As we continue our Low pay/no pay week in print and online at The Stage, performer and Grads’ Club blogger Gemma Barrett gives her opinion
It is with great, and vested, interest I have been reading the various articles in this week’s Stage regarding the evermore pertinent issue of Low Pay/No Pay.
As a 2009 drama school graduate, 85% of my CV reads with fringe or low-budget films where the pay was either: expenses (in these cases I counted myself lucky), profit share (which as indicated by Stephen Spence, operates as a ‘partnership’ and therefore does not qualify for national minimum wage) or ‘revenue share’, whereupon the ticket sales for one particular night a week was divided between the cast (often more lucrative than the profit-share option).
In an ideal world, which is what we should all be striving for, all actors would be paid at least NMW. We have trained and are qualified to do our jobs, we have been cast and employed to do it and we deserve the same rights as the guy who works in the supermarket or the local pub.
An accountant doesn’t have to subsidise his income by moonlighting as a waiter. As a profession our worth is the value that we put on ourselves, and in an industry which is too often rubbished by many delightfully ignorant folk as ‘a bit of fun’ or ‘not a proper job’, it is even more important to stand up for our profession, our working conditions and our rights.
This is the theory. I understand it. I agree with it. Do I want to get paid for doing my job? The job which I trained long and hard for? The job which takes up every hour of my day and which I never clock out of? You’re darn tootin’ I do.
I know that it is the fear of never working again and the hope that “someone will change things on my behalf” that is perpetuating the situation. As long as this is the case, then employers will be allowed to get away with not paying out where it’s due.
I will, however, brave the branding of hypocrisy and cowardice and say that I do not, however, have the resolve to turn down the unpaid work and neither, in the current situation, do I want to. The alternative, for many of us, is simply not working.
It is all well and good to tell young graduates to abstain from these low paid/no pay gigs but in the current situation, what is the alternative? Wait for the phone to ring for that elusive PAID job? Following graduation from drama school I was immediately signed by an agent and did not get a single audition through her for an entire year. I did not have the opportunity to be employed by those companies that would pay for my wares. In the meantime I worked consistently on a LP/NP basis. Should I have sat on a moral high ground and refused to work? Demanded my rights? Frankly if I had done so I wouldn’t have got the job.
I know I am being short sighted, but I don’t think I can afford to be otherwise. One doesn’t want to turn up to that paid job audition and be rusty as a nail on the Titanic. Working on the fringe as it stands does offer exposure to emerging performers: it can be artistically inspiring and keeps the mind occupied and the body limber, it is a place where up and coming directors and writers are allowed to flex their muscles and where actors are able to network with those creative also at the start of their career.
It is my choice to work for free if the company/venue is well reputed and I believe Industry professionals are likely to attend; if the part in question is meaty enough to warrant an invite to said Industry professionals; if the writing/direction/production values mean the show is something to be proud of; if I believe I will learn something from the experience; if there are individual creatives involved that I would like to nurture a relationship with… A lot of reasons why I work for free. Reasons which would still stand if I was being paid. Necessity means the other qualifiers are: can I afford to take the time off/is it flexible around my day job? In my experience most LP/NP fringe companies are understanding of a person’s need to eat and therefore accommodate their actors’ work schedules.
Conclusions? The issue is not black and white. We knew that already. As a young graduate in what is notoriously the most competitive business out there, this is a hard industry to navigate and harder still to stand by your principles. I admire those that do, but providing the company operates on a ‘profit-share’ basis — a legitimate profit-share basis — and treats its actors with respect, I think for the time being I’d prefer to be doing the work rather than talking about it.