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Dear West End Producer: ‘Will I always be poor working in entertainment? How can I make ends meet?’

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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My dear – hopefully not. But remember why you went into the business. Lots of people go into entertainment thinking they’re going to make lots of money – which is a mistake. You can’t go into this business for money or fame (it happens sometimes but is rare) – there are other rewards that are far greater.

If you’re doing a year’s tour for Equity minimum, sadly this means you’re not going to save much money. With digs, food, your agent’s commission and beer money you’ll probably get home after ‘suffering for your art’ for 12 months to find your bank balance exactly the same – or worse – than when you started.

But should you consider what money you’ll make when accepting a job or not? Obviously it’s important, and you need to ensure that at least you’re going to earn enough to live. But money shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Far more important is the role, company and if you fancy any of the other cast members.

Hopefully, some jobs will come and make up for your lack of money. For example, landing an advert can be like a little gift from the god of drama (Lionel Blair), allowing actors to survive for another few months. Also voice-over work can be very well paid – some paying as much as £200 an hour – depending on the company.

And on the subject of money – there is also agent’s commission. Most agents take the same – usually 10% for theatre, 12.5% for TV and 15% for film and adverts – but some more avant-garde (that is shitty ones) will take more. Always check an agent’s reputation before signing, ask colleagues and check if they’re a member of the Personal Managers’ Association. Although it could only be an extra 5% that they charge, over time this adds up.

This also leads to something an actor said recently, who questioned why agents take commission on ‘holiday pay’ (most actors accumulate and receive this as a lump sum at the end of a contract).

Personally I think it a little unfair, as the agent is taking commission on an actor’s bonus, and holiday pay is something actors earn on top of the actual pay. Some agents do and some don’t – check this with your current agent, and before signing with another.

There is also work ‘in between’ your acting work – which can be a good way of making money. While working front of house is flexible, it doesn’t pay well. Register at temping agencies (eg, Office Angels) and promotional companies (where you’ll spend your time dressed as a giant condom handing out Durex at Waterloo station – but you’ll make good money). Even waitering work can be lucrative, as tips can add up. Commercial theatre work and TV work pays better than a subsidised theatre wage – where the usual pay starts at £435 a week.

But, if you’re making ends meet, affording to live and earning enough to allow you to pursue your dream you are doing enough – and in my opinion are succeeding. Don’t worry about earning money now – it will come to you in the long run, dear.

Send questions via Twitter to @westendproducer

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