For freelance theatre workers, getting through the leaner times can take a little help from our friends
As a freelance, there will inevitably be times when the work runs out. If you’re lucky, this might only last a week or two.
But if it lasts longer: two months, three months, or more, then what do you do? You have rent to pay, bills to maintain, union memberships to keep up.
If the periods of time off are few and far between and not long lasting, your options are narrowed. Few jobs in the service industry are willing to train up a new employee to only get a few weeks’ worth of work out of them. Jobs that require you to be signed up to an agency tend to need more frequent commitment to shifts than a working stage manager can afford to agree to.
As a result, falling back on savings becomes an important part of short-term unemployment. It is a difficult discipline to get used to.
I have found that a simple way of doing it is by taking the 20% you usually deduct from tax and then adding another 10% to that.
Paying as much rent ahead of time as possible when you have that rare, high-paying job is also an important tactic. But there is also the emotional cost of being out of work. It can be very draining, having nothing to do all day. Many a series on Netflix can be watched with little or no effort.
A short period of unemployment gives you the rare opportunity of seeing people from previous shows you worked on together, as well as old friends
However that’s not necessarily the most fulfilling endeavour and there’s only so many times a week that you can clean your house.
Thankfully, we who work in theatre are blessed with an enormous network of friends, most of whom live near us or at least frequent the same areas as we do.
A short period of unemployment can give you that rare opportunity of seeing people from previous shows you worked on together, and other old friends, even from outside the industry.
No longer bound by what time your show comes down, you can dictate your own schedule. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can even arrange to meet up with someone while colleagues are calling beginners.
Go for a dinner, which doesn’t for once consist of a Tesco meal deal crammed down your throat five minutes before parish notices, with the cast and crew at the warm-up. You can race to all the shows you’ve heard so much about, which your friends are working as assistant stage managers on, before they close.
Go and visit your parents for a couple of nights because they’ve done so much to support your career and you’re usually too busy to show them how grateful you are for that.
If you’re careful with your saving and spending while you’re earning, you can afford to do these things for yourself when you’re not.
A lot of people find it difficult to admit that they are between jobs, but I think it is something that should be celebrated.
Stage managers don’t often get the opportunity to do much for themselves, so let’s be glad when we do.