Who Gets Paid? By George Maddocks

following: http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/shenton/2011/04/the-economics-and-economies-of-the-fring/index.html

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@ShentonStage has a interesting blog this morning about the economy of the fringe – a couple of things are worth noting.

First, there’s a great inversion of usual “who gets paid first” row. The usual way this old altercation plays out is that a producer or director does a “letwin” (http://blogs.news.sky.com/boultonandco/Post:82d3a14d-cdc4-4cba-908e-e1abe0ec87b4) and admits that they prioritized paying the actors last and equity (and a lot of actors who stopped paying their equity subs years back) get enraged.

This time however @ShentonStage admits to paying the actors first and the technicians get enraged (NB – I’m guessing BECTU didn’t get involved but based on my inbox I think they’re a little busy trying to take down NewsCorp).

As someone who hovers around both camps (I direct, and pay my bills with technical and production management) I understand the anger, but I think that we all waste a lot of time with this argument by presuming that if we aren’t being paid its because people aren’t respecting our artistic talents.

We need to differentiate between being disrespected as artists and whether we are paid. Last time I put a play on I didn’t pay my actors or creatives but I paid my lighting and sound operators – why? Because every night my set, lx sound and costume designers got their work shown to the public and press, the actors got a theatre, a set, lighting, sound and as many industry comps as they liked and I got reviews and my work onstage.

What none of us needed was for our work to be ruined by a sloppy sound operator or a lighting tech who doesn’t notice a crucial blown lamp – it was no disrespect to my creatives and actors that they got paid last, it was respect for their work.

As artists we need to be able to recognise that the fringe runs on private individuals paying for productions and recognise that when money is tight our art should be respected and fully supported long before we are paid. If you would rather get paid than act on a set that does full credit to the performance then you’ve the wrong attitude for the fringe, if you would rather get paid than be able to hire the spot and hazer that will make the end of the play look phenomenal you’ve got the wrong attitude for the fringe.

One final point, @ShentonStage suggests that

“The performers and creative team are apparently self-subsidising it; but in fact that often means that it’s the public who are footing the bill, too, not just at the box office but through their taxes, who are paying for many of its participants to work for free via the fact that many of them are claiming benefits.”

We are living under a Tory led coalition government in the midst of a downturn. Our public services are under massive and enormous pressure, if you are claiming benefits so that you can put on theatre you are just another miserable benefit cheat.

There is no excuse for signing on to make art, and there should be no tolerance for it in our industry. You may not feel the ArtsCouncil is enough of a presence on the fringe and I agree with you (last post: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/08/fringe-theatre-actors-career-path) but that does not give you the right to take money from the hospitals, schools and other vital public services that are all being pitilessly squeezed so you can stage your “hilarious” one man show about the life of Valerie Solanas which you perform using noting but a anglepoise lamp, two oranges, a cucumber with a johnny on it and a blow up doll with Andy Warhols’s face in a bar in Shoreditch.

I am sorry to say that it also doesn’t give you the right to perform a incredible piece of relevant political theatre in a respected fringe venue either – however noble the message, not when library’s and community centres are closing.

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~ by wirelesstc on April 8, 2011.

3 Responses to “Who Gets Paid? By George Maddocks”

  1. If you would rather get paid than act on a set that does full credit to the performance then you’ve the wrong attitude for the fringe, if you would rather get paid than be able to hire the spot and hazer that will make the end of the play look phenomenal you’ve got the wrong attitude for the fringe.

    If you would rather postulate this argument than inform the audience that their ticket proceeds are not paying the contributors and that they are being hoodwinked by assuming that the contributors are being treated legally then you’ve got the wrong attitude towards work and the sustainability of theatre.

    • Thanks for this, my thoughts as follows: I’m not 100% on what you mean by the contributors are “not being treated legally”. Legally (in this instance) would seem to be determined by the agreement the respective parties come to at the beginning of the process which may or may not include payment – and as an agreement between two private individuals is only their concern.

      I broadly follow (I think) what your driving at with the idea of the audience being “hoodwinked” but in response I would ask you to consider this: (taking the lighting designer as a example): hypothetical costs as follows: low level fringe venue for three weeks (minimum for national reviews) – £3000, Hire of additional lanterns and insurance £75, sundries (tape, gel, trs, practicals etc) £50, operator for three weeks @ £300 a wk. = £900 TOTAL: £3915. So, in the instance of me as producer/director that’s the amount I have to pay upfront so the lighting designer can do what he/she does. I don’t think that a audience is being “hoodwinked” into thinking that people are being treated appropriately when the thick end of 4K has gone into giving that person the opportunity to do what they love (obviously if that 4K and more comes back through the box office then its a standard profit share model so we would all get a cut – but it won’t – so that’s irrelevant)

      If you feel that it is illegal for people to work without payment then I respect that, but that is not a sustainable model for the fringe. I have not worked on a fringe production that could afford to pay anyone a proper rate in six years and I won’t (@ShentonStage explains why, as does the excellent Jack Bowman in the comments). If there was some legislative drive (or similar hypothetical) that enforced a payment structure upon the fringe the fringe would either die out or become a luxury for the rich and privileged and neither of those options works for me.

      Directing theatre is not work to me, it is a passion, a love and a luxury. Technical and production management is work for which I expect to be paid, and so I don’t do technical work on the fringe (save for an issues based theatre group whose work I think is important). If I’m working I get paid, if I’m making art its because the art matters and getting paid or not is totally irrelevant.

      George

  2. I’m not 100% on what you mean by the contributors are “not being treated legally”

    That’s more than a shame, it shows a lack of professionalism concerning your art and workplace. Actors are legally defined as workers, and like all workers they are due the National Minimum Wage. The reason you haven’t been challenged on this is because very few actors challenge the matter, however the tables are turning, beware. Do check this site, or call the Pay and Work rights helpline. http://actorsminimumwage.wordpress.com/
    I understand the economic argument, but that’s no excuse for lawbreaking or a right to exist. The legislation is already there, the awareness isn’t but its coming, rest assured its coming.
    I’ll leave you with a quote from BECTU, in the Low Pat Commission Report 2011 http://www.lowpay.gov.uk/lowpay/report/pdf/Revised_Report_PDF_with_April_date.PDF

    “The prevailing informality, and rhetoric of experiment and creativity, obscure the reality of employment relationships carrying obligations for workers to be paid for their work.”

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