Low Pay/No Pay Acting Work

I’m writing this in my dressing room at the Union Theatre, where I’m currently a cast member in the show The Spitfire Grill. I say dressing room in the loosest sense of the word. It’s an attic space directly above the stage, underneath the railway arches, lit by fairy lights and disco balls  and with a few friendly mice running around. Its genuinely quite romantic and charming, as long as we remember to take the bins out. It’s a profit share production, which means that the actors only get paid if the production makes a profit. Just one more of a huge plethora of low pay/no pay jobs that many actors find themselves in at one point or another.

Union Theatre and cafe
The low pay/no pay issue is always one that’s being hotly debated and discussed and to be honest, there’s no easy solution. The simple fact is, there’s too many actors, and not enough funding to support performing jobs that pay. But there’s rarely a voice that comes from an actor right there serving on the front line, so here is mine.

No-one WANTS to work for free. No-one goes into a job, and upon being offered a salary goes, “Nahhhhh it’s okay actually, I’ll do it for nowt.’ One of the arguments which certainly has a lot of strength is that unless we all stop accepting these jobs, actors will continue to get a bum deal. But imagine it from our position. We’ve trained our asses off at drama school. Paid thousands of pounds for the privilege. We’re now slogging away at dire, dull day jobs in order to pay our astronomical London rent in Zone 6. And you know, like, eat. A show at a fringe venue comes up. We know it’s going to be tough, not being paid for it but our need to be creative simply overtakes that. No-one gets into acting for fame and fortune (and if they do HAHAHAHAHAHA what a fucking idiot), we do it because we have to. Yeah sounds well wanky and LAUGH ALL YOU WANT but if you’re doing it right, the performing thing? Well, it’s like a physical ache, a need to get up and express and create.

That’s why we accept the work. Not to be martyrs, not because we enjoy being skint, not for some convoluted vanity project. We do it because we all have a creative hunger that is just desperate to be fed. It’s either six weeks doing a show, actually doing what you’re good at and trained to do, or six more weeks crying down the phone at RSVP. Sometimes it’s a total no brainer.

The camaraderie on the fringe is also like none other I’ve experienced. It’s not unusual for casts to bond together quickly and create little show families, but when there’s an agreement that you’re all there purely because of the love you have for your craft and to create something and for those reasons alone, it can be really quite special. And when no-one’s being paid, there’s never any arguments about whose round it is.

I’m genuinely not trying to romanticise it. Sometimes it’s fucking awful. I’ve done fringe jobs that I’ve hated, where some nights we were literally playing to two audience members, where the show itself is just bloody terrible and where there’s just no benefits you get out of it. I did a show once where I was having to work a full time office job from Monday-Friday, performing the show Tuesday-Sunday and teaching on Saturdays. For like, 8 weeks. I MEAN I WAS TIRED SURE. And the show itself wasn’t great, my part was tiny and I just thought, what the actual shit am I doing exhausting myself like this.

Therefore nowadays I genuinely think hard about low pay/no pay before I audition or accept it. I look at my bank balance to see just how much of a WHACK I’m gonna take. I weigh up how much time my other bread and butter jobs are going to take up in addition. I have a think about the venue itself, whether it’s somewhere that might pick up a bit of press, that IMPORTANT CASTINGY TYPE people might realistically come to. I have a look at the part within the show itself to see what it entails and whether that works for me, shows off my skillz (I.e belting loud) without highlighting what i’m not good at (I.e pirouettes). And at the end of the day, whether I WANT to do the show. There’s no point in accepting a job if you’re not going to enjoy it because, quite literally, you’re not being paid enough for it. You gotta get something out of it.

So as an actor, who is struggling and carving and grafting away at making a career out of this stupid, wonderful, cruel, incredible industry, I’m thoroughly on the fence. I would love for every acting job to pay me a proper wage. Not an extravagant wage, but enough to live on. But then again, I want to work, and be seen, and build my credits and network. And above all, be creative. And sometimes that DOES mean accepting low/no pay work. I would say think carefully about accepting those jobs and work out what’s in it FOR YOU. See where the benefits are and weigh up how knackered you’re going to be if you juggle the show with other jobs, or how skint you’ll be if you just do the show. There is no right or wrong answer for us lowly actors sadly.

But yeah. That’s why we do it. And why it continues.

Right, gotta go. That’s beginners. Hey, come see us? If we sell enough tickets, we might make enough to buy the next round.

LOVE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



  1. Charlotte

    August 8, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Well said!! You were bloody marvelous and I really hope that one of these low pay/no pay gigs gets you to where you deserve to be 🙂

  2. Dave

    August 8, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    When I was five I used to call myself an astronaut, alas I too didn’t get paid for it. I tried once to get my parents to put my pocket money in an envelope with a NASA logo on it so I could pretend I was opening my spaceman payslip. Unfortunately they weren’t very creative.

    By the time I’d grown up I’d realised that you can’t go around referring to yourself as a professional something without receiving a wage, nor can you really refer to yourself as being on the front line of anything other than a war zone. Or maybe an inner city McDonalds.

    Keep up the dream though. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about being the first human on Mars. It’s a physical ache, I’m sure you understand. Luckily until that day comes I have, you know, a real job.

    1. Dave is a dick

      August 9, 2015 at 12:27 am

      Dave is a dick

    2. Pete

      August 10, 2015 at 9:21 am

      There are several definitions of ‘professional’ and not all of them require receiving a wage.

      And unless you also spent years training as an astronaut and actually pursuing your aspiration to go to Mars, there is very little that’s relevant about the comparison.

      There are also several definitions of ‘arsehole’, and I’m fairly certain your comment satisfies at least one.

      1. Katy

        August 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

        This is me saying how much I love Pete’s comment.

      2. Pete's #1 fan

        August 10, 2015 at 11:42 am

        this is just a wee note to say that I’ve always been a fan of Pete.

        Dave, not so much.

        crack on Pete.

        your #1 fan.

    3. Dave is a crap name

      August 10, 2015 at 10:03 am


      Mars called, they want their idiot back.

    4. Charlie

      August 10, 2015 at 10:56 am

      So you grew up, lost all ambition, passion and love for a fulfilling career that you could dedicate yourself to, and settled for less. That’s an inspirational story. But hey, at least you have a ‘real’ job. Even if that means you occasionally need to unleash a pent-up, disappointed rage on someone’s blog because they’re doing something they enjoy.

      Katie isn’t asking for pity, she’s simply explaining why she loves what she does regardless of the struggles it entails. You clearly wish you’d taken a different path and for that I pity YOU.

    5. Dave Sucks

      August 10, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      Well, aren’t you just the most royal of cunts, Dave! Good for you that whatever you chose to do with your life was boring enough that you could be guaranteed paid work on the regular. And, that’s exactly it. You earn more than performers – good for you. And, in your eyes, that makes you a better human? Please. Go tell all the young revolutionaries of the world who are (no doubt) earning next to nothing – or nothing – at the moment, and tell them to go ‘get proper jobs’ (WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN, DAVE? (Boring name, too)) – and, see what happens in a few years, when the world is stationary – nothing’s changed, it’s just a stake boring mass of crap where no ones dared to take a risk.

      Good luck being boring. You suck.

    6. Send Dave to Mars, Earth has enough bellends

      August 10, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Dave, is your ‘real job’ being a class A wanker who belittles the dreams of others ’cause his folks didn’t love him enough to indulge his childhood space dream?

    7. Dave

      August 11, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      You’re right, there are several definitions of professional. However the only one in use here is the opposite of amateur. As in doing something for a living, not as a hobby. Nobody wants to work for free and nobody does. It’s called slavery. Or volunteering.

      A profit share production sounds a bit like when I volunteered in a charity shop a few years ago. There was a girl at my work (where I get paid to go) who claimed she shopped in them all the time, so I started in Oxfam the following weekend in the hope of striking up a conversation that wasn’t about ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’. After several weeks of not seeing her, I surreptitiously asked her at work where she went. She claimed she never went to Oxfam because she was “sick of seeing all that money go to foreigners”. Disappointed that I’d misjudged her character so badly as well as wasted my weekends, I told them I was leaving that Saturday. As a token of their gratitude they told me to take a book of my choice. Without really looking I took a book that, ironically enough, was about acting. Given that there was a nice oak table in the shop, I felt like I’d been lumbered with the booby prize. As luck had it, the print shop next door was having a sale so I got a t-shit with “I volunteered in a charity shop and all I got was this lousy book about acting” printed on it and immediately donated it to the shop. My net position was probably a loss, but I felt creative and contented, so I didn’t care.

      Clearly the allegorical nature of my spaceman story was lost on you all. Given that you can only really give unbiased opinions about something you don’t care about, I tried to think how much I cared about acting. To help with this I was going to read my book about acting but to my dismay discovered that it’s actually a gardening book with the incorrect cover. I spent several moments gleefully contemplating whether or not somebody who had intended to learn the perfect compost ingredient was now performing in Shakespearian plays, then thought about how bad Martin Lawrence was in Big Momma’s House 3. I bet he made a shit-ton of money though. Where’s the fairness in that?

      Unfortunately my acting experience was cut brutally short in my infant school nativity play, where I was replaced as the innkeeper at the eleventh hour by a boy with a speech impediment. The teacher took me to one side and explained it was about giving him confidence – given that it was a simple one-line part – and not to take it personally, but to nobody’s surprise he got it wrong and told a confused looking Mary and Joseph that there was indeed room at the inn. He received a rapturous applause nonetheless. Bitterly, I later argued that had the real innkeeper got it so wrong, human history as we know it could have been completely different, but my parents told me I was 25 now and needed to get over it.

      I’m sure the young revolutionaries of the world (I took your comment literally) will really appreciate being juxtaposed to struggling actors. The similarities are endless. Derided, unappreciated, poor, fighting against the tide of those nasty reactionaries. Moany? I’m sure somewhere in London there is a thespian who is the Che Guevara of our time. Hopefully when the revolution comes it will be televised. Hell, you might even get a gig out of it.

      1. Elliott

        August 11, 2015 at 7:59 pm


        You are as clueless on this subject as you are as clueless regarding Astronaughting. So may I suggest you take yourself, and your opinions, and kindly go back to your sad little existence. Writing for Vice, or maybe Buzzfeed.


  3. Chelsea

    August 9, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    “It’s either six weeks doing a show, actually doing what you’re good at and trained to do, or six more weeks crying down the phone at RSVP” – hahahahaha, yup! Two months of my life gone at that place.

    Loved your post, spot on!


  4. Col

    August 10, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    I can see a lonely man ,an accountants assistant or an IT team member.Eating pot noodle & trawling the net looking to anonymously bully someone who does what they love…he is wearing a home made Dave Lightyear suit tonight . His Captain Kirk costume is at the launderette….

  5. I blame Dave's parents

    August 11, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Dave, just because Mum and Dad ‘weren’t very creative’ try not to take it out on others who are, you miserable little man.

    Good luck with the real job, I sense Foxtons?

  6. Richard Beenham

    August 11, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I recently found myself on the receiving end of an inexplicable outburst from the new manager of the pub I sometimes work in, who on discovering I’d done a degree in Drama took it upon himself to deride my choice of degree as a complete waste of time. “Why bother?” he said. “What’s the point in doing a degree in something you’re never going to end up doing as a living anyway?”

    Nothing like a bit of encouragement to help you get acquainted with your new boss.

    He was very much of the “Have you been on telly or in any films?” variety – the sort of person whose understanding of what it is to be an actor is limited to whether or not you’ve been on EastEnders or popped up in an advert or two. Because if you haven’t, why do you call yourself an actor? We’ve all come across that type often enough.

    I was challenged, nay, it was DEMANDED of me to explain why I’d chosen such an irresponsible academic path (“I mean, it’s not even a real degree, is it?”), so I pointed out pretty much what you laid out in your blog – it’s who you are, it’s what makes you tick, and I’d much rather try and make something of it than chicken out in favour of a ‘safe’ option. Because I’d always have regretted that, no matter how much more secure and better off I might now be in my ‘safe’ life in the parallel universe where I did make that ‘safe’ choice.

    I’ve decided I’m not working there any more because life’s too short to find myself somehow answerable to a small-minded idiot, much younger than I am, who can’t get his head around why someone might want to knowingly walk a riskier path in life simply because it makes them feel alive. I have a ‘real’ full-time office job, and enough going on to call myself an actor. Check the link for an example.

    Dave, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry your life didn’t work out the way you wanted. And I’m sorry you feel the need to sneer and deride someone who has done nothing more than explain, without any hint of self-pity or complaint, the reality of being a performer in a way that’s funny, engaging, and above all, relateable if you’ve ever trodden that path too.

    Katie – I think I owe you a bottle of finest gin. Finest!

  7. David

    August 11, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Hey Dave.


    Davey, you look stupid.

    Is your blood temperature rising? You feel stupid now too, huh?

    That wage making you feel better?

    Fuck you. Say something snide. I dare you.

  8. The Hungry Swans

    August 24, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    FEELING YOUR PAIN! I’m a musician and the love of playing overtook my need to pay gas and leccy a long time ago. Goddamnit xxxx

  9. Dom

    January 12, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    I stumbeld abon this post. I know its old but I figuerd I would post something.

    Just beacuse you dont get paid alot or even anything to do something dosent meen you are not a profeshinal at your craft. I allso think in most cases you have to work free to get paid work later. everyone is greedy with monny .sad fact. everyone has to start somewere and I think doing free work then no work is something beacuse for one it builds experince and 2 it gives you material of yourself to show later down the line.better to have a portfolio then to not have one 🙂

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