You show me yours…

Afternoon Arts Bods,

So there is a little thing going on, on twitter.

Which I guess could be said about any subject, from cute cats to misogynistic trolls, all day long. But this one is fascinating to me so I am blogging. I haven’t ranted in a while about art, I have been too busy ranting about the rest of the world…

Its cold, I am in my draughty flat in East London. As we speak I am doing my finances and budgets for the next quarter. I am also trying to sort out how I am going to make my income for the next 6 months, it’s always a panic moment when I do this… it’s like I hide from it for a while and then have to bite the bullet and weigh up my options, weigh up the jobs I love doing with the ones I have to do just for cash.

I am super busy all the time and often feel like a headless chicken but yet I rarely make ends meet. At the moment I am deciding if I can have any staff next year (I am yet to be able to do this in any kind of permanent capacity and do the work of 3 people most of the time: Artist, Producer and Administrator) and where that money might come from. Luxury, that sounds like to most artists, but I work 14 hour days 6 days a week now and my work life is unraveling.

I want to talk about money. More importantly about making a living as an artist that has a good chunk of their income come in from touring and gigs, and the problems we face. As an artist and as a human being I want to lay my worries right out there. The conversation on twitter was about venues haggling over show costs, trying to wear you down to fit into their tight budgets and it is something that seems to be a big problem, not really talked about.  So if I am the soothsayer, if I pride myself on being brave in theatre, then I always tell myself I have to be brave in the real world to. 

I am going to actually talk about money…

So let me lay it out straight. Make a cup of tea, its a long rant.

This year I have been on a budget of paying myself £1500 a month after tax. That is a salary of £22,800 per annum. £900 of this is my outgoings (debts, rent, phone, studio, bills etc). The rest is MINE for food, entertainment and travel. This might sound a lot but I live in LONDON. £150 a week for the OTHER category is not much at all in this city, and £35 of that is travelcard, £40 of that is food budget. A night out in London is usually about £75 (more if you are flashy like me!) drinks, taxi’s etc so you go figure how much FUN I can have with the rest of my allowance. 70% of my paid work is in London, so moving out is not an option.

I am 32 years old.

When I was the Artistic Director of Chisenhale Dance Space 3 years ago now I earnt £30,000 per annum. The first year I was self employed I made £9k to pay myself, the second year around £16k.

I am an “award winning” artist.

  • I charge £150 a day for my time if I am out of the office.
  • I charge £100 a day for my time in the office.
  • I charge £100 per half day of mentoring. 
  • I charge £350 a day for a workshop with me.
  • I charged £500 for Sex idiot touring 2010/11, £750 for 7 Day Drunk 11/12 and now £1500 for CLSRM 13/14 (as it’s a two hander and tours with 4 people instead of 2!)

I charge on top of this for travel and accommodation… but mostly this doesn’t happen, it gets lumped into an all inclusive fee no matter how hard you ask.

But of course, I do not have paid work everyday, that’s what being self employed is. That’s why day rates might make you think “oh she is rich!” But of course you work full time, but you are not paid full time.

I do not own a property OR have any savings. I am beginning to try and save £100 a month. But its pretty hard. I want us to have children soon and would love to own a house one day. For everyone else I know who isn’t an artist this is happening, for me… it seems a very long way off.

I don’t have a pension.

YET I am seen as a relatively established and successful artist now. Not in any way saying this to sound like a twat… but success wise it has been a good year, you know that… so why am I still finding it hard to get a venue to pay me properly is beyond me. Even with a show that has won 4 awards and 5 star reviews?! That just sold out 3 whole weeks in Soho Theatre (the best theatre of all time, in terms of artist treatment as far as I am concerned).  I am not even touring that much, I didn’t send out packs as I have little time with Taylor because of her exams, I usually do over 50 dates on tour I am doing only about 5 venues, yet it’s the same old story. I am bored of it. The whole scene, the whole thing.

PLEASE DON’T think I am not paid that much money because I am not a good business woman… because I would say I am one of the best. I worked for a long time on the funding side of arts, the arts council use me as an example of a successful and excellent application, I negotiate hard but I am friendly, I am GOOD at planning, selling and marketing. I pride myself on that. It’s just there isn’t much money in theatre, not at my scale or for something deemed more experimental (yet you are wheeled out constantly as a leader of trends when it suits)

NOW I am constantly asked to de-value my art work by venues, education establishments, independent producers and sometimes even funders. Not ACE, I am a massive advocate for their GFTA work. Fuck you if that makes you hate me.

This is my list of bug bares and experiences… by putting this out there I hope to somehow encourage artists to join me in speaking openly about working conditions and to somehow seek out a culture change even in an age of austerity. It is realism that is needed. And compassion. 

I am not speaking for the emerging artists of the world. I AM speaking for artists who have proved their weight, cut the mustard and who have fans and supporters in cities across the UK, who get good slices of funding and whose work is in demand. The term “Mid-Career” (I hate this term) Artist. Someone else blog for the emergents, poor fuckers.

I am also only talking about TOURING… so going out into the field (as the paleontolgists call it), not making work, or getting commissions or residencies or scratch night problems, or R&D etc. 

This is my top 5 hate list….

1)   I hate being asked to come and do stuff FOR FREE. Why on earth would I do this?! The other days I challenged a south London university who was asking me to schlep to the arse-end of nowhere just for the privillage of speaking to its 30 students for FREE. I love talking to students, its brilliant but why would I PAY out of my own pocket to do it. They promptly offered me £27 for the 2 hours work (not thinking about the prep time or travel time it would take, I would actually cost this at half a day…seeing as it would take HALF A DAY AND ALL!) and my train paid for. I didn’t even bother replying to the email.

2)   The never-ending HAGGLE. (Oh sorry I didn’t know I worked in a market!?) Artists aren’t greedy folk, generally. When I tell a venue my fee the first thing they do is haggle. It is VERY rare they just pay it. Sometimes they don’t even haggle, they just tell you its too expensive and that there is a fee THEY want to pay and that’s that. I cost my shows out very fairly and don’t ask for much… so why does this invite the constant de-valuing of my wares and work.

EVERY FUCKING TIME.

Here’s how my costing for CLSRM works…

(This is based on one night touring – which is not cost effective but often all a venue wants)

  • My performance fee (Equity min) £150
  • Taylor’s performance fee £150
  • Stage Manager (who also works as legal carer) £200
  • Technician £150 per day (the actual time to drive down, do the get in and the show is 2 days for Equity) £300
  • Van hire £100
  • Petrol £50 (ish –hard to say)
  • Accommodation for 1 night, 3 rooms £250 (ish – hard to say)
  • Gun hire (yes this exists for our show) £50
  • Perishable props £30
  • Portion of insurance £20
  • Portion of LX design for tour £50
  • Portion of PR (a person I cannot tour without, its pointless) £200
  • Per diems @ £10 per head for two days for 4 £80
  • Printing (inc a little for flyer design for a tour, split between venues) £70
  • Admin (booking the gig, organizing licenses for taylor, buying props, organizing the travel, the acc, chasing and checking the contracts, doing the marketing (including filling out the pesky  form that ALL venues have to save THEM time but to waste YOUR time!), organizing rehearsals – I would say about 2 days work) £200

TOTAL TOUR COST is £1900 (so you better hope you get that travel and accommodation extra else you are already £400 out of pocket!!

BUT OH this isn’t ACTUALLY THE TOUR COST IS IT… I stupidly don’t add to this rehearsal fees, overheads or my writers fee (which we are all entitled to but rarely stake claim to) If I did, I would love to add an extra £500 to this in the real world. To pay myself, my tech, the carer and Taylor for a portion of the 3 days I spend in the studio before I go into touring to hone the show again, for the office I pay for out of my own salary etc. (Notice I get paid £150 so does Taylor yet we are away from home the best part of 2 days)  BUT If I did this I would literally price myself out of the market. HONEST TO GOD!

Perhaps there should be a standard fee for a show. But how the fuck would that work?!

3) A venue just expects you will be applying to ACE to make up THEIR deficit. This is why our system is so fucked. The party line is that you have to get tour funding to ACTUALLY cover the cost of a tour. This is like a secret unwritten clause in a venues mind, that ACE will mop up the rest. BUT my line is that I manage my relationship with the Arts Council VERY carefully and on my own terms. I have a 100% success rate with them because I am good at applications but also because I do not bite the hand that feeds me. As a good business woman I know income cannot come from one client or customer… this is dangerous investment tactics. You have to spread income, constantly find new sources, think commercially, earn it yourself. Spread the risk. I will ask the Arts Council for the money I want to ask for… not be told by a venue. 50% of my annual income comes from them, 50% is from elsewhere. That’s good business. They are the largest funder in the country so they are my biggest (NOT ONLY investor). I won’t be told how to manage my business relationships.

 4) I don’t do box office splits. Unless the gains are commercially sized its NEVER worth it. Stop asking me Dammit! I am a self employed person, have NO regular funding. I do not have a bank account with more than about £500 (if I am lucky) buffer before all hell breaks loose… so WHY would I ever do a box office split. Why should I, a lowly human being, take as much of a risk as an RFO venue. This is bollocks. I am amidst a negotiation at present that means if my show didn’t sell (heaven forbid!) I would walk away losing £1200 in 4 days. Remember my monthly wages is £1500, so why the fudge would I ever gamble that sort of cash with a venue. We all know that venues audience development teams are RARELY any good, if they exist at all. We all play to houses of 20 every once in a while because a venue is too stretched or just SHIT at marketing. So why would I trust THAT KIND OF DEAL. Stop asking me to share your risk in such an unfair way. I will do ALL I can to get bums on seats, I hate playing to empty rooms more than you hate hosting them… but if I live 200 miles away, don’t know a soul in your area and have no budget how can I really effect anything!

5)I don’t know YOU! This is about having to constantly explain why I don’t stay in “digs” when asking to be put up when away from home. I tour with a child. She is 9. I need 3 rooms, me and my sister share, the tech is a bloke and Taylor has her own room… in a hotel. I don’t know your venues rich supporters or people with spare rooms, why would I sleep in their house?! I was greeted at a digs door in Plymouth once by a man with a replica rifle. NEVER AGAIN, don’t ask, just provide proper accommodation. I am not a dog. I am a human being. 

I don’t make art for fun, or as a hobby. Why do I feel like I am constantly at the bottom of the heap. 

There is so much more to say but this is an essay already.

What I am trying to do with this blog is to shed some light on what I would call a total false economy. I am seriously being offered things from all different sectors at the moment, I am being offered much better money to leave this theatre malarkey once and for all. I have less and less time for a network of venues who do not value how AMAZING theatre makers are… yet pride themselves on presenting great work by great artists. There are more cost effective ways to be creative in this world, so we artists hit about 33, 34 (women more than men I have to add) and we leave to work in better paid industries elsewhere… you see it all the time. The drop off point. So most theatre is shit and made by inexperienced people.

The artist is always the one squeezed. I am sure venues will say that they are squeezed too… so stop with the false economy, be realistic with your funders about what their investment gets them, stop bowing down. BUT my concern is that the artists voice is the one with the least power but the one vital to keep art alive…so this is essentially bullying to keep bigger businesses afloat.  

Some venues are BRILLIANT. But believe me a lot are AWFUL and its not always the little ones with no money that try to fuck you over… in fact some of the kindest and fairest are the little ones. And the worst… the big ones. I often do favours, cut prices or just do shit because I love the people and ethics of an organisation or venue, or because its for charity or on a topic that I love. I mentor and meet for free all the time, ask anyone!!!! BUT don’t assume I will do this, especially if I don’t even know you.

I could name and shame, but I actually daren’t today. I need work, so I am stuck between a rock and… erm… er…  a big jobless pile of shit!

I will show you mine if you show me yours?!

Art is a shit job, I am going to write films instead and teach business for a few years. Goodbye.

Love you.

Bryony x