Every now and then something comes along on Twitter that gets everyone talking – and we’re not referring to Miley Cyrus and her infamous twerking abilities! We’re talking about Bryony Kimmings’s latest blog. If you haven’t read it yet, we advise you to. Heard of Kimmings? She’s the award-winning, well respected and successful artist who’s brought us acclaimed pieces such as Sex Idiot and Credible, Likeable Superstar Role Model. She even has her own Wikipedia page. Yet despite all this perceived success, she has got everyone listening by talking very honestly and openly about that very familiar and uncomfortable topic – money.
Making a living as an artist is tough. Whether it is the constant struggle for funding or working ridiculous hours, we all have our tales of woe. There’s a reason that phrases like “struggling actor” and “impoverished artist” exist. It’s bloody hard work being all creative! When we Filskit ladies first started out we would perform for free and go to any venue that would let us in the door, however unsuitable. When you’re a young graduate with boundless energy and enthusiasm you’re eager to grab any opportunity that comes along with both hands – because you love creating work and performing, and will do anything to keep the dream alive. But you quickly realise that this is not a sustainable way of living, especially if you want to grow and be perceived as a professional theatre maker. That means that at some point you will expect to be paid for the work that you’re doing.
It’s taken several years but we’re finally at the point where we’re paid a fixed fee by venues for the shows that we do. Occasionally there will be some haggling or the very occasional box-office split but this is something most artists long to avoid. Whether they like it or not, venues are the ones with the local audiences and the stronger marketing power that smaller companies are unable to match. So getting you to do all the leg work to sell your show can seem grossly unfair, particularly if you are touring to a region that you are not familiar with or that is miles away from where you actually live. What’s worse is when you hear the horror stories of companies who actually make a loss by performing as they’ve had to shell out for PR costs and the hiring of equipment, for example.
We all know that venues aren’t all raking in the cash so it is not right to paint them as the villains in this scenario, especially as we have had many positive experiences when organising our current tour, but it is also unfair to squeeze artists so hard that they have no choice but to buckle – the very people who are performing the work in the first place! As Kimmings puts it, “I am constantly asked to de-value my art work by venues, education establishments, independent producers and sometimes even funders.” If venues are being squeezed that tightly then this is something that needs to be addressed further up the food chain, otherwise we risk missing out on high quality work that just doesn’t get seen, in a bidding war. Why is it assumed that Arts Council England will sweep in and save the day? For anyone who has ever applied for funding and failed you’ll know this really isn’t always a viable option. Surely we shouldn’t need to lean on an organisation so strongly in order to subsidise our art and our very existence? So why is there still an underlying assumption that this is just ‘the way it is’ in the creative sector?
Thank God that Kimmings has written her blog. Isn’t it time that there was more visibility about how the industry is actually working? For the younger, ‘emerging’ artists isn’t it disheartening and surprising to see that even people considered ‘top billing acts’ are still struggling to make ends meet? It certainly doesn’t inspire you to march in on Monday morning and give up the day job. We ladies are teetering on the brink of making Filskit our full time job. However we keep coming back to the harsh reality that it would mean we’d be working full-time for the company but couldn’t expect to be paid a full time wage. For 2014 we’ve secured a strong list of tour dates that we’re really proud of at venues we love, including the Polka and the Lyric Hammersmith, yet as a company of three with marketing costs, website fees and the hiring of extra cast members, we’re still sadly unable to stop doing our other jobs just yet (as much as we’re dying to!). Without the guarantee of regular funding we need to make sure we can somehow afford to pay our musician and then ourselves (plus hope for a buffer if any of our micro projectors die, which can happen).
For our current small scale show The Feather Catcher we charge £450 per day for one performance and £750 per day for two, and thankfully most venues are happy with this figure. But when we are only performing one day per week we still need to work hard to gain some extra income.
Isn’t it refreshing to see someone like Kimmings so honestly break down the figures and show that actually art, even for the highly established, can be too much of a shaky career choice? With the lure of other more profitable avenues beckoning, wouldn’t it be a crying shame to lose exciting, quality artists like Bryony Kimmings for the sake of needing to pay the bills?
Photo courtesy Bryony Kimmings and (c) Christa Holka.