any department in the building, truly representative of what the company strives for in its audience demographic and in many ways unlike any other theatre I know. Many of us are artists in own own right, actively pursuing careers as actors, directors, writers, designers etc.. and working as ushers whilst we establish ourselves as the theatre practitioners of tomorrow. All of this should be supported and celebrated by the Young Vic.

Many thanks.

From a team member

I am saddened that a theatre that can describe itself as being 'about talent, about potential, about self respect' could treat its Front of House Staff in the way that I have experienced recently. That it could be guilty of treating the lowest paid, most vulnerable members of staff, who in no small way contribute to the day to day (and evening to evening) running of the theatre, with such a lack of respect and apparent contempt.

We have of late been briefed more than once on the expectations put upon front of house staff before, during, and after a performance. Not forgetting that the primary role of the usher is to welcome the public, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all visitors to the theatre, we have been briefed that - under almost no circumstances - should the audience notice our presence during the course of a performance. We have in the past been encouraged to approach anyone using their phone, taking photos, talking during a performance and ask them to stop - if this is causing a disturbance to those around them. We also wear bright red t-shirts.

Many people in the ushering team are creatives themselves, and have their own theatre projects outside of the shifts outside of the Young Vic. We all appreciate the importance of an audience being able to enjoy the wonderful theatre that the Young Vic puts on in an appropriate environment, conducive to immersing themselves in the atmosphere and reflecting on the works and ideas presented to them.

One usher made a mistake during her shift. Let's not downplay this: it was a big mistake. It was a mistake I would hope not to make, if I am brutally honest. Whether or not her mistake was in any way brought on by the attitude of her managers and the Senior Management Team in recent months, and whether or not this may affect her attitude to her own job, is not something I know.
I do know, however, that she was fired by email, with no discussion with her line manager, and no opportunity to offer her side of the story. I do not doubt that some actions may warrant immediate dismissal, but I have never heard of this happening without informing the staff member concerned in an adult and appropriate manner.

We should also note that the term 'fired' here may not be entirely correct. While the current move from the Young Vic towards contracted staff (albeit on six-week 'seasonal' contracts - I didn't realise the seasons were only one show long, but what do I know?) will certainly offer stability for the new intake, the approach to those who currently do not have such luxury is telling. The usher was told she would not be offered any more shifts. End of story.

How a management team might respond to such an event will vary. One might anticipate that any members of the team who showed a weakness at work that concerned their line manager might be offered a discussion, some training, let's go so far as a disciplinary if you like. A team wide training session? A reassurance that the work of the team is valued, important, and respected, while recognising that the theatre had been let down momentarily by the mistake of one usher? Support from their line manager and open discussion if needed?

Or - send in the heavies. Send in a member of Senior Management team to brief all ushers in groups before their shift, that the Young Vic is an ambitious theatre, that anyone who does not pay 100% attention for the duration of their shift will feel the consequences - there is no room for mistakes here. That this member of staff should never have to apologise again for something that has happened in the Front of House department. A threatening speech, delivered to all staff and making clear that any staff who did not cut the mustard would gradually be phased out.
Is the fact that we are paid £6.63 an hour relevant here? Is it demonstrative of the value placed on the team who welcome your audience each evening, who clear up after the show, who have seen the terms of their contract subtly change in recent times, leaving no room for flexibility.
We are distinct and diverse individuals, offering our time in varied circumstances and often demanding schedules. Our reasons for working at the Young Vic will also vary, but none would say that they do not believe in the inclusive approach to theatre, the community spirit and the ideas of opennnes promoted by the Young Vic. I have grown to realise the importance of contributing in my own small way to an organisation that does so much important work. I do this job alongside another full-time job, and do not expect to come to work in the evening to feel threatened and under-valued when I give my time.

Email from former staff member

---------- Forwarded message ---------- From: Date: Saturday, June 15, 2013 Subject: Former BXO member To:

Hi there
I'm a former box office team member at the Young Vic. I left a year or two or three ago, at a time my former colleagues and I refer to as the 'regime change'!
I don't know the exact details of this latest episode, but I can see exactly how it came to this. The theatre's rather limp response backs up exactly what I mean. Brush off the problem, blame it on staff being dramatic, hope it goes away.
It will not go away any more, I feel.
The theatre thinks it can do no wrong. It relishes the presses view that the young vic is "on a roll" as the signs outside say. In terms of staff morale, that is clearly untrue.
They say they have done nothing wrong, and legally I guess this is true. But this rebellion response does not come from nowehere and the work force should embrace this opportunity to break that facade this place is perfect. It has changed beyond recognition and will continue to do so.
The theatre is spear heading a 'save the arts campaign'. They are desperate to look like they are leading the industry. Meanwhile lower staff get no training, development and are fired as the easiest option.
The theatre puts on plays about rebellions and uprisings. Their response to a staff rebellion? send secret messages to journalists on twitter and say they can do nothing about it.
If anything good comes from all this, I hope the public and press have had a glimpse into what its really like.

Comments from YV board.

We just received this via email.

 ---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Date: Saturday, June 15, 2013
Subject: Blog Entry to be published anonymously

 Hello bloggers. Have a blog post for you.

 We have received a letter from the Chairman of the Young Vic Board who has requested via email that some facts be made clear.

His email reads: Thank you for your email. I have now looked in to this matter and cannot see any proper basis for complaint. It would appear from the anonymous blogging that people are either not in receipt of the facts or have simply chosen to ignore them. No one has been made redundant. People who were working casually have been invited to apply for four new full time permanent jobs, which we believe will provide a better service to us and the public, and which will cost roughly the same as the present system - i.e. this is not being done to save money. Casual staff have been offered small compensatory payments. BECTU have been closely involved and have now put out a statement to the Stage saying that this is good news. I should therefore be grateful if you would kindly communicate the above facts to the people you are dealing with.


This is the first official response we have received from the Young Vic. Perhaps the above will change your mind about what has been written on this blog. We do not wish to comment on wider issues at the moment, but want to respond to a couple of points raised above.

 1. No one has been made redundant: Six members of the box office team and the theatre officer have been told that their role no longer exists. They have been offered small sums of money and informed that as of 12th July their role will cease to exist. They have been invited to apply for the new positions, but obviously with no guarantee they will get them - should they even want them. However that is seven people (not including front of house duty managers, who have a different agreement) for four jobs. Whichever way you view it people will be out of work. If they have not been made redundant, I don’t know what has happened, but the outcome is the same and it is just semantics. Regarding the front of house duty managers – strictly speaking they have not been made redundant. Instead they have been told they still have a job, but that between three of them there will be two available shifts in September - that is three months away. You can decide for yourself if that sounds similar to being made redundant.

2. BECTU have been closely involved: Again this is true, however BECTU did not involve the BECTU representative in negotiations, so effectively they have colluded with the Young Vic to get rid of staff without any consultation, except with higher levels of management.

3.They have put out a statement to the stage saying that this is good news: It is staggering to think that a union that is supposed to be protecting a vulnerable workforce sees the loss of jobs, without consultation as “good news”. As far as we’re aware not one single person affected by the changes views them as “good news”.
One final point, the email claims that the new system will provide a better service to the Young Vic and the public. This could be true, we can’t see how the new format will work effectively, but are happy to be proved wrong on that. The main issue is not a fight against change, change is important and necessary, but the way these changes have been implemented is brutal, disrespectful, heartless and unfair.
So now you are in receipt of the “facts” straight from the Young Vic board – please make up your own mind.

From a non-Front of House staff member.

We received this last night from a full time staff member at Young Vic.

I am a full time member of staff at the Young Vic, not in the departments affected by these redundancies, but I wanted to have my say.

I am sending this anonymously because, like other posters, we fear drawing attention to ourselves will have adverse effects.

I have worked here through a period of significant attitude change, for several years. I have seen the YV change from a place that nurtured passion and dedication to just another commercialised theatre. I do not deny that sales and audiences are more important to a theatre than ever before. But turning the organisation into a faceless corporation is not the answer. Selling every single ticket and working staff to the ground have been put ahead of people, their needs and their welfare. Staff are disposable. I have seen on numerous occasions the senior management team dispose of staff because it is easier than solving minor disputes or problems, or offering training. The box office issue is the most recent and high profile example. People are desperate for jobs, so staff can be replaced at the drop of a hat, and the senior team know this. And because they know the world loves the YV and see it as being at the top of its game, they think they can get away with it. 

I feel sorry for David Lan. His once dedicated and passionate workforce is crumbling and this is hidden from him by a senior team more concerned with raking in cash and building their own reputations than preserving what was once the jewel in the crown of London theatre. In 20 years, this time may well be looked on as the time it all started to crash. When that future Young Vic is full to bursting with people paying top prices for premium seats without a single young face in sight, watching some commercial west end-aimed revival with film stars at the helm, with tickets sold by faceless call centres, I wonder if they will remember what the YV was supposed to be.

I really hope he can save it.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

We aren't naive...

We feel it's important to let both you, the reader, and the management at Young Vic know that we are not naive or romantic in our ideas about working at Young Vic.

We are very aware that we are Front of House staff, and whatever other decisions which are made in the organisation are superfluous to our role. We have respect and admiration for our ambitious colleagues.
We want to be able to trust that the decisions which are made, are made in support of all staff members across the board and audience members holistically. We are personally affected by what's going on, but we are not personally attacking any of the management or staff in Young Vic.

We ignited this platform to make our voices heard. So often we are scared; and it's exactly this fear that makes us vulnerable to harsh and oppressive decisions.We feel like it would be hypocritical to let this happen in silence.

Thank you.

Egalitarianism at Young Vic

From another supporter:

I would like to contest that the Young Vic is as egalitarian as it thinks it is or likes to pretend it is.

Egalitarianism has always been a Young Vic ideal, it once applied to its audiences, two boroughs/ taking part schemes, its staff, it was practised in some ways through its unreserved house (which apparently some high up members of the YV still wish was in place) and through its offering of free/ discounted ticket schemes to homeless groups, mental health charities etc. It was practised through its often welcome invitations to FOH to attend program meetings and staff meetings- which I can say- ushers used to go to willingly, excitedly and through their own volition- often unpaid. At that time we could not wait to hear what the Young Vic was planning. Now there is complete change, and demands are being made on ushers that are unreasonable and aggressive, Two Boroughs seems like it is changing and the way audiences are being treated has, of late, been mean and oppressive.

Although I am no longer an employee at the YV and miss the creative energy which inspired my own work, thought processes and idealisms and helped me amass my own kind of world view, I do not, at all in any way, miss the state of affairs I feel FOH has become and seems like it still is. I was appalled in my last few months of employment there, at how staff members treated not just each other but the audience too. I dreaded attending my shifts, I was embarrassed many times when I was there and often wanted to apologise to audience members who had not been treated well, and not just by the FOH staff  but also by other higher up members of the whole YV team. For me this is symptomatic of what the YV has become- treatment of people filters down through departments from the very top and whilst everyone is responsible for their own behaviour first, to a certain extent most people end up reflecting how they themselves are being treated by those who manage them.

I now work at another Off-West-End theatre. Whilst it will never replace what the YV was for me in my heart, whilst it caters for a certain kind of audience and is a bolt hole for ex-Young Vicians, the FOH is excellent, nicely run, there is truly an egalitarian approach (and it does not have to shout about it, it is just practised), a professional attitude and friendliness - audiences are I am afraid, treated much better than they are at the YV. Other theatres do it better now, although perhaps this was not the case a few years ago.

It is my belief - and my experience- that the YV says it is egalitarian but actually struggles to fullfil this promise and perhaps always has. Without going into details I was made to leave the Young Vic because, in very simple terms, I was just an usher who had upset someone the YV decided was more important than myself, someone not even an employee at the theatre. However the person had 'connections' and their connections were greater than mine. Without any warning I was called into a meeting and told the YV did not want me to work for them anymore, despite years of loyal and supportive work. I was barely given a chance or opportunity to stand up for myself, I was lied to and against and I was convicted without trial. To my mind this is neither fair nor egalitarian. There are other instances of other employees across the board being treated in this manner and not just 'all of a sudden' but systematically over the years. I also observe that last week, when a lot of people were sacked or made redundant, that those who had done the dirty work- i.e your theatre managers, duty managers and general managers, were hanging out in the bar drinking and laughing late into the night- whilst nearby those who had lost their jobs were still working out their time and trying to earn a wage to support their families. For me this says it all about the YV now and the state of its heart.  

The Young Vic's biggest crime, surely, is in destroying the very ideals it so openly states it follows. 

In spite of this there is a part of me that wishes I was still there and fighting the good fight with you all. If I was still there, if I cared, I would be demanding an open meeting with David and Lucy- they have to see how they are destroying the support of their front lines. However, over the years, I feel that the YV has worked steadily to erase and bite off support from its own staff members, it has rid itself, from FOH and across the board, of people that really cared about it... and if anyone was to ask me who is running the Young Vic now or what is its ethos, I would be hard put to give a reply. This is not to say that there is no one person in charge with a fixed set of ideals, only that the waters have and are, becoming increasingly muddy.

Right now the Young Vic's directors need to show leadership and commitment and understanding towards its demoralised and lower ranking staff. If they don't they are as blind as bats or they don't care.

About democracy, community and communication

Just over a week ago, select staff at the Young Vic gathered and sat in a cosy circle to discuss how, as a company, they might be the most democratic company they could possibly be. Hours after this meeting an usher was fired via email after having worked for that company for three years.

The climate inside the building is intense. Subtle tells betray frustrations the staff would otherwise bury within themselves. Then they snap. Outbursts are common and it is no secret that every person in that office tiptoes around our Artistic Director in fear of being noticed - in fear of having to justify their position within the company and it is because of this fear that the usher was fired in the manner she was. One of the staff from the office articulated this in a very clear way: “I should never have to apologise to the artistic director or executive director, for something you have done, again” she said. This was a part of her message to the entire front of house team following what must have been a very difficult interrogation, (suddenly forced into the spotlight and having to explain something that was out of her personal control). She looked and sounded like a dog that had startled itself from barking for the first time.  It was clear that the ferocity and the sheer weight of the anger that had been passed onto her threatened to crush her completely. That then was passed down onto the next person – down the food chain – until the message finally reached us. What I imagine happened is that after receiving a clear order (perhaps: “Just fire her!”), in fear, they responded by facing the problem directly -‘what an embarrassment’- it needed to be resolved as quickly as possible. Without asking the usher for her side of the story, even giving a warning or asking her to come in to speak face to face – they fired her.

What most people there forget is that the usher they fired had been victim to one of these same outbursts. Months ago she had been alone and shouted at despite just doing the best she could in the situation she found herself. No one apologised to her for this. She left the building that night in tears and expressed her disappointment, saying “Do you think they see me as being useless?” Presently, with all of that behind us (with the exception of one person, who still felt the shame she felt that night; a shadow that covered the entire building) we received these messages from the top of Olympus with no sponge between us. Is it not a part of leading a team to know what to relay and what not to? Should you not articulate one person’s frustrations as a means for the team to build upon what they have been doing right? Unfortunately this does not happen.

It is also the case that not a single person in that building can take responsibility for their failures and, (in the case of the fired usher) apologise.

As I write this, an opposite force wills me to stop. I have worked at the Young Vic for years and it has been so many things to me. It has been the home to a second family. The Young Vic has inspired me, lead by someone who I look up to despite his flaws. It has acted as a sanctuary during the most difficult times I have had to live through. I will always love the Young Vic and I shall never forget the sense of family I feel when I am there and around these interesting, quirky and diverse people I have come to know.

It is with regret that I have to witness the Young Vic lose what made it so special. Days after the usher was fired, the entire box office team and all of the duty managers were made redundant (with no warning and with a tiny sum of money offered to them as a gesture of good will). It saddens me that middle management still have no idea how hard we all work, how passionately we all feel (a passion most of the staff in the office do not share). Following these redundancies four new positions will be made available. The role will require these four people to work as box office staff, duty managers and do stage door duties simultaneously. It is a blatant example of someone trying to squeeze every penny and failing to understand that despite us all having the lowest pay grades, we are as integral to the building and to the experience we give the audience as the actors, as the stage managers and the producers, even the artistic director (who recently gave a sermon about how he wants us to be an extension of himself, to welcome our audience in his place – in the way he would wish it was done).

It terrifies me that on the subject of the Young Vic and its staff, managers there compare us to the likes of the Royal Opera House and the National. We are the Young Vic. The FOH team is the most diverse team in the entire building. The ushers are passionate about learning and cultivating their ambitions (whether it is a creative one or not). We often talk about the culture of the building - the culture of the Young Vic and that is expressed only through us. The threat of this diminishing is drawing ever nearer and it does not bode well for any of us (but sends a very clear message. Messages. Messages. Messages) that they are advertising for new ushers to start in July.  

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Another anecdote from another wonderful and committed team member

Hello anonymous hero,

I have been working at Young Vic for 3 years. I started as an audience member in 2009 when I saw Annie Get Your Gun and Joe Turners Come and Gone, got a job as an usher in 2010 and was involved artistically after that. I've seen so many sides to this theatre and seen so many ushers and managers come and go. Through all this, my enjoyment and enthusiasm for this theatre has seeped away over time, over the management changes and over the show changes.

I have noticed a change in staff attitudes, management attitudes and my own attitude. I remember the times when I used to look forward to work, I remember when I used to beg to sit inside so I could see the show again. I remember coming to work with a smile on my face. The special thing about working at Young Vic was that not only was I working with 'colleagues' but I was working with my friends.
I think it is such a shame to be hearing rumours about us loosing our jobs. Its outrageous that people are being fired left, right and centre with no warning or reason. Its not right the way some members of staff speak to other members of staff with such disrespect.

I hate that we are no longer able to send emails for cover if something like an audition comes up; after all Young Vic isn't my LIFE! Its my secondary source of income. 
I hate that there's never enough [locker] fobs for everyone. I hate that I am made to feel inferior to the production team, like I'm not supposed to be there.

I hate that I don't want to commit myself to be a seasonal usher but in turn means my job has less worth and makes me vulnerable. It creates an unnecessary hierarchy where one half of the team are treated to 'perks'. I was told they'd be offered more and frequent shifts not fobs and young vic merchandise like fleeces and bags.

I hate that I don't even know how to use an evac chair [an important part of training and health and safety for audience members] after 3 years in a job.

I wish the ushers had a room of our own for lockers and resting between shifts. I wish management communicated better with the ushers (or more friendly in general). I wish I felt more integrated into the building. I wish we were told about audition opportunities within shows. I wish hard work was recognised.
Anyway that's my rant over, just wanted to make sure I had my say!

An anecdote from a team member

I first felt that things were starting to change at the Young Vic when asked by my manager to make myself available - with a few days' notice - on a given date to attend a dress rehearsal for a forthcoming show. My future shifts were apparently dependent on seeing this show before I worked on it, in a newly introduced rule that had not been communicated to the whole of the zero-hours-contracted team. I explained that I was not available that weekend, due to a longstanding arrangement, and offered my apologies. Not good enough: I was asked to drop my shift the following Tuesday (that I had been rotaed to work for some weeks) in order to watch the performance, as all of a sudden it was absolutely an obligation that staff should sit in and watch a show before working it. I was 'reminded' that ushers (as all staff) are offered a pair of tickets for previews for this purpose - this was news to me after my three years at the theatre! I politely declined, reasoning that as those who were available to watch the dress rehearsal on the weekend would be paid, I did not see the reason for my dropping a shift and losing the wages in order to conform to a newly and arbitrarily introduced rule. At this stage, I involved our union rep. I was informed that in fact, I was not alone in being asked to do this (I should say that I was offered the opportunity to pick up an extra shift later in the rota - but being paid weekly and knowing how many shifts a week I want to work, this unfortunately was not much of an offer). I was advised by the union to do as asked by my line-manager, and turned up to watch the show, as a meeting would be taking place between the union and the theatre in order to determine whether or not ushers should be paid for their time.

The outcome, thankfully, was the right one for the ushers, and I was paid a minimum call time for what was now an obligation on my time, something that is not reciprocated by the theatre in this kind of contract. This was only down to the persistence of the ushers who queried this demand, and the union involvement. This was an unreasonable and underhand request made of loyal and long-serving ushers, and the Front of House management team hoped that it would pass by unnoticed. I fear this is the shape of things to come at the Young Vic.