Welcome to our weekly discussion forum for key issues facing those working in theatre and the performing arts. This week, we ask: what are the pros and cons of being self-employed?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Gary Abblett is a 38-year-old jobbing actor with experience at the National, RSC, in the West End and on the road
Abi Egerman is in her 20s and has appeared at the Old Vic, the National Theatre, and in regional rep
John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally
Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television
John Not having to pay tax straightaway and then, oh God, I have to pay my tax now. Pro and conright there.
Jon I thought we’d get to tax…
Peter It’s changed in the last few years. We used to have dual status – self-employed for tax purposes and employed for National Insurance – the best of both worlds. Now we’re completely self-employed. Although we’re still classed as “workers”, so get rights such as holiday pay.
John A certain amount of control is excellent.
Jon Sometimes I wish I had PAYE tax taken off my wages before I ever saw them.
Gary If taxation were simple and we all had the same conscience, there would be no benefit to
self-employment… In reality, brave, reckless, selfish people can earn more by being ‘clever’.
Beryl I tell you what I hate. Payment on account. The bastards.
Jon I’ve heard you can reduce the payment on account to £0 when filling out the return. It’s the definition of short-termism, but I guess sometimes it’s needed.
John I absolutely hate having to organise my tax. I have an accountant who does most of it for me but I still absolutely, bloody hate it.
Peter I do my own these days.
Beryl I can’t bear it, why are we talking about tax? I have my head in the sand until the end
of next January.
John Yes, can we move on from the T word?
Abi I would say one of the biggest pros for me is also a con. That our time is our own. What a privilege and a luxury. But also a nightmare if you aren’t in a good head space, or if you aren’t feeling particularly motivated for whatever reason. But that I can sit musing in my pyjamas at 10.30am on a Thursday is pretty heavenly.
Jon Absolutely. Although I think people with more regular hours tend only to see the pros
of that, and not the cons. For example: “Oh did I wake you up?” at 11am. Well yes, because I only finished work 12 hours ago. Shall I ring you at 5am and say that?
Beryl It’s weird being called self-employed, but feeling the need for others to actually employ us.
Peter The pain of the company meal with 12 people wanting a receipt is a definite con.
Beryl I hate company meals.
John Last year, we had a company manager who revelled in divvying up the bill at the
end. That was the only time company meals were great.
Abi I find being self-employed can sometimes be so tiring, especially when you don’t know in advance where the money is going to come from month to month. Sometimes sourcing and organising work can be more exhausting than the work itself.
Beryl It can be so stressful. I know lots of folk who miss auditions because they can’t afford to piss off the people they do temp work for – if you’re in that cycle, give it up.
Jon Although, not having a job can be weirdly less worrying for us because we’re more used to it. It must be terrifying to find yourself out of work for the first time in 10 years.
Abi And I suppose that also leads on to having to start over again every time you come out of an acting job. I suppose that might be a personal thing – I still haven’t found a job that I can go back to after an absence – but the reapplication process for in-between jobs is so soul-destroying. I suppose in a nutshell the biggest con to self-employment for me is the instability.
Peter It worries me when people tell me they’re losing money by doing a show. For example, when their ‘temp’ job pays them more than acting.
Jon When you find something regular that you can go back to, and that you don’t actively hate, that is such a relief.
Beryl I have never had that. I am permanently insecure, but I know I’m alive.
Peter If you can’t cope with insecurity you shouldn’t be an actor.
John I’ve made this point in our columns before, but… find something that you love that pays money as well as acting. Really go and do that. I’m still searching.
Peter I now get a pension. It’s such a relief to know that whatever else is happening a certain amount of money is coming in. And I’ve paid off my mortgage. It’s so liberating.
John What’s a mortgage?
Beryl I’m still living on wishes to a large extent, but I think if you want to be an artist, c’est la vie.
Jon We haven’t said what for many employed people would be the biggest one of all: no ultimate boss, no career hierarchy.
John Not true – as soon as you get an acting job you get all of the hierarchy stuff.
Jon Not quite all of it. Not the whole: “Do I go over my boss’ head to my boss’ boss?” and all that ridiculous dance.
Peter No boss? It’s the strain of trying to please a new boss several times a year. And theatre is full of hierarchy.
Jon It is, of course, but it’s not as rigid or as stifling a hierarchy. You can jump up and down it in a way that just doesn’t happen in corporate structure.
John I’m the company director of my abject failure.
Jon That’s a great line, but I’m not having that from you.
Abi Stupidly, it sort of feels like looking for something ‘else’ that I love doing would be giving up partially/admitting that acting probably won’t work out, which is a bit of a sad prospect. I suppose they can go hand in hand though…
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email email@example.com