After I finished uni my first job was in theatre – or rather in a theatre van touring Europe – we got put up in hotels and got expenses – we didn’t get paid – it was brilliant fun. Working in a theatre company – subsistence living – creating work – building the sets driving through the night to arrive at cheap backstreet hotels in Amsterdam, Brussels, Dusseldorf – we thought we had made it. And for the next two years this is what we did – it was great – I learned to tour – pack a van – get in and fit up the show in less than two hours – lx and sound check – no breaks – get on – perform in the show – take the set down – pack it away and then drive off into the night. We got an allowance per show – food and hotels – we didn’t get paid for rehearsals – it was a dream job. I had arrived.
There is a time in your life – when starting out that this is ok – it is a training and experience and really worthwhile. But it can’t be a permanent career choice. You won’t be able to survive. But it is valuable and some may say inevitable way to start to work in the theatre industry.
For me – It led to me getting an agent – this time in Sheffield – a co-op called Otto Personal Management – which is still going – this was the 80’s and together we worked collectively to get each other work. The commission we paid came back into the co-op to help us run things. OK when the actors were in paid work – less so when actors undertook fringe work…
This is where I first came into contact with the term ‘profit-share’ theatre – as in this case we didn’t charge commission – as there was never any profit to share – This always led to robust discussion – if all of us did profit share fringe shows the co-op would fold – so for me I vowed to always hold out for paid work – and pretty much this worked out for me.
The thing is the venues that were not paying in the 80’s are still not paying now. The work is still there for actors to work unpaid – there are always plenty of takers.
The cycle needs to be broken for change to occur.
As I said there is a time in your career when a couple of jobs and experiences like this are immensely valuable. But not for ever…
So when I started directing I always paid actors – and followed the Equity Contract. It was a matter of principle for me.
Since being Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre we have always paid people properly – above Equity minimum – and paid full allowances – full contracts – this is something I learned from Graham Devlin – ex AD of Major Road – to always pay people – an to pay them above the minimum level set by Equity. Why? Why not? – it is what we are subsidised to do – and it means that we are always able to get the best people working with us. Our current project is a new piece by Roy Williams – with a cast of 10 actors – that is how many we could afford to pay properly. So we make projects that allow all our team to be properly paid – this is something I started even when as a small company with little funding we paid artists the going rate – the result? We carried on – making good work – paying people properly – and in return our reputation and funding grew. We were taken seriously – by agents, by funders, by actors, by artists.
This is not Rocket Science – but borne out of an ethos that dates back to the 80’s where collective and collaborative working between artists was vital for survival.
So when I do hear about artists not being paid it opens up that part of my thinking which is connected to justice and equality and above all fairness.
If we don’t make the case that it is important to value and pay the talented creative people who make extraordinary things – then all too soon our ability to make the case for subsidy and its importance will be diminished.
York Theatre Royal
Sent from my iPhone