This week has placed a sharp focus on the challenges facing those working backstage. On Monday, The Stage reported that entertainment union BECTU and the Stage Management Association have jointly warned about the “deterioration of design and technical posts in theatre”. These words echoed those of award-winning designer Lez Brotherston, who recently highlighted the dwindling number of technical personnel compared to those working in administration.
Then on Tuesday figures were released by The Resolution Foundation showing that self-employed workers are now earning less than in 1995. That’s right - average earnings for freelancers have steadily declined over the past two decades, an era that has ushered in the so-called ‘gig economy’. Arguably, the rise in the number of self-employed people (45% more over this period) has led to lower average pay (£60 less than 1995). However, it still seems a worrying trend.
These figures imply that the plight of technical specialists is part of a wider problem affecting creative workers in other sectors. I’ve had countless conversations with journalist colleagues, for example, bemoaning the diminishing financial returns for their work. Journalists, like so many others, are increasingly expected to do more for less - or even for nothing.
In the theatre industry it can sometimes feel that employers take greater advantage, because they know their employees are passionate about what they do. The perceived ‘glamour of showbiz’ is expected to compensate for low pay. But such exploitation has to stop. The nurturing of technical skills is vital to our industry's survival, and those entering the profession need confidence in their chances of career progression.
It’s a good thing that unions and individuals are now standing up and highlighting these issues. Let's hope there is an adequate response.
- Theo Bosanquet
Did you know you can try a Curtain Call membership for free, with no obligation for 30 days? More info hereBack to news