The Pay Debate: Why we don’t pay performers

The Pay Debate: Why we don’t pay performers

By Anonymous 07/02/13

You put on a play and charge admission, so where does that money go? Into the budget of the next production, says an anonymous contributor to The Pay Debate...

Starting your own theatre company is a dream for many young performers, but the financial headache of hiring venues and sourcing props and costumes means that hopes of making a living wage from theatre are quickly extinguished.


“We started our own theatre company at university, after being extradited from the theatre society; our work wasn’t particularly to their liking... Which, although ideal for us in terms of creative control, also provided a problem: no budget.

“We found it very challenging to get people on-board to begin with, particularly performers willing to take a risk on new work. Being penniless students, we couldn’t invest our own money, encouraging us to think of innovative ways to find funds. So we began to stage small-scale public performances, charging an entry fee. Although not much, it enabled us to fund our first production.

“Being able to stage our work led to a following and much greater interest in our company. We now have a performing company of over 30 members, who work free of charge because they share our passion. Ultimately, we want nothing more than to be able to pay our talented and dedicated company for their skills and commitment and, most importantly, because they deserve it. However, at this stage, this is not possible. Nor will it be, until we have consistent funding. Our recycled budget covers the practical elements of production (such as space hire and design) but only just.

“We make props and costumes out of recycled items and clothing, and are happy to get our hands dirty by making our shows look as professional as possible. We all have day jobs, but a lack of pay for the art we create hasn’t stopped anyone being part of the company. We’re all striving to make the company our full-time work one day, but money’s not our main motivation; our main goal is to bring our work to a wider audience.

“Being cut off from the theatre society was the best thing that has happened to us. We were able to start something in our first year that was ready for public consumption come graduation, giving us the advantage of experience as a functioning team.

“The income we’ve generated has been so minimal that no one in our company has asked how it’s spent. But we do realise that if the company grows, we’ll have to make our finances transparent. If anyone in the company wants a clearer idea of where the money’s going, they welcome to look at our budget and accounts.

“We’re not making a profit, but we’re not in debt either. Funding is something we’ll need to take the company further but, until then, recycling our budget to has given us the creative skills and confidence necessary to pursue further both opportunities for the company and ourselves. I’m proud to talk about the company in job interviews, and credit it for a wealth of experience.”


Do you have similar start-up experiences? Let us know, below...


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Image by Monica Reida, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 licence.

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