Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Paul Clayton: For actors, a student film can prove more profitable than a run on the fringe

Photo: Philipimage/Shutterstock
by -

For an actor, there seems to be three types of work. This first is work that is nicely paid and allows you to put something in the bank. Thank you, Netflix.

Then there is work that will just about sustain you, but you have to return straight to your day job once you have completed it. Thank you, Equity minimum.

And there’s the work that Spotlight insists on listing as opportunities, but which might be termed in some areas as exploitation. An incredibly large percentage of fringe work comes under this category.

There are venues that are distinguishing themselves by paying actors at least a living wage – the New Diorama, the Hope Theatre, and the Playground Theatre to name a few.

Omnibus Theatre: the south London fringe venue fostering a creative community for all

But more often than not, there are venues that are quite happy for actors to be paid £150 for seven week’s work on a play that may be a sell out. They are happy to let producers, who will pay actors appalling fees, use their space. The venues should be putting agreements in place to ensure actors can’t work for less than minimum wage.

The excitement of an invite to audition for Othello on the fringe may be somewhat tempered by finding that the fee involved will barely buy a monthly railcard.

Many actors do it because they are desperate to be seen. Even in a short run of the play – increasingly short thanks to the high costs of fringe venues – they hope casting directors will see the show.

Many casting directors have the very best of intentions, but unless the venue is convenient, and their schedule allows, it’s possible not one will cross the threshold.

Editor’s View: Fringe pay debate exposes lack of clarity for critics and audiences alike

Having lost shifts on the day job, actors have essentially paid in order to be involved in the production. Purely as a business decision, it may well be better to get involved in doing a student film. It’s that time of year.

Aspiring young directors are completing their graduation films. Involvement in one of these can be a mere three or four days. There is an Equity-agreed film-school rate. Not likely to pay for a holiday in the Maldives, but three days on a student film could yield what you earn in seven weeks on the fringe.

At time of writing I’m about to head off to the Fens of East Anglia to work for a young director who has an entertaining script that will pair me with two gorgeous Labradors.

At the end of it, I will have the film. Something I can share and show. Not reliant on casting directors visiting, I will have an asset. And that, in terms of return on investment, surely that has to beat the fringe hands down.

Mark Shenton: Mary Poppins shows film and theatre’s symbiotic relationship

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.