Touring Welfare: The Secret Revolution

Touring Welfare: The Secret Revolution

Phil Barley, Theatre Digs Booker Founder (Photo: Dale Wightman Photography)

by Phil Barley, TheatreDigsBooker Founder and UK Theatre Partner Member. (Photo © Dale Wightman Photography)

Date Published: 16 May 2019


“Congratulations! After three years of training you have landed your first touring theatre job. Here are thirty two digs lists. You’re welcome!”

No wonder there has been an uprising.

We all know that in most other professions, working away from home usually means being booked into some nice hotels but touring theatre in the UK has never been able to provide much more than a pile of digs lists and a modest touring allowance, from which, one has to find accommodation, sustenance and travel between digs and venues. No one really prepares you for this bit of the industry.

In 2009, I was joining the brilliant, existing cast of a popular large-scale touring musical on their final jaunt around the UK. Nine months on tour, 32 venues with a company of 60 people. THIS was a tour.

All I remember from my first day of rehearsals though was everyone sneaking off to make phone calls. I quickly realised they were planning ahead and booking their digs – and that no one was going to do it for me!

I waited for a tea break and tried to catch up, only to speak to Hosts who were either already booked up, or worse still, to be hung up on by Hosts who “came off the list years ago.”

I was not focussed on rehearsing. Instead, I was pretty stressed about this whole digs thing.

Over the next nine months, I saw several company members crying before and during the show after checking in to horrible digs and not knowing what to do about it.

One venue had six digs on their list. Six. For a visiting company of Sixty! That week most of the crew bought tents and slept in a field as it was their only affordable option. That same week we had at least two show stops and some injuries. Coincidence?

I felt that something needed to be done. If touring companies could easily find and book peer-reviewed digs then they’d be less stressed, better rested and they could focus on doing their job. Perhaps the quality of performances might improve, the audiences increase and the industry could attract more new talent.

TheatreDigsBooker had humble beginnings back in 2010, running from my ageing laptop, and has since gone on to employ a team of 13, process more than 300,000 nights of successful bookings, support more than 225 tours and publish more than 30,000 reviews.

And with 24/7 booking and accurate availability, there is no more sneaking out from rehearsal to call some ‘random’ from an out-of-date excel list.

So, why the ‘Secret Revolution’?  With theatre professionals making more than 14,000 bookings each year, it seems clear that Guests and Producers have already moved on but many theatres are yet to join the movement.

In a survey of over 400 theatre professionals, 90% said they would like to see all Theatres offer Online Digs Lists.

Yes. Until now, offering a simple digs list was all Theatres had the resources to do - but not anymore.

Theatres can now have their own FREE fully-managed, online digs list which helps reward loyal theatre Hosts who have been on their digs lists for years but are now being bypassed by easier online options.

It has been so rewarding to see this shift in our industry and I truly believe that touring welfare has begun to improve as a result. We still have a long way to go but if theatres and producers work together (with our support) I feel the future of touring theatre is very bright indeed.

Will you join the revolution?

Contact Phil Barley to find out more.

Theatre Digs Booker
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