An open letter to the Australian theatre community

Categories: Company News

It was with great interest that I read Wesley Enoch’s recent Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture, and the ensuing debate regarding independent theatre and why, or how, as artists we “don’t do it for the money”.

Much of what was said strongly resonated. Of particular interest was a challenging of the assumption that we, as independent theatre makers, can expect to say “I don’t do it for the money” and take that on the chin.

This conversation is relevant to recent internal discussions that we have had at Red Stitch around how transparent we are about money (or the lack thereof). We resist talking about how little we earn for our work lest it throw doubt on the professional standard of our practice. And we feel squeamish about “crying poor” when we are in a position, albeit largely unpaid, that is aspired to by many others.

Yet what does this silence achieve? By being coy, we may simply be letting audiences off the hook. Audiences that are actually very supportive, who value the work, who consistently come back, and  who would certainly miss it if it ceased to exist.  By creating work that is so visible, and by quietly subsidising it behind the scenes with countless hours for free, it must be asked – are we in fact perpetuating the situation? The work happens, and the company continues to function, and the real cost to the artists goes unseen by the vast majority of those who enjoy the art. We continue to smile and subsidise, because we love what we do and we believe in its importance. But so do our audience.

At Red Stitch, we receive award wages when our shows are picked up for tours, or when they transfer or remount and are “bought” by larger producers. However, in our own home, where most of our work is produced, we work for a very token amount. All of us. The cost of doing what we do? High indeed.

Of course, it’s not all bad. Red Stitch is an artist driven company. We are able to create the work that we choose to create. As actors and theatre makers we proudly “own” what we do – we are not being manipulated into working for little or no remuneration for someone else who will reap the benefits. Whilst the current debate raises the very real issue of the personal cost to artists (and their families), equally as relevant are the gains that come from having autonomy, creative control, and working consistently within a community of artists that inspire and invigorate.  Of course, these gains extend far beyond the personal. The work that emerges from such an environment contributes substantially to the cultural landscape of the country. But should money and artistic autonomy be mutually exclusive? Clearly not. And do the artists creating this work deserve to earn a living from it?

So yes, lets all be more open about the cost of producing work as independent artists. Particularly with our audiences, who value what we create, and who expect (or at least hope) that we will continue to do so. Lets inform them more fully of the associated costs. Will it change anything? Perhaps.

 

Ella Caldwell
Artistic Director
Red Stitch Actors Theatre