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Theatre directors in pay struggle: half earn less than £5k a year

Piers Haggard, who authored Stage Directors UK's report on pay.
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Theatre directors in the UK earn on average £10,759 a year from their craft – well below the £27,000 take home annual salary national average – with some directing jobs paying less than £1 an hour, new research has revealed.

The findings, which are the results of a survey on directors’ pay carried out by industry body Stage Directors UK, also reveal that directors working abroad earn substantially more than those in the UK, and that directing for television is more lucrative than for theatre. Of those who responded, half earned less than £5,000 a year from theatre.

West End director and SDUK board member Marianne Elliott said the figures showed “shockingly and irrefutably how directors have been subsidising theatre for years” and added that she was astonished anyone could survive on such wages. “It shows a danger to the health of our industry,” she said.

SDUK received 812 responses, with 346 respondents providing information about how much they earned in the 2013/14 tax year as a freelance director. Information was gathered from 1,091 productions, most of which were plays.

It found that the mean average was £10,759 a year, compared with the £27,000 gross annual earnings of full-time employees as highlighted by the 2013 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. If a director was able to line up four jobs a year he or she would only earn around £22,000, the survey found. SDUK used fee levels at the Royal Court, the Donmar, the Young Vic and the Hampstead Theatre to come up with this figure.

It also revealed that only 13 of the 346 people who revealed their pay earned £32,000 or more from directing, and just nine earned more than £44,000.

In the UK, the minimum wage in 2013 was £6.31 an hour and the UK living wage was £7.65. When broken down by sector as an hourly rate, the survey found that many directors did not earn this. Most directors in London’s subsidised sector (66%) earned £2,000 or more per production. The largest proportion (24%) earned between £2,000 and £3,000. The hourly rate, taking into account time worked on the production both during and before rehearsals, was £6.40.

In subsidised regional theatre, almost half of directors (44%) earned less than £2,500 per show, at £6.68 an hour, while a quarter of directors working for commercial companies in London earned less than £2,000 per show. The average hourly rate, however, was £10.

Directors working for the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House were paid best, with 40% earning between £20,000 and £25,000 per production.

The fringe sector paid least, with 42% earning less than £100 per show, with an average hourly rate of just 69p.

SDUK chair Piers Haggard, who wrote the report, said every director spoken to was “upset and angry at their level of earnings”. He said the data would serve the body for years as it prepared for future negotiations over pay.

Equity represents directors in pay negotiations, and has minimum rates, including £3,392 for directors working on shows in the West End in theatres with more than 1,100 seats. But Haggard said these rates were only negotiated every few years and that no theatre director SDUK had spoken to felt the union was “capable of negotiating for directors, or dealing properly with their issues and concerns”. He said: “No organisation has ever carried out such a thorough study of directors’ earnings, or why they have sunk so low. I hope the industry will make efforts to remedy the situation.”

Haggard added: “It is not surprising that some talented people without alternative sources of income are forced to leave the profession at all stages.”

Elliott agreed, claiming the rates of pay explained “the lack of diversity and females among us”. She added: “Clearly, at these rates, only the privileged or very lucky can be allowed to pursue such a career. We must not take our artists for granted. And we must not let theatre’s future be so threatened.”

A similar survey of actors by Equity found that around half its members earned less than £5,000 in 2013.

Some of the figures have been disputed.

Key statistics and responses:


Note: The fee listed for Salisbury Playhouse is lower than its £4,000 average. The Almeida’s is higher than its 2014 average of £5,500, while Hampstead Theatre and the Young Vic usually paid on average £5,000 and £5,500 respectively. The low Soho figure is partly due to directors submitting information on visiting productions, readings and outreach projects.

Dundee Rep artistict director Jemima Levick

jemimaAlthough most directors are more than able to steer a company through the creative process, what we haven’t done very well so far is steer our industry into really considering what we are worth. Actors, playwrights, musicians, stage managers – they all beat us hands down at corralling their troops and protesting against poor working conditions and bad pay. So SDUK’s arrival and today’s initial report brings genuine relief and hope for the future.

Matthew Xia, associate artistic director at the Royal Exchange

The SDUK report makes it glaringly clear that there are major salary discrepancies between directors here xiaand on the continent; in theatre and TV; and also within our own industry. I joined the board of SDUK because of my commitment to the diversification of te British theatre industry. Without adjustment to the fees paid to directors British Theatre will remain in the hands of a particular and elite group. I imagine this is a preferable option for those unwilling to relinquish their privilege and power but this will only lead to the stagnation of what is, without a doubt, one of the finest cultural industries in the world.

David Mercatali – freelance director

The fee survey has been a revelation, and not a positive one. The simple fact is that directors at many levels, including very successful directors working in subsidised theatre, are not even earning the minimum wage for the hours spent on a production. Starter levels are virtually non existent. This is alarming for those currently making their living as directors, but also shows the chances of people from lower income backgrounds going into this career are almost impossible. Something has to change, and at SDUK we intend to make that change happen.


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