Dear West End Producer: Which theatre job would you give a pay rise to?
— Anthony Pearson (@ANTH0NYPEARS0N) January 5, 2016
In truth, I couldn’t pick one particular job – it just wouldn’t be fair – especially in a business where people often work for free. In an ideal world, everyone would get a pay rise, regardless of what they do. I would prefer to change the question to: “Which people should not get a pay rise?”
We’ve all read those articles where film stars state they “love turning down film roles to tackle theatre that pays hardly anything”. The truth is that they will still be on more money than everyone else in the cast, and will also have been put up in a lovely hotel suite in central London. And that is my worry – the staggering contrast in pay – particularly when it concerns celebrities. Now, of course I know only too well the importance of having a ‘name’ in a show – and how the success of a show can rely on this. But the difference in pay for a celeb and a member of the ensemble can often be absurd – and should be balanced out.
Your average lead in a West End musical, celebrity or not, will be on a couple of thousand a week (some will be on more) – whereas a member of the ensemble will be on the Equity minimum rate of around £540 (depending on the size of the theatre). For example, if it is a category C theatre (less than 799 seats) then Equity’s minimum for a performer is £534.50 – but if it is a category A theatre (more than 1,100 seats) then the minimum is £653. I have known producers take out the first few rows of an auditorium to change the category of the theatre so they can pay performers less.
Another interesting point is that the minimum amounts for stage managers and deputy stage managers is considerably more than for a performer – I am not saying in any way that one is more deserving than the other, it is just a fact. You can find all the current rates of pay on the Society of London Theatre’s website.
If you were forcing me to say which performer is most deserving of a pay rise, I would have to say the swings. Swings do remarkable jobs of learning multiple tracks – involving totally different harmonies, blocking, choreography, dialogue, and on top of all that they are also expected to act a bit as well. They are a remarkable species that allow musicals to continue when half the cast have called in sick (due to sharing a bad kebab the night before). I am full of admiration for how they manage to not only learn but also remember several actors’ tracks in a show – and their importance in the industry should not be overlooked.
However, in terms of wages in theatre, the one thing that needs to change is the sometimes huge difference in pay between leading roles and ensemble. After all, Elphaba would feel pretty bare without the rest of the Ozians, dear.
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