Friday, 9 November 2012

Show Me The Money. Please.

If my brain and my heart finally overcame their differences and finally decided to give that long-awaited relationship a go then it’s probable that I’d blog about unpaid acting work every single day. I realise it’s and it’s the thought of you all (you, the one person that reads this) going “OH BLOODY GET OVER IT AND TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE” that stops me from constantly mentioning it. But sadly the problem isn’t going away. I’ve tried ignoring it and it’s still there, like the child’s pants that have suspiciously been lying just two feet from our front door for over a year now. They won’t go away unless someone does something about it and it’s the same with unpaid work too.

I saw a casting today for an interesting sounding new play. I glanced at the payment details and saw, lo and bloody behold, that it was paid. Well, they’re paying £100 a week. Which at first I thought was alright. It’s an inoffensive figure that I’m pretty sure I can live on. But then I saw the rehearsal hours. 10am-5pm, Monday to Friday for three whole weeks. That’s £20 a day. Or, for those of you who like to work in hours, that’s £2.85 an hour. 75p less than the National Minimum Wage when it was introduced in 1999. It’s less than half the National Minimum Wage today. 

And the option to stop myself from having to live in a shoe box on one lentil a day via the medium of part-time work is hardly there either. If you’re stuck in rehearsals until 5pm every day, there are very few jobs that you can then go on to straight after. Most evening jobs require you to start at 5 or, if you’re lucky, 6. You’re then there until 10 or 11 meaning that you’re unlikely to get home much before midnight. And, if you’re only working 4 or 5 hours an evening, it’s unlikely you’re going to making much more than £30 a night anyway. Hardly enough to keep bailiffs away. So instead you have to take on a weekend job instead which means you’re finding yourself working a 7 day week. I know us artists are supposed to do whatever we can to make our dreams come true but when you’re too exhausted after working a 50 hour week for little more than £200 then those dreams very quickly turn into nightmares.

Now I realise no one is forcing us to take on these jobs. Thankfully, these casting calls don’t come with a 1950s gangster holding a gun to our heads telling us that we have to do these jobs or else. But what it does mean that these roles are then only open to those who can afford to take them on. Suddenly talent means nothing and time instead has to go into finding yourself a wealthy long lost aunt who has a tendency to fall downstairs and a penchant for broke actors. 

The National Minimum Wage and Living Wage both increased recently but neither of these apply t actors. Because, of course, we don’t need to worry about how we’re going to live. The cost of living apparently doesn’t apply to us because we’re busy living up on Cloud Acting. On Cloud Acting, a DVD copy of a student film you did back in 2004 will buy you a loaf of bread and a battered copy of The Stage which briefly mentions you in a review is considered legal tender by all reputable landlords. Of course, I realise that those living on Rainbow NMW or those in the relative luxury of Treehouse Living Wage aren’t having much of a better time but at least they’re supported by laws and a few calculated pennies being thrown their way. 

And here endeth the monthly unpaid whinge. 


  1. What the hell =|
    I can't think of anything to say right now as I'm still baffled by the pay. Just wow...! =/

  2. I see so many castings that are low/no pay. It is scandalous. In no other industry could you get away with it.

  3. It's so true - acting (at least the "training" end of the business, the entry level work, the 'doesn't require be at least a D list celebrity' wedge of work, is now only available to actors with either a) huge life savings, b) a full-time job, working only in the wee small hours, or c) very wealthy relatives prepared to give handouts in order to survive. In 30 years time, we will NOT be the envy of the rest of the world, because most of the talented actors are not getting the opportunity to put into practice regularly enough what they have trained to do. We will NOT have the Dame Maggie's, the Dame Judi's, the Sir Ian's, the Sir Michael's, because the opportunities that they had to craft their talent when they were young no longer exist! Rant over, I know I'm preaching to the converted.


  5. I completely agree. The low pay/no pay culture in the arts winnows out those from less wealthy backgrounds. There is a narrowing class involvement in the industry, and this is resulting in a reduced breadth and quality of work.

    Really the union needs to take the issue up more strongly. Commissioning working parties and writing reports is all well and good, but members need action if the industry is to change.

    Look at French arts workers. Their lot is far from ideal, but the welfare and support system in place is the envy of performers and technicians around the world. Why do they have it? Because they are organised, and not afraid to walk out when they're under attack.

    Equity could learn much from this. I think it's time we put pressure on the leadership to take concrete steps.

  6. but... these very low pay or no pay jobs can be a great opportunity to play a role you wouldnt get in the west end or to raise profile or to get yourself seen at a good venue and invite casting to people to... it's not something that anyone would expect you to do full time or even for a long time, but on occasion these fringe productions can prove invaluable in a career and lead to further paid work.

    1. Very true but actors can't live on unpaid opportunities alone. I agree that they're great chances to be seen and play roles you might struggle to get elsewhere, but when you have to take two or three months out to do it, is it really worth it? Yes, a casting director or an agent might come and see you and yes you might meet some excellent people and have a good credit for your CV but actors also need money to live, just like everyone else does. I'm very pleased for those that can afford to take on such opportunities but I know that I, and a lot of other performers, simply can't take this kind of work on.
      Thank you for the comments though. I know my blogs can seem very one-sided so I always appreciate an argument from the other side. :-)