The cost of being an actor

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Philip is an actor and stand up comedian and a regular freelance contributor to The Stage
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As the new year and Tax Return deadline looms, it’s important to remember the things actors can claim as part of our personal allowance. The list is impressive, from theatre and cinema tickets as ‘research’, to dental work and haircuts as ‘cosmetic’. Yet, with all the other costs we face, I started to wonder just how much it costs to be an actor.

When I left drama school (itself a hugely expensive investment) there were two main organisations I made sure to join. The first was actors’ union Equity which is £108 per year for those earning less than £20,000, although this can then increase to a maximum of £2,268.  The second was Spotlight, which I have just renewed at an annual cost of £144. To me, both these are the only essential resources as one protects and the other promotes its members. Many actors are now joining IMDB Pro (approximately £78 depending on the US exchange rate) as a way of promoting themselves internationally.

There are plenty of casting companies, some of which are free, but many more charging a premium for full membership.  These include, Casting Call Pro (£156), The Page UK (eventually £60 though currently free), Casting Networks (£120), CastWeb (£159.95), PCR (£282.97), Act On This (£49), Castnet (£338, charged weekly at £6.50) and Starnow (£71.88) to name just a few.  Naturally, full membership is optional, but when castings are duplicated over multiple platforms, it is frustrating to be paying for more than one service. There are others, but were I to join just these seven at their premium rate, my annual cost (just for seeing what jobs are casting) would be £1,037.

As well as putting together and maintaining a professional showreel, it’s important for actors to update their headshots at least every two years. It is possible to get away with paying very little for these, but as someone who has previously taken both the more expensive route and the bargain bucket option, I know which I’d recommend. A number of times I have spent over £300, and these have far outshone any where I spent as little as £50.

Industry masterclasses help actors improve their craft, but these also come at a cost. They range in price depending on the content and facilitator. But, assuming I wanted to do a wide variety of classes, perhaps as often as once a week, this could easily see me spending well over £1,000 a year.

Then there are unavoidable industry costs like travelling to auditions, mail-outs and industry publications. However, not including these, in a year where I might pay the essential subscriptions as well as all of the optional ones, attend perhaps a modest ten masterclasses and update my headshots and showreel, I’m looking at an annual cost of approximately £1,700.

Of course, I’ve painted an extreme picture, but with so many options available it’s hard to know which to choose.  Rather than rushing to pay for everything, take a closer look at your options. When it comes to masterclasses, don’t just select the ones that get you closest to the biggest casting director because you think they’ll give you work. In these cases, I think it best to consider your CV, find the professional gaps, and fill them.

No-one likes wasting money, but I do believe that some of these costs are essential for the ongoing success of our careers; thankfully, when it comes to the January deadline, so does the taxman.

4 Comments

  1. I agree – You have to be canny about who you spend your actors cash with on these career advancement vehicles because although the tax man may re-imburse you some time later, and who knows for how much longer, remember the cash is still out of your pocket in the meantime…

  2. Thanks for this very useful round up. Just to add that Equity members have free access to information about available paid work through our Job Information Service, and our Tax & Welfare Benefits Dept runs a helpline on Mondays & Thursdays if there are questions about what items are tax deductible.

  3. There’s always someone trying to take an actors money and claiming it will be a boost to your career. Most of the time they just tell you things you already know. I think people spend money to make themselves feel like they are ‘doing something’, it gives them a sense of control over a career that otherwise can feel out of your hands. But it’s a false economy. Information is power and research is free, but people are lazy.

    Dramanic is a good site for stage work, and Spotlight is obviously good, the rest of them aren’t worth the money in my opinion. Although I’d keep your eye on casting networks. And yes its worth checking the Equity JIS now and again but its usually just TIE and teaching jobs, there’s rarely anything great on there. Mandy sometimes has paid work too, but its free so theres nothing to lose.

  4. Agree with Gareth. I’ve found http://www.dramanic.com to give good information for theatre work. It depends what you’re looking for. You just need to look at the majority of jobs on a casting site to know the type and level of work.

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