Theatre: If you’re going to make it, you gotta pay for it
There have been a few articles online recently about how difficult it is to put on a theatre show in today’s climate and the astronomical costs associated with it. Some of these articles appear to be a scapegoat, making excuses for why there is no money to pay actors. But is there ever really an excuse not to pay?
Last month I wrote a piece called ‘Crowd funding campaign launched to pay for my sandwich. Donate now!’ which was a tongue in cheek heading for an article about how people today don’t work as hard as they used to, to make their dreams come true. That article was in reaction to the amount of teenagers that tweet me asking for support to donate to their crowd funding pages so they can raise money to go to drama school. If you want to go badly enough then find a way to raise the money and don’t just sit back in your chair and hope the money will roll in from complete strangers for no reason other than you have asked. I got a lot of backlash from that article calling me a ‘snob’ and a ‘posh person who has obviously had everything handed to her on a plate in life’. FYI – that’s not true and everything I have in my life right now is because I have worked incredibly hard to make it happen.
I feel that once again I am talking about the same thing with putting on shows. If you can’t afford it then you can’t put it on. It really is that simple. If you are passionate enough about putting on a show then you’ll make it happen (without cutting corners by not paying people).
I’ve produced the odd Cabaret before and of course I produce the annual Wilma Awards ceremony. I’m not claiming to know how difficult it must be to put on a show that runs for more than one day and requires rehearsal periods, directors, choreographers etc but the bottom line is (I believe) the same. Before you start the process, you write down all the costs that you think you will incur and come up with the total amount you need to raise to make it happen.
Rather than doing profit share shows where the actors work for free on the agreement that if the show ends up making a profit they will get a percentage (which seldom ever happens), producers should find investors who are willing to stump up some cash in return for being promoted alongside the show as the lovely people championing the work (which also serves to promote their business) and then if any profit is made, this is shared out amongst them. This is an added bonus to investors but not an issue if the show isn’t a sell out.
Equity (the performers trade union) is currently working on a year long campaign called ‘Professionally Made, Professionally Paid’ where they are highlighting the issues of people within theatre not being paid at least minimum wage and trying to bring theatre’s and producers on board to commit to paying a fair wage. This is a great step in the right direction but sadly there are still so many professional actors having to work for barely any money and support themselves by also holding down several other jobs to pay the bills.
Theatre is a beautiful thing to be involved in and it is easy to understand why actors end up taking roles without being paid because they love doing it. But it isn’t fair and it really isn’t necessary. Yes it might be a bit more difficult to fund your show if you have to pay everyone but if you feel passionately enough about the project, surely it is worth it?