Paying Artists – My Thoughts – a blogpost –

21 Jul

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.




Marcus Romer
Artistic Director
Pilot Theatre
York Theatre Royal
Http:// Skype: marcusromerpilot Http://


+441904635755 work
+447774922118 mobile


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7 Responses to “Paying Artists – My Thoughts – a blogpost –”

  1. Mark Smith July 21, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    Hi MarcusI sadly missed this on Twitter last night, but caught up on much of the debate this morning. This is an excellent post and something that Spike has always stood by on a point of principle. You pay a living wage – Simple, sadly too many companies and venues do not share this principle and many receive public funds, this should be a point made clear to those in receipt of public subsidy that a living wage (at least equity minimum plus expenses) is paid to those working for you. We had a banker on our board, who said, ‘I can save you money on your budgets’ the first cut was actors wages, fortunately all of our other board members expressed their dismay at this idea. I asked why? he replied ‘It’s your biggest cost’ I replied ‘Its our biggest asset’ if you want to work with the best, then you pay a living wage. I could name and shame, and maybe this is what is called for to change things. I see well funded companies and venues, unlike our own, exploiting actors and other creatives on the principle that someone will do it, because they need the work or experience or some other guff. We have pulled projects in the past because we did not raise enough money, better us take the hit, than not be able to pay this. Something has to change, and a start is any company/venue in receipt of public funds must be able to prove they are paying their staff a living wage. All the bestMark SmithArtistic DirectorSpike Theatre

  2. Gavin July 21, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    I think you are aiming at the wrong target. This isn’t a matter of interns being paid – they should- but more about the particpatory nature of art. Should the 1000s of nude models in Spencer Tunick’s photos be paid ? (an idea that he has constantly revived) you could go further. If theatre doesn’t exist without an audience should they be paid for making the art? The relationship between maker and audience is evolving. To the benefit of us all. Bumbumtrain has been made by visual artists – thay aren’t seeking to turn a profit by not paying artists. Thay are exploring form, and continuing to share the idea. Good on them. This is not an argument for not paying artists . But we equally I am not making art because I am paid to. I don’t stop having ideas if a project doesn’t get funded. People make art in all sorts of ways and the shift that has to happen is more to do with rejecting false opposites – between amateur and professional, excellence and popular, local and international. There is an opportunity in all of this. Shift happens

  3. Debra Colkett July 21, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    I have recently returned to the acting arena, but when I first graduated from drama school, I recall doing a lot of freebie fims at the LIFS, fringe work and improvised stuff at Theatre Royal Stratford. When running my own Theatre Compnay we did box office splits at fringe venues. Learning our craft back in the day, everything we did was mutually beneficial. As creatives we love what we do and I feel this can be an area of exploitation. I feel it’s essential that this profession is repected as much as any. If Actors continue to do work unpaid then we are making a rod for our own backs. If all Actors refuse this kind of work then it would send out the message that our time and talent should be respected. I recently did an Actors course at the City Lit where us Actors were asked to play extras in a feature film. Unpaid. This film company clearly had enough funds to pay people – it featured some big names – but they were selling it on the premise that we would get ‘exposure’ and the kudos of working on such a project. As my Tai Chi Teacher once said to me, ‘If you never say no, what’s your yes worth?’ Thanks for raising this issue.

  4. Daphne July 24, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I work for Direct Personal Management, an actors’ co-op in Leeds. I’ve been there for nearly twenty years and over the past three years or so the number of unpaid jobs for actors has rocketed. Many of these are advertised on Spotlight, for which actors pay a lot of money, and it’s just wrong. I wish all actors would stop accepting such unpaid or underpaid work. "Exposure" and "Good for your CV" is one thing – -(try getting a plumber on the same terms!) but often, as in the comments above, the company DOES have money and are just choosing not to give it to the actors.Excellent piece, Marcus. Totally agree with you.

  5. Lita July 25, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    I just hope there is some middle ground for non subsidised theatre makers. If one rule fits all then it will kill off a large chunk of the Fringe (the business model of a small black box will not be sustainable for start up unfunded companies) or push it into Amateur status. The Arts Industry is the one thing Britain is still regularly exporting. It needs the wild ideas being tested out on the Fringe to feed into the mainstream to stay strong.If funding gets cuts from government subsidy all that will happen is we make less theatre which does not seem like a victory for anyone.

  6. talya2312 February 5, 2017 at 3:39 am #

    I completely agree with you. I have had quite a few auditions and after the audition I found out that the job is unpaid. I think there should be a law that you have to pay actors/performers for their work student film or not. Unpaid work decreases the value of the work. And you can see it now, how society values actors when you compare then to bankers, sales, doctors, even professors. Not paying actors for work and expecting them to put time and effort into auditions and casting, is complete BS!


  1. Blog: Let's talk about money - A Younger Theatre | A Younger Theatre - December 2, 2013

    […] Marcus Romer wrote some thoughts earlier in the year here […]

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