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Theatre directors ‘deserve substantial pay rise of up to 50%’, urges SDUK

Stage Directors UK chairman Piers Haggard Piers Haggard, chief executive of Stage Directors UK
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Theatre directors are pushing for a 50% increase to their fees and a 1% share of a production’s royalties as part of the first major drive to improve their working conditions.

Newly formed industry body Stage Directors UK has compiled the industry’s first set of standard contract terms, which it will urge to have written into contracts between theatres and the directors they employ.

The terms include a section on payments, which makes it clear that directors should be paid for any preparation time required for a production – on top of their basic fee – and that they should receive a minimum 1% of gross takings when a show tours or extends its run beyond initial agreed dates.

In an accompanying document, described by its chief executive Piers Haggard as a “call for justice”, SDUK reveals it will be seeking “a substantial rise” to directors’ pay of between 40% and 50% over the next three years.

Last year, SDUK released the findings of its own survey into pay conditions, which found that most freelance directors earn on average £10,759 a year.

Haggard told The Stage that directors employed on a freelance basis could only accept around four jobs a year. He said that directors should therefore be paid for around 12 to 13 weeks of work per job, and that payment should include preparation time.

“When we did our fees study last October, we found a director will spend as long in the preparation period for a play as they do in the rehearsal – and quite often longer. Many directors, including admired ones at top London venues, can earn less than the minimum wage. By creating… a clear idea of where things need to change, we believe that we will make it easier to argue fees up,” he said.

Haggard added that many directors earn less than £500 a week. “If we have strong directors saying that they want these SDUK terms written into contracts we will… bring a groundswell of movement towards agreed terms. A plumber can earn a great deal more [than a director] and these are people who are top professionals. The people who are employed in theatres as heads of publicity or production would not work for £430 a week, nor £530 a week,” he said.

The chairman added that freelance directors had been “historically underpaid” because they had not felt brave enough to challenge wages.

With the new set of contract terms, which he said had been developed with agents, he said he hoped directors would feel as though they “can ask, and have a right to ask” for increased payments.

Haggard acknowledged that theatres have no legal obligation to increase fees but said the aim was to work with UK Theatre to eventually agree the terms as industry standard.

“We have not been around long enough for that but when everyone sees we are here to stay we will seek proper, formal negotiations,” he said.

In the accompanying document to the standard terms, SDUK outlines theatres that have already made significant improvements to directors’ pay on their main stages this year. It lists companies including Headlong and venues such as Curve in Leicester and the Young Vic in London as organisations that have, over the course of the year, raised fees.

However, it claims that other theatres have not so far made any increases to fees.

The standard terms document is still in draft form but is expected to be completed by the end of October, after which it will be circulated to agents so that they can be written into directors’ contracts.

As well as pay improvements, it states that directors should get a credit that is at least 50% of the size accorded to the playwright.

In addition, it says that no changes to a show should be made without a director’s permission and that a director should be offered first refusal to direct or redirect any subsequent production.

Haggard said: “Our number one target is to make it clear there’s a case to answer and to get directors and agents singing from the same song sheet.”

He added: “There has never been a time when theatres have not been having a bad time [financially] and said ‘Let’s pay people more’. They always have a hard time. But the question is, should a top director be paid £400 a week? It’s not enough and it’s not fair.”

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