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An open Spotlight bulletin lying on a table next to a plant

On my desk in the Spotlight office proudly sits a bound collection of the first editions of the ‘Spotlight Bulletin’, the predecessor of our current newsletter. Published just two years after Spotlight was founded, the editions date from 1929-1931 and cover, in some detail, the events leading up to the founding of the British Actors’ Equity Association, as well as the nascent union’s drive to grow its membership. Spotlight was instrumental in helping establish the union, taking on Equity’s early administrative tasks whilst it earned enough revenue to support itself. Out of that early assistance grew a lasting partnership between Spotlight and Equity, a collaboration that has lasted over nine decades and has promoted the professional interests of our shared membership. For the last two decades, I have had the privilege of sitting on both sides of that partnership, the first 17 years at Equity (latterly as Deputy General Secretary) and the past three as Managing Director of Spotlight.

Given this long partnership, you will appreciate our surprise and disappointment when Equity began a campaign of deliberate misinformation against Spotlight. Spotlight’s core business model has not changed for almost a century – we offer advertising services for self-employed professionals looking for work as performers, and we promote that directory of professionals to those looking to hire performers. Casting professionals around the world use Spotlight to search, list and share potential talent across their working lives. It is the breadth and depth of our directory that ensures all eyes are on Spotlight when it comes to identifying talent. It is the opposite to a producer’s narrower, private database of talent, with the Spotlight directory being one of the most significant factors in UK talent making a global impact over the past century.

We offer performers the most efficient and cost-effective means of advertising your skills and availability in the market. As a valid business cost, your Spotlight fee is an allowable expense which can be deducted from your taxable income. Not only is the annual cost of a Spotlight subscription cheaper, before tax, than Equity’s, but modest price rises have kept our fee increases 9% below the rate of inflation since 2010, meaning a cut in real terms despite increased investment in the service we provide. (Over the same period, by contrast, Equity subscriptions have risen by 9% above inflation.) And, importantly, it is your choice – if you feel confident that you can market your talent more effectively without using Spotlight, you are entirely free to do so. It is our job to continue to deliver the value in your subscription to earn your renewal.

Spotlight remains committed to making its directory and our industry genuinely inclusive and accessible. We offer a 50% reduction to performers who identify as deaf, disabled or neurodivergent, and we have granted thousands of bursaries to those facing economic hardship. We have promoted new tools for performers to better self-identify, whether through ethnicity or heritage, gender identity or disability, to promote authentic portrayal wherever appropriate, and we have worked hard to make our physical casting studios accessible to performers and casting directors with a wide range of access requirements. 

Despite Equity’s false assertions, Spotlight is not an employment agency or employment business, nor do we rely on an exemption under the relevant agency regulations and legislation to operate.  The regulations Equity refers to do not actually govern the operation of a directory like Spotlight at all.  The agencies in this industry to which these rules apply are the talent agents representing performers who may or may not market themselves on Spotlight.  These agencies exercise a very different and important set of professional skills, advocating and negotiating on behalf of their clients. Spotlight on the other hand has no financial interest in the hiring of actors.  We do not recommend, or individually promote, actors to casting directors. 

Neither does Spotlight charge an ‘upfront fee’. Upfront fees are, by definition, monies taken ahead of the later delivery of a service. At Spotlight, you have access to all services from the moment you join – including those related to your discoverability and self-promotion, as well as access to further benefits such as discounts and our health and wellbeing support. 

Equity’s lawyers wrote to us to express the concerns they are now raising publicly and we responded to this letter in February 2024.  In our reply, we explained clearly why Equity’s allegations were incorrect and we invited the union to return to the table and continue the dialogue we have shared for decades. We have, some five months later, still not received a response. 

The Stage recently reported comments from Equity officials claiming that, when given a choice between paying their Spotlight or their Equity membership, “most people are opting for Spotlight.” Despite Spotlight promoting Equity membership for over 90 years, the union’s response to this moment is not to improve how it communicates the value of union membership to performers, but to attack its oldest ally. 

Performers need a strong trade union, focused on the real challenges our sector faces – raising pay and increasing jobs. A robust industrial strategy is required – one that tackles low rates of pay and works with the industry to lobby for increased investment and growth in UK production. The performers who use Spotlight to promote themselves are not hopefuls, as the union has rebranded them, but talented, world-class professionals who deserve the industry’s full throttled support. Spotlight will continue to do just that.