In Your Own Words: working in the industry (Survey Response Part 2)

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Facts & Figures

Back in February Greenroom ran a survey Working in the Industry. You may have taken part. If you did, many thanks once again.

We asked a particular set of questions not only to get a snapshot of our readership but also to elicit a sense of how the local theatre community at large was thinking about a couple of topical matters i.e., the meaning of the term ‘independent theatre.’ I wrote on my own blog several years ago about the terms independent and professional as they apply to theatre. From a personal point of view, I’m still interested in the way we use these terms to define our engagement in the continuum of activities in the theatre sector in Queensland.

The results of the survey haven’t been published until now but, given recent discussions in some social media sites which, among other things, are looking deeper into the relationship between what is being called ‘main stage’ and the independent theatres, it’s probably useful to do so.

Part 1 of this post (published yesterday) looked at the responses to the survey questions.

This post, Part 2 provides snippet responses to the two open questions on the survey:

  • What do you understand is meant by the term ‘independent theatre’ and
  • ‘For what reasons would you agree to work in a production for no remuneration?’

1. What do you understand is meant by the term ‘independent theatre?’

  • Any theatre company that doesn’t get annual funding.
  • Theatre produced by the artists, or an artist-run company, exactly similar to the artist-run space movement in the visual arts. ARTIST-RUN. It’s simple.
  • Artist run projects driven by purely artistic, philosophical or socio/political movtivations outside of financial reward of any kind. Most experimental work in all art forms is produced in this way in Australia.
  • My definition of independent theatre comes from my own experience of having participated in shows which were produced by my peers in the industry. Payment was reliant on box office – so often there was no payment. But some of the most creatively and artistically rewarding experiences I have had have been in “independent theatre.”
  • The company is not funded to make work full-time.
  • Theatre which is produced by a group or collective that operates outside the boundaries of a paid organization or a government subsidized organization.
  • Independent of government funding, organised and operated with professional ethos.
  • Theatre which is produced by artists, collectives or companies which exist independently of artistic institutions or organisations that receive ongoing infrastructure funding from government.
  • Independent theatre is theatre that is not subsidised and not part of a major company. it may receive grants but they are for one production not for an ongoing company. Most people work for significantly less than award rates or for nothing.
  • Professional theatre put on by a company without long term funding.
  • It is theatre which has different values from the mainstream. This would take me about five pages to articulate clearly, and I’m working on a manifesto 😉 at the moment, but I believe it has different goals and values, and therefore a different modus operandi. In brief, it values artistic integrity over commercial success (not that you can’t have both, but when they clash, as they sometimes do, independent theatre chooses the former, commercial theatre the latter); it values community and the work of local artists over star status.
  • Theatre which is not funded or produced by a Theatre or production company but generally funded by the artists themselves, often profit share. Artists who fund their own work by any means possible most frequently housed in a venue specifically dedicated to supporting work by independent artists often in support of new work but not exclusively so. Independent theatre is often utilised as a step towards securing funding and in the hope their work being seen and the opportunity to utilise their craft with like-minded professionals.
  • Production driven by a small group of individuals using a small business model or single entrepreneur, without links to established theatre companies.
  • Theatre outside the realm of Equity or unions.
  • Unfunded theatre aiming for professional standard regardless of whether any money is made enabling actors to be paid. I’ve been involved in both paid and unpaid independent theatre.
  • Not on mainstream stage
  • Theatre that is created by a more grassroots group of professionals that may offer a profit-share agreement.
  • Usually artist driven projects, without any ongoing financial support except from the artists themselves.
  • Independent work is not attached to major company and is generally exploring new work or an existing text in a new way.
  • Not funded by the government.
  • Privately funded, non-commercial, non-government subsidised theatre-making
  • Theatre that is produced independently from a presenting house or state theatre company – usually working on a profit-share basis.
  • Doesn’t receive subsidy from the government. Privately funded. Because it is not funded by the government there are no criteria or guidelines to be met. Generally more fringe.
  • Small self-funded companies, usually headed up by one or two people rather than boards/staff etc
  • Theatre that is pro-am, spanning the bridge between community and professional Theatre.
  • Theatre that produces plays that have artistic merit and not necessarily commercial prospects, tracing back to theatre-libres
  • A touring company
  • Theatre which is not produced by a major company or organization, often grassroots, alternative
  • Theatre and performance that sits outside the structures of major funded companies main-house seasons, or that is produced by companies that are separate to major funded bodies.
  • Quality theatre production that receives no government funding or major sponsorship.
  • The term ‘independent theatre’ is used in Qld by a few companies that really should be admitting to the fact that it is ‘amateur theatre’.
  • Any production outside of the two mainstage companies, the level of funding or support from various external bodies doesn’t preclude a group/individual or production from being independent.
  • Independent theatre is that rare form of theatre whereby the creatives (cast included) work under a professional ethics umbrella: They are afforded at the very least minimum equity pay, rights and respect. They are also NOT associated or over-ruled by a governing theatrical ensemble, subsidised company or body. The term independent does not remove the professional status; it removes the limitations often found when working under a larger conglomerate or company. They stand alone; They do NOT stand under.
  • Credited professional artists working within a professional setting, either unpaid or in a profit shared environment.
  • Theatre created by professional actors and creatives
  • Synonymous with “profit share” theatre, a collective of people (or fringe company I.e. not main stream theatre houses) put on a show.
  • Theatre which is produced without government endorsements or commercial sponsorship.
  • Run by a company not subsidised by a government agency.
  • Theatre that is created by artists, de-institutionalised and self coordinated, motivated, and propelled.
  • Part-time theatres often doing experimental work or new work/showcases. Payment is often not award rates but in some instances it can be. The opposite of main stage or full-time companies but still professional.

Response Summary:

The responses vary but what emerges are some key understandings:
  • the work is not reliant on governmental agencies;
  • it is unsubsidised;
  • it is not ‘mainstream’ and often tackles subjects or contains new or challenging material;
  • it is run by artists;
  • it is professional.

2. If you answered ‘yes’ to the question, (“As a professional would you ever agree to work in a production for no remuneration?”) for what reason(s) would you agree to do so?

  • Opportunities in the subsidised theatre companies have decreased I’m the twenty years I’ve been in the industry. Fewer companies, smaller seasons, smaller cast sizes, and a perception of closed shop casting, makes it necessary for professional actors to work in profit share.
  • If it was something I desperately longed to do – for artistic, creative or moral reasons – I would probably find it hard to say no. Even if there was no payment And there is always the chance with something wonderful that it will have a life. This has happened a number of times.
  • Passionate about the project, believe that it should be done. Project schedule is made around the ensemble members work hours.
  • If it was a role that I really wanted to do (and that I thought might allow me to be seen in a particular way that is different to what I have done previously) or if it was with a particular director or collective that I wanted to work with.
  • To support theatre artists I respect and admire who have no money to pay, and who don’t expect to make any profit (although I would expect them to operate with strict and transparent financial control), for a project that excites me. I am also willing to work for nothing with inexperienced, but adventurous artists who want to explore some new (to them) ideas and processes, and to undertake creative development of a new project.
  • If the production was my own work and required investment of my time. 2. If the production was being created in collaboration with artists whose work I would consider excellent quality, and that the process and outcome of the production stood to enrich my artistic practice and creae future opportunities for presentation and collaboration. 3. If my involvement in the production saw the potential for highly significant professional development due to the calibre of the artists involved.
  • Because the creative team and the project inspire me
  • An investment… I believe in the work and think it has a future. Or I believe in the work as being important to the state of the industry. Sometimes to work with other creatives/actors I might not get a chance to work with otherwise.
  • Because I believed in the artistic project and its intended outcomes, AND I believed that the producers were making as little or less out of it than I was.
  • I am more likely to work for profit-share rather than flat out no remuneration at all. If there was a production of quality with other professionals I would consider involvement though sadly. I would consider if I felt it could lead to other paid work, if I trusted those involved in the project, if I felt I was going to get worthwhile exposure and if I valued the opportunity to at least be plying my trade at that point in my life. I am not prone to work for amateur companies free however, if I am working without remuneration I want to know that I am among professionals.
  • 1. Networking 2. Creation of new work. 3. Status of production.
  • If the work was good enough to make it creatively worth not being paid.
  • I would do so only if the production was something exciting I believed in, was of professional standard and extended my skills or was an opportunity to showcase my work.
  • Character development. learning becoming a character which is different.
  • If it was an independent production of high quality that would be good for industry professionals to see me in. Even better if it’s profit share.
  • It would have to be extremely artistically and professionally significant to me. I find as I get older I have almost no interest in working for free, particularly in the theatrical climate of Brisbane where the artists are constantly exploited and the pathways for the projects are limited.
  • If it was with an ensemble that I enjoy working with or would like to work with. Also that the work showed potential for future paid work and touring.
  • If I deem the project worthy.
  • If the project contributed greatly to my professional development or exploration of a particular creative idea.
  • For experience and credit and the chance to develop skills.
  • A) there are such few paying jobs B) for the love of the job/project C) to help get a company off the ground.
  • Strength of the text and/or production team.
  • If it has integrity, artistic merit and a voice that should be heard.
  • Experience.
  • For a charity/community cause, people I know, personal wishes.
  • Profile, status, opportunities that would not present themselves otherwise. Actually, in one case at least, boredom.
  • 1. Creative satisfaction 2. Loyalty to those who have provided me with opportunities.
  • I have in the past when I was still completing my tertiary studies, and where my role on productions was small and not as significant as cast and core creatives. I am currently working on a theatre project in a voluntary capacity, and that was my own conscious decision as it is for a community/charitable non-profit organisation and it is not a ticketed, profitable event. I agreed to be a volunteer because it is for a good cause. I am intending, however, to apply for grants for further development of this project. I will receive remuneration for all the other productions I am currently involved in. Unless it is in similar circumstances as the project I am currently volunteering for, I don’t think I would agree to work on a production for no remuneration.
  • I think it’s important to work regularly if you deem yourself ‘active’ in the arts. In a career/professional sense your working benefits yourself and those you work with, also the arts have many benefits other than fiscal reward for both society and individual.
  • As a platform to work with professional artists, to further grow and develop professional relationships, and/or find opportunity to take greater risks in creative/technical work.
  • I need to be able to keep my name in the professional industry. It also gives me the opportunity to try new things in a non pressured environment.
  • 1. If it was my own production company getting off the ground. 2. If I joined a collective. 3. To add recent credits to my resume. 4. If the work was good. 5. To network with other actors/directors. 6. To raise my profile ie. be seen. NB: Obviously if I was been offered consistent sustainable paid work, I wouldn’t have to do any of the above.
  • In Brisbane particularly, it is difficult as a young person to partake in professional paid work without moving down south or taking work overseas. There are very few independent theatre companies who can provide sustainable work for artists and the ones who can are sometimes affiliated with religious groups.
  • Experience, belief in the product.
  • If I believed the project or artists appreciated the work that I contribute, if the project “had legs” or was of benefit to my own learning.
  • Showcase my work; if the people involved were ones I wished to work for or if the project was sufficiently interesting.

Response Summary:

These seem to me to be the key themes emerging from these responses: 
  • lack of opportunity in ‘mainstream’ or ‘main stage’ areas;
  • experience, showcasing of work, artistic satisfaction;
  • ‘pro-bono’ to assist fellow artists;
  • belief in the work. 
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