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Rachel Kavanaugh: ‘Directors are badly paid because they are taken advantage of’

Rachel Kavanaugh. Photo: Tim Ellis/Flickr Rachel Kavanaugh. Photo: Tim Ellis/Flickr
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Leading West End director Rachel Kavanaugh has criticised the static levels of pay in the sector, claiming they have not increased in 20 years and that creative talent is being “taken advantage of”.

The director was speaking to The Stage as she launched new West End musical The Wind in the Willows, and also raised concerns about the difficulties parents working in the industry face. She backed calls for a London-based creche for performers and creatives with children.

Kavanaugh, the former boss of Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the director of Half a Sixpence in the West End, said pay levels for directors were the same as when she started 20 years ago.

“There has not been an increase in the amount directors get paid since I started directing. I think in many ways, because people in the creative industries face a passion for what they do, it is sometimes taken advantage of, or taken for granted. There’s a feeling people will do it because they want to, and that the terrible thing is that is partly true,” she told The Stage.

Kavanaugh also spoke about leaving Birmingham Rep to raise a family, but said going freelance was tougher for her financially.

“When I had a baby [while working in Birmingham] I felt I had to do three things – run a building, be a director and a mother. Now I am only being a mother, alongside directing,” she said, adding that she would be unlikely to return to running a venue.

“Theatres, like children, need a lot of hours spent on them and it’s hard to spread oneself that thinly,” she said.

Backing recent calls from campaign group Parents in Performing Arts for a West End creche, she said the move would benefit industry professionals, particularly actors.

“The people it’s hardest for in a way are the actors who have kids with them during the day and are coming into town for auditions, for which they are not being paid. It would be fantastic to have a creche,” she said.

She added: “It’s a real shame if women, particularly, feel they can’t accept certain jobs because of where they are. I find myself when I am offered something that runs outside of London asking where it rehearses. If the answer is Newcastle then it’s tough. Sometimes a job is worth it, sometimes it quite isn’t.”

Responding to her pay concerns, Thomas Hescott, new executive director of Stage Directors UK, said: “Before SDUK was formed no one had been protecting directors’ fees for many years. In the space of two years we’ve managed to make huge strides, particularly in the subsidised sector, and we’ve started to see fees for freelance directors increase.”

He added: “There is still a long way to go, and we are busy working with unions and other trade organisations to ensure that the initial good work SDUK has achieved continues.”