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Inside the finances of an anonymous theatre director

Hello, and welcome to The Crush Bar, a newsletter about theatre written by Fergus Morgan.

This is the free, Friday issue, which usually contains a Q&A with an exciting theatremaker or an essay on a theatre-related topic. This week, it features the second instalment in The Crush Bar’s occasional series interviewing anonymous theatre workers about their financial situations. After that, there are your usual three show recommendations.

In case you missed it, here is Tuesday’s issue of Shouts And Murmurs, which is a weekly round-up of the most interesting reviews, interviews and articles on theatre elsewhere…

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Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko.

A few months ago, I started an occasional series of posts in this newsletter, interviewing anonymous theatre workers about their finances.

The idea, inspired by Lauren Halvorsen and Jenna Clark Embrey’s series bills, bills, bills in Halvorsen’s Substack Nothing For The Group, is to give them a space to openly and honestly discuss their income, their expenditure, their leg-ups they have benefited from, the barriers they have faced, and their anxieties about building a sustainable career in the theatre industry. The motivation was manifold: to find out more about the financial side of theatre; to share the stories behind the statistics; to do my bit to improve professional transparency in the performing arts; and to encourage anyone reading this with the power to improve things to do exactly that. Also, who doesn’t love to read about other people’s money? You can read the first instalment here:

And here, without further ado, is another anonymous theatre artist on their finances…

Who are you? 

I am a 40-year-old director and writer. I live with my wife and child in London, but I was not brought up here. I come from a family of teachers. I am the first person in my family to do anything like this.

At the moment, I work full-time as an associate director on a long-running West End show. I’ve done that for about a year. For the thirteen years before that I was freelance, which involved working in drama schools, directing shows, and tutoring kids. I used to work part-time in a bar and box-office, too.

What is your annual income and where does it come from? 

I’ve got a full-time salary at the moment, which is £1000 a week, so £52,000 a year, pre-tax. That probably makes me one of the higher earning directors. For the five years before that, I made about £28,000 a year, pre-tax, on average, and it was always a struggle to put that together through directing and teaching.

There are upsides to being on staff. My tax return is a lot simpler, for example. There are downsides, too, though. I can no longer claim 20 percent of my home as an office as a business expense.

What do you spend money on, professionally and personally? 

Professionally, there is not a lot, to be honest, beyond my computer, my SDUK membership, and other theatre stuff. I just spent £30 on theatre books, for example. My regular personal expenditure is mostly bills and nursery fees.  

What financial assistance have you received? 

Personally, I have not had any financial leg-ups. My parents never paid for anything for me. Somewhere at the back of my mind, though, I have always know that I could move back to my mum’s house if everything went tits up. There’s a psychological freedom to this sort of privilege.

My wife owned her house before we married, so I’m not subject to the London rental market. I would’ve moved years ago if I were, so it’s a massive leg-up.

How sustainable is your career currently? 

At the moment, it feels quite sustainable. If you’d asked me eighteen months ago, I would have said that I’m panic-scrolling LinkedIn. I actually got really far in the recruitment process of a completely different career relatively recently, and I think I would’ve accepted it. 

I work on a West End show, though, which could close in two weeks. That happened to me a few years ago. You get a text saying that there will be a company meeting at 6.30pm, and they tell you that you are out of a job in three weeks. I know this show won’t run forever. That is scary because my family relies on the income.

I have compromised on my creative ambition for financial security a bit, but that is what it means to be a working director at the moment. These things come in cycles and this is where we are at right now. I am proud to be working as a director because almost no-one else I started with is. In my twenties, my anxiety was about people noticing me and telling me I’m good. Now, it is about losing my job.

What would you like to see change for freelancers? 

Well, I’m not currently a freelancer, so I can only speak for myself as of twelve months ago. I’d like to see fees increase for freelancers so they didn’t have to take on so much work. That’s an obvious answers but without an obvious fix.

I think some attitudes towards the commercial sector are a bit unhelpful. I count myself there. I spent most of my twenties seeing commercial theatre as the antichrist, but there are actually some creatively ambitious producers taking big swings at the moment, like Opening Night, a musical adaptation of a John Cassavetes film, directed by a commercially unusual director in a really unforgiving environment. It didn’t quite hit with audiences, but it was such a big swing.

If you are a freelancer working in theatre and would be willing to anonymously feature in The Crush Bar, then please let me know by simply replying to this email.

Free subscribers to The Crush Bar receive these emails every Friday. Paid supporters also receive Shouts and Murmurs on Tuesdays.

Strategic Love Play, Boys From The Blackstuff, Lie Low.

Three shows to see next week

Strategic Love Play – Soho Theatre, until June 15

Succession screenwriter Miriam Battye’s two-handed comedy was a big hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year. It subsequently transferred to Soho Theatre in September 2023, and now it is back at the same venue for another three-week run. Produced by Paines Plough and directed brilliantly by Katie Posner, the play follows a man and a woman – Archie Backhouse and Letty Thomas, both great – on a Tinder date as they sink pints, chomp crisps, and get extremely honest with each other about their hopes and anxieties. I loved it. You can get tickets via the button below.

Book tickets here

Boys From The Blackstuff – National Theatre/West End, until August 3

James Graham’s latest play is an adaptation of Alan Bleasdale’s seminal 1980s television drama Boys From The Blackstuff, which explores the devastating effect of deindustrialisation on a group of five Liverpool tarmac layers. Directed by Kate Wasserberg, it originally ran at Liverpool’s Royal Court in September last year, when The Financial Times’ Matt Barton called it an “unvarnished shank of social realism” that “shows the human cost of sweeping political change with blistering force.” It now runs at the National Theatre for a fortnight, then transfers to the West End for two months. You can get tickets for its South Bank stint via the button below.

Book tickets here

Lie Low – Royal Court Theatre/Traverse Theatre, until June 15

Irish playwright Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s Lie Low was another hit in Edinburgh last August, transferring to the Traverse Theatre after an acclaimed run at Dublin Fringe in 2022. Directed by Oisín Kearney and featuring Charlotte Mccurry, Rory Nolan, and Thomas Finnegan, the play focuses on Faye, a sexual assault survivor who attempts exposure therapy to overcome her PTSD. The Stage’s Dave Fargnoli called it a “pitch-black satire” that “unflinchingly questions the complexities surrounding cases of sexual assault, interrogating ideas of false accusation, unreliable memory and survivor’s guilt.” It now runs at the Royal Court for three weeks, then returns to the Traverse Theatre. You can get tickets for its London run via the button below.

Book tickets here

Free subscribers to The Crush Bar receive these emails every Friday. Paid supporters also receive Shouts And Murmurs on Tuesdays.

That’s all for this issue

That is it for this week. If you want to get in touch about anything raised in this issue – or anything at all, really – just reply to this newsletter or email me at [email protected]. Or you can find me on Twitter/X, where I am @FergusMorgan.

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Fergus