Insurance – the minefield

Whether you are a performer or producer, if you are doing a show that involves entertaining the general public, you should be insured. But insurance can be a minefield and many fall into the trap of thinking that if a venue they are using is insured, or a producer that as booked them to perform has PLI, then they will be covered. The answer is, you probably won’t be… Here’s our guide to insurance for performing and producing events (please note we have not named any insurers as we are not in the business of selling their product to you, just explaining the basic requirements and types of cover)…

Firstly, the basics – what is PLI?

In a nutshell, Public Liability Insurance is a payment that is made (yearly/monthly or one-off) to cover you against the cost of claims from other people who have an accident caused by you or your business activities. It can also cover against the cost of injuries (personal and third party) and loss or damage to property. PLI is the most common insurance policy taken out by performers, practitioners and event producers. For example, if someone incurs a minor injury such as spraining an ankle after slipping on some glitter at a show, if they decide to take the matter further and it goes to court, you could be facing hefty fines and legal fees, which a PLI policy would (in theory – providing you’ve not been ‘negligent’!) cover.

PLI is not a legal requirement in this country (UK) but some venues make it a compulsory part of a hirer’s contract and some producers will make it a condition on booking a performer. Besides, it is a lot more professional if you or your show are covered.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, because it’s a small show or you are a new performer, you don’t need to be insured. Many people make a lot of mistakes in the early years (just like new drivers) and even an accidental over-extended fan-loaded arm that hits an audience member in the eye could cost a new performer thousands if they are not insured, halting your career at the first post.

Every policy is slightly different, depending on your needs. Don’t be tempted to edit your needs to make your policy cheaper – this just means that you won’t be covered in the event of an accident or incident and you’d have wasted the money you spent on your premium! You might not find the exact cover you need via one of those online instant cover forms which means that, yes, you might need to phone a few companies to chat through your options but do play them off against one another to get the best cover for your cash – they DO do bargains!

Venue cover

If you are hiring a venue that is a solid building, that venue will be covered with their own buildings insurance. They will also be covered for PLI – but for incidents relating to their own business (not you the performer or producer). For instance, if an audience member is sitting on a chair and it collapses, the liability lies with the venue; if a customer cuts themselves on a broken glass at the bar, which wasn’t cleared up properly, the liability lies with the venue; if the stage collapses or a light falls off the lighting rig, providing the performer or producer hasn’t done anything to cause the incident, then the venue is liable. What the venue is not liable for is anything that happens on stage – ie a performer slips on a piece of costume and falls into the audience, the afore-mentioned ‘fan incident’ or if a someone falls on an incorrectly stored prop. Basically, the venue and venue staff (staff employed directly by the venue) are responsible for their own actions and incidents relating to their actions, fixtures and fittings. In very rare cases, a venue might name a producer or hirer in their policy, therefore offering limited cover for that producer, but this is very rare.

Event producer cover

Event cover is separate from the venue cover. Basically, you are a different entity to an actual venue, and putting on a show, it is your responsibility to make sure a show is safe for your audience, for the performers and for the venue and their staff. Event PLI can cover you for a number of things, depending on your policy – and you will need to chat to them to tailor make your policy to suit your needs. Event cover covers you if you run:

  • Craft/alternative fairs, exhibitions and tradeshows
  • gigs (involving bands)
  • Festivals (music, cabaret or more general, bigger events)
  • Theatre event (cabaret, burlesque, drama production etc)
  • Charity show

…And any other event that the public are expected to attend. There are a few different types of cover you should think about as an event producer – PLI – as explained above. Standard policies generally cover from £1million to £5million and your policy depends on your expected audience numbers, expected revenue and they type of show you are running for example, if there is any high-risk element involved that could cause a claim from audience, performer or the venue. There are other factors, including the number or events you want to run in a year – and it might be cost effective to buy a year’s cover rather than insure each event separately, but again, we are just getting to grips with the basics here and an insurance broker will ask you what your specific requirements are.

What your PLI will not cover you for (again, unless they are named on your policy) are ‘contractors’ or performers you hire for your shows and incidents that result from their actions. Generally they need to have their own PLI, and mostly it’s a condition of most Event Insurance PLI that ‘contractors’ hired by you, the producer, have their own policies. Failure to check this detail could result in your insurance being void so it’s a good idea to ask for performers’ PLI certificate on condition of booking.

Other cover is ELI- or employers liability insurance. If you are employing anyone as part of the show – ie stage maid/manager, photographer, even a volunteer that is helping you with the event, etc, it will cover you over claims made against you as an employer. Beware that ELI is mandatory for most companies who employ staff in the UK and is mostly mandatory as part of a PLI policy.

You might also want to think about Cancellation and Abandonment Insurance, which will cover you against losses incurred due to necessary and unavoidable cancellation, disruption or postponing an event – basically unforeseen circumstances disrupting your event and you having to pay performers fees, venue hire etc.

Performers cover

As a performer, it is your responsibility to keep yourself and the people around you, safe when you perform, and to cover yourself against the costs of claims that could arise as a result of something you do whilst performing. If you are a singer, actor, comedian, burlesque performer, circus performer – even a face painter – in fact any kind of entertainer, you should cover yourself. Basic public liability will cover you for any incident arising from your actions whilst performing – so if a piece of costume accidentally flew off stage and flicked an audience member in the eye / a heel caught someone in the foot – and yes, that fan incident above, you would be covered. Also, if you invite audience participation as part of your act, providing it is not a high risk participation (in which case see below) you will be covered. Performer PLI usually covers you for performances around Great Britain and temporary visits across the world, providing your main address is a UK one. You will also be covered for loss or damage to the property of others and ‘in most cases’ a policy will cover you for future claims as a result of an incident occurring during the lifetime of that policy (in other words, if something occurred in 2014 – a year you had PLI and were performing – and the claimant decided to take matters further the following year, after you had retired and no longer needed the policy, your policy would still cover you). Your limit of indemnity will be around £10 million, however, if your performance involves a ‘high risk’ activity, you will need to get a higher level of cover.

Extra cover for ‘high risk’ activities

High risk activities is anything you do on stage which is a higher risk than you just basically performing on stage with basic props. If you are a circus performer, aerial act or use a prop which could be considered dangerous (swords, whips, fire, angle grinding) then you will need to add on extra cover to your policy. Of you don’t, then you will not be covered. It’s best to discuss anything that relates to your activities on stage with your insurance provider, as even the smallest thing – particularly that involves any kind of naked flame so a lighter, cigarette, candle (yes, even if you don’t consider this as ‘dangerous’), etc, can be considered a higher risk activity. Since the Great White Shark incident in the US (basically, a spark from a pyro caught the venue alight and people died) insurers and venues worldwide are strict about any kind of fire performance.

If you are a producer thinking of hiring a ‘higher risk’ performer they must have enhanced PLI. Ultimately, if anything goes wrong, both you and the performer can be held liable.

Good fire performers and good fire teachers, and performers of ‘higher risk’ activities will be able to recommend the best insurers (and some even have an association with an insurer where, because of certified teaching safe practice, they are able to recommend students to insurers), but as a rule, insurers will want to see proof of training, and proof of safe practice. Most insurers like the policy holder to be over 18 and will want to see evidence of 2 years’ experience in the higher risk activity.

But – and yes, there is a catch – your enhanced PLI will only be valid when accompanied by a risk assessment and upon certain conditions being met. It will be your responsibility to ensure that:

  • the performance area is free of any hazards that may cause trip/fall/loss of concentration
  • a 3m radius is maintained between you and any member of the public and, in the case of flame/spark, between you and any combustible or flammable materials
  • In the case of fire and sparks, a fire blanket or extinguisher is provided by yourself and you are competent in the use of
  • That your equipment is stored safely and out of reach of any other person when not in use (ie knives, swords, fire equipment properly stored in a safe way, not left lying around a dressing room or spilled)

There are a lot more conditions, which depend on the type of activity and policy provider. Again, it’s best to ask for specifics.

Doing a risk assessment – why and what are they? 

If you are in the ‘high risk’ bracket of entertainer – or you are producing a show with such a performer on the bill, you may be asked (or ask for) a risk assessment. This is just a sheet that contains any risks to self or other people that might occur as a result of that activity taking place. Most venues will ask for one.


Your risk assessment should outline the potential hazards, who is at risk (you the performer, or the audience, or any other person), how high the risk is, any control measures (such as checking the stage for trip hazards, keeping fire equipment in a box) that you will be taking to prevent any issues, and what action is to be taken and by whom (eg, stage manager sweeping stage to keep clear of trip hazard / stage manager trained in the use of and armed with fire blanket…)

Voids to cover

So, you have been responsible and taken out a relevant level of cover – and you are ready for action… But beware! Although you might be nervous before you go on stage and need that sip (yes, really, just a sip!!) of wine, you might have voided your insurance! In all cases of cover, alcohol consumption will void your insurance, meaning you might have just flushed £sss down the toilet for a mouthful to settle your nerves! Be very careful! If your act needs certain conditions to be met for cover to be provided, you must ensure you have done everything you can. If there are things out of your control – such as air conditioning vents directly above where you’ve been asked to perform a fire act, and the venue (or whoever responsible) will not cooperate with your ‘control measures’ to keep yourself and the audience safe, then don’t perform. Simple. Nothing is worth the risk.

Other kinds of cover

Motor Insurance

It may surprise you to hear that unless you have noted on your motor insurance, the purpose of use (business use, not private or commuting), then if an accident occurs on the way to a show, you may not be covered. It can cost as little as £1 to add ‘business use’ to your policy.

Costume/ prop cover

If your costumes are in transit a lot (which they generally are when we travel across the country for shows!) and are irreplaceable or valuable you can insure them. These are things that usually don’t come under ‘home contents insurance’. sometimes you can obtain this insurance as part of ‘combined performer insurance’. Also, if you have ordered an expensive prop or costume, it’s prudent to insure against loss or damage in transit. Basically, if you rely on your costume or prop for work, and can’t work without them, then insure!


If you teach burlesque, dance, movement, in fact any kind of skill to the general public, you will need PLI. Most insurers will need evidence that you are demonstrating the skill you are teaching to a high degree, that safe practice is observed, a safe warm up and cool down is observed and you are teaching in a safe, hazard-free environment. Whether you are teaching a one-off, hen party, or a full course, you will need to ask participants to sign a form before entering the class, which contains questions about their health which you as an instructor need to know about (for example, if they consider themselves to be physically fit, if there are any specific health issues – ie knee/back/joint trouble, pregnancy, asthma, etc), that they are aware of their own limitations, and they have not consumed alcohol before entering the class – which will, of course, void your insurance. Other things that you will need to mention in your class, particularly relevant to burlesque and cabaret, is safe attire – ie, heel height (if offering a movement class you could be liable against claims for twisted ankles if you haven’t mentioned a restriction on heel height).

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. Again, this is just a basic toe-dip into the world of insurance. Mostly insurance is common sense – a broker will not insure against anything that they’re more likely to pay out on, and an insurer is more likely to insure you if you demonstrate safe practice. If in doubt, give your insurer a call, they will happily explain things in depth!

  • Min pic is RedSarah (one of our faves!) from BSL’s Mad Hatters Tea Party, feb 2010. copyright Mike Phillips

One thought on “Insurance – the minefield

  1. Pingback: The Name Game… | Bluestocking Lounge

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