Money has always been an issue in the arts, and artists have stereotypically always been poor. Post-recession, this issue has worsened to such an extreme that the possibility of earning a living wage from theatre has become nearly impossible. Opinions on the issue vary from Douglas McPherson’s right wing tirade against government arts funding and Jonathan Jones bizarrely comparing crowdfunding to The Crusades, to Lyn Gardner’s examination as to just how badly paid we are in theatre and Equity’s “Professionally Made, Professionally Paid” campaign. Those who work in theatre believe they should be paid fairly, or at least this is how I assumed everyone thought about their time. On Tuesday night, I discovered a sub-group of people in the theatre industry where a number of them don’t believe they deserve to be paid for what they do, or think that pay is ever going to be a possibility – theatre bloggers.
Whilst taking part in a twitter chat for a fellow blogger’s MA dissertation research, my response to the question, “Where do you see the future for blogging in regards to West End theatre? Grow in popularity, decline, more impact, etc.,” agreed with another comment about how blogging is rising in popularity due to the fall in printed media. I then posed a question: if blogging is becoming more popular, what can bloggers do to generate income from their writing, or what changes can be made in the system to open revenue streams?
And, then it all exploded. I discovered my desire to earn a living from my reviewing is not only rare, but incredibly controversial, at least within this particular group of bloggers. It hadn’t even occurred to me that others would have such conflicting thoughts on the issue. Surely everyone wants to be paid for the time they put their skills and knowledge to use? A few agreed that money would be nice, but that it would never happen. Of course the likelihood of becoming a paid critic is incredibly slim, but so is making a living in other areas of theatre. What I found saddening is the certain belief that being a paid critic is utterly impossible. Others believe that complimentary tickets are payment enough.
One point that several people made repeatedly was that they didn’t initially go into reviewing to make money. Honestly? I didn’t either. I wanted to see more theatre, but couldn’t afford to do so. I thought it would be a good way to put my education and years of working as an actor/director/producer to good use during a career break that, at that time, I thought was permanent. Just because that was my original intention about three years ago doesn’t mean that my writing and career goals cannot change. I have always viewed myself as a theatre professional, so why can I not see my writing the same way? The opinion that another couple of bloggers shared was that we shouldn’t expect to be paid because there are so many of us. Does that mean actors should not be paid either?
The most extreme opinion came from one writer who adamantly insisted that any surplus funds in theatre (Ha!) should go to emerging companies and artists because they deserve it more. She finds it heartbreaking that fringe companies often operate at a loss. Even if bloggers are provided with press tickets, the time spent writing our responses operates at a loss. How is this not equally heartbreaking? An actor can no more pay their rent with an unpaid performance than a blogger can pay their rent with a review. If a critic thinks of herself as not deserving of payment, or less worthy than the artists who make the theatre, what can we expect the rest of the industry and its audiences to think we are worth?
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