Over the last year, there has been endless talk about several major structural failings in the industry. There is a lot to be said on all sides (and don’t you worry, we’ll talk about all of it!) but today I want to focus on the less-than-revolutionary concept of actually paying artists a salary.
Theatre globally (except Germany, so jealous) has been built on freelance work, with artists only being paid when they are on a gig. Earlier this summer, Soho Rep (who are perpetually ahead of the curve) decided they were going to put their artists on salary. They wanted to do this to create more equitable opportunities, as “aging out” (which Liv O’Donoghue spoke about last week) and people “losing the love” is causing creatives to leave theatre permanently for the greener pastures of a stable income and health insurance. Sarah Benson, the co-director of Soho Rep notes in an article with Vulture that “outside theater, the idea of hiring some folks with salaries and dental plans may not seem like a big deal. But if staffing for artists were to become common practice, the theater as we know it would be upended completely.”
“This industry is so brutal” or “it's worth it because you love it” are bad excuses to not pay people for their time, creative energy, labor, or ideas. What allows the theatre to operate completely outside of structures that are commonplace in other industries? The “starving artist” trope is simply not romantic anymore. (Was it ever?)
This past week Out of Joint, a theatre company based in London, also pledged to put six artists on salary in the hopes of “creat[ing] a radical permission structure for our writers to give us their bravest, most joyous work." This brings up an interesting point. What would the work look like if artists weren’t constantly hustling for the next gig? What permission is granted by investing in artists for longer than a single show? We’ve seen this happen with theatres like The Royal Court and Signature Theatre committing to multiple plays from a single playwright’s work, but this structure does not exist for other non-writer creatives. I’m not offering many solutions here- just posing questions and placing these articles in conversation with one another. Would love to know what you all think.