Have we considered the unseen perils of a minimum wage deal?
A number of theatre companies have recently announced their intention to pay the hourly minimum wage instead of the dreaded ‘profit share’ agreement under which most of us work when we’re involved in productions on the London fringe.
It’s great news and if companies feel they can pay that from the box office takings or sponsorship, I applaud them and admire their financial acumen.
However, we need to be cautious in our optimism and we certainly need to adjust our expectation that this will automatically propel us towards some sort of living wage utopia.
A recent article on The Stage about Theatre Delicatessen’s commitment to paying £8.80 an hour, for instance, seems like very good news indeed. But the trouble is less scrupulous commercial producers may be encouraged to follow this model by hardening their view of what constitutes billable hours.
When applied to the average time an actor spends rehearsing and performing a show, things look rather bleak. So let’s say you assume six hours of rehearsals per day, five times a week for four weeks followed by three hours of performance per night, six times a week for four weeks. After two months of work, you would have rehearsal fees of £1,056 owed to you, plus £633.60 in performance remuneration. Just under £1,700 all in.
That means if you do six shows a year – and assuming you’re always called to all rehearsals – that gives you an annual ‘living wage’ that just breaks the £10,000 barrier. Just, as long as you have no resting periods.
This wage doesn’t acknowledge time spent learning lines or reflect skill or experience and also creates a considerable grey area about how much directors, choreographers and designers are paid in this brave new world. If these roles aren’t present (or are, but arguably aren’t working) during the performances themselves, will they be paid?
Certainly for a director a production takes months of planning. Will we be asked in the future to quantify that in terms of hours? Will we be asked to keep a cap on the hours spent preparing?
A minimum wage – better still, a living wage – is absolutely a step in the right direction and highly commendable. But if we all roll over and purr too loudly then paying us in this way might become common industry practice. We should be careful what we wish for.
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