Last week a story popped up multiple times on my Facebook newsfeed. It was an article from The Stage regarding the average wage for freelance directors in the UK. Link is here, please do read as it is absolutely worth it.
I took a guess that if a freelance director was doing reasonably well i.e. only doing paid work throughout the year, then they might reasonably be earning on average £20,000. And this was taking into account that theatre work is often unpredictable, particularly if you are freelancing on each job. So imagine my horror when I saw that theatre directors in the UK on average only earn £10,759 per year! Along with this over half that responded to the survey earned under £5,000 per year.
It takes an awful lot of work, luck and contacts to secure a directing gig at one of London’s top theatre’s, say at The Donmar or the Royal Court, so imagine my surprise again when the survey revealed that both of these theatres paid only between £5,000-£5,480 in director fees per show. In the big scheme of things this is peanuts for someone who is near the top, if not at the top of their game. To work at one of these theatre’s is something some of us can only dream of. So why the low wages? Sadly the survey didn’t question these theatres about their director fees but I would be very interested to know more, particularly since each theatre has so much private financial backing and a dedicated audience for almost every show.
Another depressing element were the director wages for Fringe productions. The average director fee for a Fringe show is measly 69p per hour (and that’s if you’re even lucky enough to get paid). With so many directors stuck doing Fringe shows how can this possibly be a worker in the long term? I know I’ve personally cut back on the amount of freelance low pay/no pay director work for fringe theatres because at the end of the day it just isn’t worth it financially – and unfortunately finances become more and more important as time goes on.
The survey revealed that the only two theatre’s that paid decent fees were The National Theatre and The RSC (around £20,000-£25,000 per production). But how exactly does one get a directing gig at either of these institutions? Having applied for roles myself at both companies I can vouch that the door is well and truly closed and locked unless you already have a very good credit on your CV (hard to get) or if your mother/father/aunt/uncle has a recognisable surname that you happen to share.
If I come across as bitter it’s probably because I am! It’s surveys like these that make me want to throw my hands up in despair at the state of London’s theatre. As a director you put your heart and soul into a show and when you’re not working it is incredibly difficult to see a way of ever earning a living from it. To be totally honest, it wasn’t the fringe wages that shocked me the most – I’m wise to the pitfalls of profit share productions and vanity projects – but more so the larger institutions that fail to pay a director a wage they can live on and also a wage that recognises all those the years of making 69p an hour just so they could finally get through the hallowed doors of a respected theatre.
In comparison, for a play on Broadway a director earns an average fee of £36,780 plus royalties. For an off Broadway musical/play the average director fee is between £6,360-£11,325. Makes you think doesn’t it?