THE BOARD of the Cyprus Theatre Organisation (THOC) deserves everyone’s congratulations for ending the antiquated and irrational practice of employing actors on a full-time basis – rolling one-year contracts to be precise – that has existed for decades. Foreign directors that worked with THOC always expressed their total astonishment at this arrangement, which treated actors like civil servants, paid even if there was no work for them to do.
There were 24 actors on these one-year contracts, automatically renewed every year, and some of them could have spent half the year taking a salary for doing nothing because their services were not required in a production. Although everyone was aware of this irrational practice which demotivated actors and cultivated complacency, nobody dared touch it. Rather than face the criticism of the two dozen super-privileged actors benefiting from the Soviet-type state theatre regime, successive THOC boards chose to do nothing about it.
Despite a significant amount of taxpayers’ money being given to THOC every year, its productions were often disappointing. Actors had no incentive to push themselves as they knew their salary would be paid at the end of the month and their contract renewed at the end of the year regardless of their performance. Meanwhile good young actors were rarely given a part in a THOC play, so that production costs were kept under control. This will change now as only three-month contracts would be given to actors so they could take part in a specific production and a director would have a much bigger pool of talent to choose from.
Under the circumstances, the Auditor-General was rather rash to criticise THOC in his annual report for terminating the employment of actors, paying them €300,000 in retirement bonuses and then hiring them on three-monthly contracts. This is the how much all public employees with many years of service receive as retirement pay-offs and actors were no different. He should have commended the board for putting an end to the absurd practice and starting to treat all actors as freelancers offering three-month contracts when their services were required, as he knew the retirement pay-offs were unavoidable.
In Cyprus very few things change, especially where workers’ privileges are concerned. Yet the THOC board, to its credit, made the big leap forward, having recognised that no theatre company could operate with demotivated actors with the smug mentality and work ethic of civil servants. Actors will now have to push themselves to get work, which is how theatre works in the rest of the world. Since the collapse of communism Cyprus was probably the only country in the world that boasted state-employee actors.