Alex, from Artist Anonymous has had a blinder of an idea. Alexander Parsonage is also artistic director of Finger in the Pie Theatre:
If we want to buy coffee where the workers have been paid a decent living wage for their work, we have no problemwith the idea that we have to pay more. So what’s wrong with letting an audience know that if they want the theatre cast they’re seeing to be paid a living wage they need to pay more for theatre?
I’ve recently been discussing the idea of a ‘Fair Trade’ theatre ticket… Here’s the thinking:Unpaid work is a vicious circle.I (as a director/producer) want to pay my cast minimum wage. To do that I’d need to charge £ for tickets to my show.A different producer decides they are going to undercut my tickets by not paying a decent wage. A cast of actors agree to it and then they can sell their tickets for £10.I then have to lower my ticket price to match which either involves me paying less (to my actors) or keep paying them minimum wage in the hope of a sell out show (but risk going bankrupt if it isn’t- which will lead to no one getting paid) Neither of which is good for the industry as a whole. But the former is still better than the latter (small pay vs no pay)… so i end up having to run the show with low pay which then means the next producer along who wants to pay a decent wage is unable to as i’m now undercutting their ticket price.Unless the state steps in to subsidise the project there is nothing that can be done. The producers hands are tied as there is simply not enough money coming in to pay everyone.So what’s wrong with this? All actors want to be paid. Everyone who works has a right to be (legal as well as moral). Now, as has been said above, everyone, in every industry where there is competition for jobs people are expected to intern before they get onto being paid.There is nothing wrong with that in principle, the problem is that for most industries that period would be 6 months to a year at most. In theatre you have people 5, 10 and even 20 years into their career still being expected to work on profit share shows that have no reasonable chance of ever making a profit.So to recap – at present I want to be able to pay actors, actors want to be paid, but there simply isn’t enough money coming into most projects to do this. So it’s a simple question of getting more money into projects which it either done through:
- more subsidy or
- more expensive tickets.The government have made it clear that subsidy isn’t going to be the answer in the short term. They have pointed to the USA as evidence we should all be chasing subsidy from the corporate sector and individual giving to replace government spending. Now as the government themselves admit, this wont amount to as much as the Arts Council (ACE) used to give out, and as the amount ACE used to give still wasn’t enough to pay everyone, this isn’t going to be the answer.The only way that subsidy (either state or private) could possibly now lead to a decent wage for all is to radically cut the amount of work happening. In effect this already happens. ACE is funding a decreasing number of projects and those projects are properly paid.Everyone else putting on shows outside of that are in effect deciding that given the choice between
- underpaid/ unpaid work in the theatre, or
- giving up and stopping making theatre all together they’ll choose the poor pay. So we’re back to square oneAn alternative?So the problem is there’s simply not enough money to pay everyone. Subsidy (both private and public) wont be able to fill the gap, unless there is a radical change in government in the near future. We need to find an alternative means of bringing more money into the theatre.FAIR TRADE THEATRE TICKETSIf we want to buy coffee where the producers have been paid a decent living wage for work, we have no problem with the idea that we have to pay more. So what’s wrong with letting an audience know that if they want the theatre cast they’re seeing to be paid a living wage they need to pay more for theatre?Very rough figures (feel free to ignore this bit if figures bore you) but just to get a sense of how much we’re talking about:Wages:Director/Stage Manager/Lighting Designer/Costume Designer/Set Designer each working for 3 x 40 hour weeks @£5.93 minimum wage would cost £3,558
- Cast of 4 working 3×40 hour weeks rehearsal cost £2683
- and then the cast + technician paid for 4 hours 6 days a week for 3 week run costs £2142Giving a total wage bill of £8383
- Add on a rehearsal room at £500 a week (for 3 weeks)
- hiring an average 80 seat fringe venue at £1,200 a week (for 3 weeks),
- another £500 for set, costume and
- £400 publicity design and print, and
- 10% contingency and you’ve got another £6600So for a fairly normal fringe show if you’re paying minimum wage – not equity – you’d end with a budget around £15kIf you budget to try to break even on 50% sales in your 80 seat fringe venue over 3 weeks (720 tickets) you’d need to be charging an average of £20.80 per ticket.(If you wanted to turn it to Equity ie minimum weekly wage of just under £400 then your overall wage bill goes up to £16k, giving an overall show budget of around £22.6k. So if we accept that Equity MINIMUM is the minimum living wage for a performer a fair trade fringe ticket would cost £32)The suggestion we’ve been discussing is a campaign to introduce an industry standard fair trade fringe theatre ticket to run alongside standard tickets. People should still be able to pay £10 to see a fringe show if they wish, so it wouldn’t put anyone off attending, but they should know that that wont be enough to pay the performers they’re watching a legal minimum wage (let alone a decent living wage!).The idea of the scheme is twofold:
- 1st it would raise money, sadly not enough to pay everyone a decent wage as many people would still opt to buy cheaper ‘unfair-trade’ tickets, but it would raise more money and therefore allow for better pay, even if not good pay.
- Secondly, and more importantly, it would raise the issue of the appalling pay in the arts. Audiences simply aren’t aware of the scandalously poor pay in the arts. People who would never buy clothes they thought were made in sweatshops are perfectly oblivious to the fact that when they go to see fringe theatre the performers have often been paid less than a sweatshop worker.Long term, I don’t believe the answer is for audiences to have to pay more – I believe we need a government willing to subside theatre to the same level we see on the continent.But in the mean time we need to raise this issue in such a way that we don’t damage our own careers, or threaten the careers of others.