Work in the theatre? Want to talk $$$?

I’m often involved in conversations with actors and other artists and creatives about the issue of remuneration for theatre work.  I’m not talking here about ‘doing it for the love,’ but for what a good friend of mine calls ‘the foldies’, real money … what you need to pay the rent, to eat, and generally survive.  The last time I checked the stats, I found that an Australian professional actor earns somewhere in the vicinity of $10-12,000 per annum for his or her work as an artist – and that’s across theatre, screen and other performance-related work.  That’s averages for you; some earn more, some get less.  In addition, screen and other media work pays far more than theatre does, so a commercial or a guest-spot in a television series is a welcome addition to any actor’s income.  These gigs are contracted, and almost always covered by union-negotiated rates, so whether or not the actor has representation through an agency, the rates are pretty much standard for the kind of engagement involved.

The issue of payment for theatre work outside that of companies which pay award rates is another matter.  It can constitute the proverbial elephant in the room when artists and creatives get together; talking about money – how much, and whether or not you get paid, under what circumstances, whether or not you are a member of a theatre union, what your agent thinks etc., can be tricky to say the least, and that brings me to this particular post.

Earlier this year I engaged here and elsewhere in some really useful discussions revolving around professionalism in the theatre.  They ranged over standards and community support especially, but apart from noting that not enough money is available either via box-office returns, grants, subsidies or sponsorship, little was said about remuneration of artists, or their expectations in this regard, or whether or not there are any benchmarks or standards being used – apart from the industrially-negotiated award rates.  What commentary I read or wrote about generally focussed on a particular local scene, but some of the comparisons being made referred to situations beyond this.

So, in another post that continues my inquiry into the state of the contemporary professional theatre … the sector where people ‘profess’ themselves first and foremost as theatre workers … I want to put a few more questions out there.  In your neck of the theatre woods

  • are professional theatre workers prepared to work for no remuneration, or for less than the union award rates current in your state or country?  Under what circumstances do they do this?
  • do independent theatre-makers or producers hire people under contractual arrangements that pay award rates, and/or which ensure work insurance coverage?
  • if remuneration is made under non-award rate conditions, then what model is used: a stipend for an agreed amount, a wage for an agreed amount, or a deferred payment for a company i.e., shared after all expenses are paid out?

Feel free to make anonymous comments … or not … as you wish.

I am aware of the union and non-union status of companies in the US, a situation which does not hold in Australia.







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