Advice- profit shear

  • Gavin Moore


    Hello actors, I'm just asking for some experanced advice. I got a good role in a fringe show going to some interesting places (Stratford, Camden, Henley, Buxton) but I'm a little concerned about the length. The best part of 3 months. It's a big risk for me but my question is, is fringe theatre a good thing for a new drama school actor to do?

    • 17th May 2012
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  • Sue Parker-Nutley


    All experience is good experience, whether paid or not. If you can afford it, and accommodation and travel is covered, I'd say go for it. You need to build up your CV and if it's a good play, then it's a good credit. Oh, and it's "share" not "shear". Correct spelling and grammar are important on cover letters.


    • 3rd May 2012
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  • Lee Ravitz


    I think whether it's *good* or not comes down to what you want to try and achieve from it. Certainly, there is not going to be a black mark placed against you over the fact that you have performed in a fringe show! But I assume you are talking less about whether or not performing in a fringe show is acceptable per se (after all, these days, such is the nature of the industry that 80% of all performance is probably fringe of one sort or another), more about this tour in particular.

    From that perspective, I think your concerns are valid. It *is* worth you considering the length of time you will be away for. The idea that this might be taking you 'out of circulation' or away from alternate offers holds a little bit of value, but, by and large, it won't make as much difference as you think. However, there may be a real question that hangs over whether or not you will have enough money to live on over the duration of a very lengthy profit share tour. The truth about profit share is that, although it is good in theory, it is very seldom the case that profit is ever made (and not simply because a company can't get audiences in: it is actually quite common for a fringe company to produce a solid piece, be effective in their marketing and make good box office returns - the problems arise when all the costs of production are then factored in, and payment for costume, lighting rigs, publicity etc., in effect, ensures no profit gets made). You have to, therefore, get involved in any profit share agreement working on the assumption that it's as if you were having to support yourself, and working for nothing. Three weeks working for nothing while you can commute in daily from home may be one thing: three months of it is quite another. I would assume, of course, that the tour would at least subsidise accomodation and transport, so that the main costs of living will be food and subsistence (which isn't so bad), but you will still need to give this solid financial consideration.

    From the point of view of whether or not this aids you as an actor, this is a more subjective issue. On the one hand, there is the possibility of gaining experience on a job, meeting new people who may serve as helpful future contacts, and so on - most of which is actually very useful to an actor who is just starting out, and which certainly will not be gained by sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. On the other hand, a lot of jobbing actors tend to do fringe performance in the hope that it will serve to up their status: by allowing them a showcase through which their work can be seen by agents and casting directors (the other main reasons for doing it are to keep your acting muscles oiled, to pursue a very specific sort of project that couldn't be done under other circumstances, or in the hope that a small project with promise will gradually gain momentum and turn into a big project with promise). Most of these other reasons have, in fact, been the justification for how fringe theatre evolved in the first place (though it now comprises a huge segment of the industry rather than, as in the 1960's, a tiny, experimental sector); the drive to get agents and casting directors involved is relatively new (most fringe, at one time, was avant-garde - it was not directed towards establishing commercial possibilities for the actors involved - but then, the whole nature of the industry has changed in the last 20 years, and fringe is now often one of the few places left where the work of a jobbing actor *can* be showcased).

    The practical issue with a tour, in this respect, is that it may be harder to get any representatives in that are useful to you: firstly, because the production does not stay in any one space for any length of time (this may also mean that it is an unpopular option for gaining press reviews). There is also the fact that, should you be able to be seen by an interested agent in some other part of the country that you are merely touring to, its rarely useful even if they're interested - it's no good to broker interest from an agent in Cornwall when you live in Islington, for instance.

    In this respect, you can only do a profit share tour for the sake of your own interest, because you believe in the play and the company, and for the sake of giving enjoyment to the audiences (many, it must be said, in the 'regions' who won't get to see a lot of theatre, and tend to be more appreciative of what they do get to see than oversaturated London audiences). You may make new friends, you may discover interesting things about your own acting, enjoy an extended holiday seeing places you wouldn't normally go to, and may even make a small bit of money back - and I certainly don't think that your having done the tour can be any bad thing for your CV - but it really has to be a decision that you weigh up in terms of what you want from your career. If you'd prefer to hold out for casting in a more localised piece that you can commute to and from, lose less money on (perhaps), and may be liable to garner you more relevant attention (though no one can guarantee that), then that's also a valid decision.

    It almost goes without saying that if you have any suspicions that the play may be poor or the company ropey, then you certainly shouldn't be considering giving them three months of commitment for no payment. On the other hand, many fringe companies are doing wonderful work on very stringent budgets, and it can be a reward in itself to work for them. Again, you have to trust your instincts on this.

    • 3rd May 2012
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  • Sue Parker-Nutley


    You can always rely on Lee for a dissertation!

    • 3rd May 2012
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  • Forbes KB


    3 months with no formal or guaranteed income! You are either independently wealthy, living off your parents or both! Either way 10% of nothing is still nothing and I've never met anyone who's ever made anything close to a living wage from a profit share fringe! Remember all the travel expenses and accommodation is coming out of the profits for this so your chances of getting paid anything is so small scientists doesn't have a unit of measurement for it!

    The damage you'll be doing by taking yourself out of circulation for that length of time has already been mentioned so my advice, for what it's worth, would be don;t do it!

    Sorry for not being more supportive but I call it as I see it.

    • 3rd May 2012
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  • Lee Ravitz


    There is truth in Sue's comment: I should have continued working as a writer of dissertations (what am I saying? People still pay me to do it).

    • 3rd May 2012
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  • Carrie Cohen


    Do it if you find the part challenging and respect the director.

    I have just looked at your profile and suggest that you use spellcheck or ask a friend to help you tidy up your personal comments which look sloppy.

    Good luck.

    • 4th May 2012
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  • Sue Parker-Nutley


    Having looked at your profile, I agree with Carrie. Your page is very sloppy, with multiple spelling mistakes. This is the first sample of you that a Casting Director will see - it needs to be correct or he will judge you by the page.


    • 4th May 2012
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  • Mark Kempner


    I doubt - other than experience - you'll make a bean out of this. If yiu can survive earning zilch for a 1/4 of a year without money and you feel you will be better actor at the end of it.. Go for it!!

    However, if it's just taking the work for the sake of it.... It's not even worth considering I would say!

    The chances of you getting more work from this tour is almost certainly zero and even if it is ... It will be freebie jobs.

    It's barely worth a 2nd glance in respect of being a professional actor : Ie- someone who is professional is someone who gets paid for their work!

    3 mths is a very long time to expect actors to earn zilch. You'd be better off spending a valuable week improving your PR,your reel.. Pics spelling etc etc

    Like Forbes I say it as it is I'm afraid.

    • 7th May 2012
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  • John Eastman


    well I'll go against the flow and say DO IT! (not that i wd ever want to willingly disagree with the likes of Forbes or Mark !) The reason being that you ae just out of DS, and what better way to begin to find a work mentality, plus forge some connections.

    I did an unpaid fringe show once (tho it was Ed Frnge) and ended up getting a paid gig in Bucharest at the Comedy Theatre doing the same show.

    but yes... the £ are an issue. I guess be realistic at the end of the day.

    • 7th May 2012
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  • Augustine Flint-Hartle


    Hi Gavin,

    I love fringe, there can be a lot of creative energy, excitement and learning going on.... unfortunately it does not pay the bills.

    Therefore when I (personally) look at a fringe project I have to weigh up the pros and cons and hmmm and harrrrrr about what I would like to get out of it.... i.e. working with a certain director, working with a certain production and theatre company, exposure, networking contacts... who your fellow actors are is extremely important...

    Will you be able to work with them for 3 months without getting paid for it... the same with the director etc.... some personalities I can only stomach when getting paid for it (brutal honesty there!!)...

    In fact you may be paying to work, with travel and time spent doing unpaid work whilst you could be getting paid somewhere else.

    Do some maths - where are you performing? what's the footfall? how many seats? what price are the tickets? what's your profit percentage? how many people will be getting paid (wage and profit share) ... realistically calculate what you could receive in your pocket... (this is a great exercise to do if you are interested in setting up your own company in the future)...

    Is there a contract - check with Equity that it's ok...

    If there is no written contract ask yourself why? If there is a clause or a faint alarm bell going off ...listen to it!!

    Google the company, past shows, reviews - find other actors that have done the tours in the past and email them asking for their advice.

    I love fringe and independent theatre it can be the most wonderful thing ... however it can also be hellish!

    your with brutal honesty

    Augustine :)

    • 7th May 2012
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  • Lee Ravitz


    To return to this discussion: I appreciate where Mark is coming from in terms of suggesting that a fringe piece is worth nothing in terms of professional recognition...insofar as not being paid for a piece is not being treated as a professional should be.

    However, I think the attitude that this can convey - which is that because you are not paid, the *work* is somehow illegitimate - is basically damaging to the profession, and is something that even the union is beginning to concede is no longer valid.

    The fact remains that the vast majority of actors who are newly entering into the profession (unlike those like Mark, who I know got his start a couple of decades ago, when the whole makeup of the industry was different) are failing to be offered much in the option of getting any kind of exposure without taking a hit somewhere along the line in terms of what they can earn from it. It is an inimical and terrible tendency, but the rot set in a long time ago, and is not ever going to be easy to reverse. The issue, unfortunately, is not that every fringe production is generating worthless work - far from it - unsurprisingly, and although some fringe work truly *is* dire - most is siphoning off the talents of our best and brightest because there are no other options available to them. What we actually need, in my opinion, is to increase our efforts to make fringe work win back dignity and respectability by finding compromises in terms of what money we can make from it, how we regulate its treatment of actors and so on.

    For better or worse, doing fringe work is actually the invariable lot of the vast majority, I'd guess, of all young jobbing actors working in the UK today, and we won't be able to bury this fact by suggesting that people shouldn't do it. There are certainly better practice models and less exploitative practices: for instance, performing your own one person shows (where you may stand to make some money back from door takings) or setting up a company with like minded actors, in which you all collectively take losses/make profits from the work, are two such ways that fringe can be made less exploitative, and still offer exposure. It will never offer much in the way of decent pay, though. But the problem will persist.

    What is the habitual advice given by drama schools who realise that they are launching their pupils into an emulative work environment, in which they cannot guarantee they will find any work? To set up a graduate company - which is the same as saying, work on the fringe, for no payment, in the hope of being seen for your work. The one difference is that, if you 'own' the company, so to speak, there is no chance of exploitation - but drama schools are offering no better solution.

    It is also true that many fringe companies are not run by sharks as such: they hold the best of intentions towards payment, but are stymied by a lack of governmental subsidisation (i.e. they gain no funding and can offer no pay, in consequence), and are being set up, often, by precisely those people (i.e. enthusiastic young creatives trying to carve an identity for themselves) who have least resources to draw on. So, the cycle perpetuates (whether it's acceptable or not and athough, of course, there are *also* some genuinely exploitative companies out there).

    At the end of the day, Forbe's honesty is quite right: if you can *afford* to do this sort of work regularly, you probably don't need to be making a living from acting. Another alternative is that you are using all the money you have saved from working in other capacities to subsidise the hits you take when you work for nothing: that is your own prerogative, but not a very business like approach, I suppose... though it may get you some initial exposure *if* you are canny about the way you utilise the work. And, of course, you cannot support yourself in an ongoing way by making no money from endless fringe participation: but then, most actors I know of cannot afford to do acting as their sole work regardless given that it is a)irregular and b) poorly paid, most of the time.

    The truth of the matter remains that many young actors sustain the fringe consistently, irrespective of whether they can really afford to or not, and most aren't really working in fringe for no (or bare) payment because they think they don't deserve to be paid, are foolish enough to do it 'for the sake of the art' etc. Most are doing it in the hope of securing the representation, the visibility, the contacts etc. that they hope will lead them to escape from the trap of working for nothing by getting them 'in' with somebody who can start helping them earning something for what they're doing! Most, because they are young, do not have family and dependents to support, a mortgage to be paid and so on, can get away with this - but then, often, it is precisely the skills of 20 something performers most in demand for this kind of work!

    There is a habitual modern story of the actor who starts working for nothing and, after about five years, seems to stop doing it, places more apparent value on what they are doing, and is aided in this decision by the fact that they can start to turn away non paying work in preference to that which offers them money. I've heard this tale related to me by many actors of my acquaintance many times - 'I did some work for no pay at first, but then I learnt to refuse to do it.' Yet why does it take so long for them to 'get wise'? Possibly because the reality is that what is serving to help them get paid work eventually is the recognition that they are experienced/seasoned enough to be worth paying, in the first instance. And perhaps, from the actors' viewpoint, it is also a shift in age and perceived responsibilities: once you have made the mental shift to accepting you are in the game for the 'long haul', you need to be taking what you offer more seriously.

    Yet, many drama schools are now actually advocating the idea that most new actors should expect to be working for no pay for five years if they're not fast tracked: whether this is to considered to be acceptable is another question (I don't think it should be), but it seems to reflect an awareness of a likely reality for many new graduates.

    Given that there is an extremely complex interplay between the policies of drama schools in taking on increasing number of graduates year on year, producers and companies in cutting wages, casting directors in closing ranks, and offering less mobility of casting/being more circumscribed in their casting choices thanks to production decisions, government in reducing subsidisation (the Arts Council funds something like 35% of the applications made to it yearly), the fact that the union is debarred by law from operating a closed shop and so on, it has always seemed to me to place a tremendous amount of responsibility on the fledgling actor to say: by refusing to work on the fringe, you will somehow rectify this whole situation. I don't see there are easy answers here, but I do think the issue of how we approach fringe work, and whether or not it is 'professional' to do it is very. very complicated.

    • 7th May 2012
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  • Mark Kempner


    I don't hate fringe theatre or the idea of it.    Also the difference when I started was do a bit of fringe because fringe gave new actors like me, new writers, directors a chance to cut their teeth.   However a few weeks - if you could afford it - was one thing... And in those days the industry would often venture out to see the actors.

    It doesn't happen anywhere as much these days and the attitude has fast become: unless you work as an actor for nothing you won't work at all same has happened for film crew... Buy your kit and be expected to provide services for nothing!! 

    I agree with the cutting teeth ... Do a bit of fringe if you are new etc.  The trouble is - the rot has set in because it's fast becoming the norm.  

     I appreciate some fringe is great and staged  for all the right reasons. 

    A three month tour to big venues must, I believe,  generate enough Funds to pay the people who perform it surely?  If it can't then I think something is wrong with the financial intention? 

    The play maybe great... The direction amazing... But if three month tours don't pay anything  then I fear the worst for actors earning a living on tour and that it will go the route of - we're all expected to work for the love of it.   If that's what all actors want fair enough.. But it's not for me.  

    Wish you all well.

    Typed on my mobile. Sorry for typos!!

    • 7th May 2012
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  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived


    If you need the experience, then go for it.

    When everyone is in agreement that things are very "quiet out there"; there has never been a better time to do your tour.

    If you think the chances of you finding a paid gig in the 3 months are slim; then you have nothing to loose, and you gain a life experience which could prove invaluable to you.

    If on the other hand we were in a time where there was so much work for everyone that people could afford to be choosy; then perhaps it would not be so wise to be passing up paid work for a tour that has no guarantees of there being anything left to "profit share" after all the expenses are taken into account.

    • 7th May 2012
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  • Rob Talbot


    After noting comments from Mark/Lee:

    If someone has just spent 3 years at drama school paying for the privilige of being trained: a few weeks expenses-only is not that big an additional hit *if* it results in good "on the job" experience.

    3 months though on no money? Ouch. What is the "contract"? Is it really three months or, say, 4 short runs spread over that time? Is there an "out" clause if a paid job comes along?

    Ultimately, the reality is it may be something like this or nothing initially. Not an easy decision.

    • 8th May 2012
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  • Mark Kempner


    Also: are you paying for




    I think we need all the facts in order to make a 100% opinion. My replys are based on experience .... And there has never in 22 years been a time when there was much more work about that I recall?!!

    • 8th May 2012
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  • John Eastman


    Lee. It has prob been suggested before, but seriously...when is the book coming out? You could get CCP to launch it? And what with the number of members on here reading your wise words (for free) you could channel it into a nice little tome surely? Ok maybe it wouldnt translate to a screenplay but put me down for a copy.. Better £ than dissertations?

    Yours respectfully..


    ps..was the poster being ironic by the mispelling of share? shear also translates to 'being pulled by the hair, fleece.. surely none of us have ever been fleeced? right?

    • 8th May 2012
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  • Lee Ravitz


    I think, in fact, we are all fairly in agreement over the central issue of this thread, which is that a three month tour that offers no payment is a questionable offer, if only because it is unlikely to be financially sustainable! Doing a small scale profit share with a limited run from a base within cheap and easy commuting distance is a different issue, and, of course, many set-ups are designed to work around the actors, so most rehearsals take place in the evenings and so on, in order that money can be earnt to support the run. This method doesn't always produce the best work, of course, but it does ensure that participants are able to support what they're doing. Whether they should be accepting that they are spending all the money they've just earned covering the costs of their 'principal' line of work is another question.

    As to a book...well, I would have to sit down and structure one! It wouldn't be impossible, but I don't exactly keep records of any of these posts - they're just written on a response by response basis, so I have no real idea what I've written (naturally, many of the central points remain the same, but I sometimes click on threads that haven't been discussed in a while, discover I wrote a reply, read it back and am surprised!). I could do some kind of extensive search mission through the CCP archives and gather together as many replies as I can find, and then cobble them together more coherently. Or just write something new from scratch! It would probably take a while.

    I have just written a small article for the Actors Yearbook, which I was asked to contribute to for 2013, but it hasn't been edited yet, if that's any consolation.

    • 8th May 2012
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  • Mark Kempner


    Now that I just repaired my PC….grrr windows!! I'd like to throw a bit more light on this thread. It's an important topic, and the original post has as I thought it might, thrown up an array of interesting side issues which are all connected.

    The original question was simple enough I thought: Should I work for nothing for three months? The poster gives us the impression it is profit share and as we all know….it is rarely the case any profits will be raised to pay actors. In fact "profit loss" is a far more accurate way of putting things!

    Although connected, I wont diverse into why do profit share companies willingly accept running at a loss....why?

    The thread also started asking for "experienced" views……not "do you/we like fringe theatre?" However, the central emphasis we are led to believe is: "is it a good idea to do Fringe/touring for three months without any earnings?

    We don't know yet…as I asked in my last post: will all accom/ expenses be this would at least mean you are not OUT of pocket per say at the end, though what about your flat rental whilst away etc? I doubt they are…all we would have been given that info? If they are, then at least you could say: You will break even…and if that were the case….it might be an easier choice to make and accept.

    So, in order to answer the question, I put my experience…and my views based on simple economics as well as the experience of taking part in a fringe shows of the past.

    I admit I took the debate down a different avenue, though I feel very strongly about this, simply because I believe that is where why this continual expectation for actors all to earn nothing stems from.

    I disagree things were much different 22 years ago when I started!! Acting work was just as hard to find then as it is now. It was far harder to get an Equity card as well. The difference is, nowadays there seem to be a far larger amount of drama schools and dram a students/new actors, year on year all searching for the same elusive break or paid gig!

    Lee touchd upon the fact, that there is an expectation and or belief, the only way to work, is to do so for nothing!! It is so installed nowadays, it has become as I feared it would …..the norm…and this is my point, voiced in my answer.

    It is a fact, the more we all accept unpaid work in the light of "I need experience" or far more prevalent…" if you don't take unpaid work… may never work!!" the more our business will fall into decline.

    Of course we all want to get started straight away …but don't we all have to wait and walk before we can run! In simple economical terms: Anyone can achieve turn over. To say there is far less opportunity to work these days compared with 22 years ago is not true. There is far more access to casting breakdowns and the type of work which is peddled on CCP and the like than ever before.

    22 years ago: There was a monthly paper called PCR… it is still in existence. This started the freebie work as I see it…and still advocates it as a way to get noticed! I quote from its website: If high-paid acting jobs are in short supply, it may be worth "bulking up your resume by working on low budget and fringe productions" It would say that….its what it peddles and sells to ist membership…same as CCP to a degree. That's why they strongly advocate the need to work for free! The success of all of these casting opportunity sites is not based on the paid work you can get…..but on the opportunity and thirst for the every growing NON PAID stuff!

    Fair enough then! Good luck to these casting sites and publications, they are in business too of course and I accept that they need to make a profit! I do reach for a bucket when I see these sites as "Offering you an opportunity" .....put the website up for free as well then!!

    I do not criticise "a little bit" of unpaid prospecting to get noticed or to take part in because it might be the only way to get a production under way, as long as it is channelled correctly and wisely.

    What I object to, is the ideology - unless I do that all the time, I wont be looked upon as a professional actor! Rubbish!

    I regard expecting actors to work for three months for nothing is taking advantage!! Nobody having spent money training and if you like, having bought the tools of his or her trade, should be expected to work for zilch for a 1/4 of a year! If you value actors you would not ask!

    There is no doubt this past year or two, the recession is starting to play its big part too….certainly within the corporate market. I am wise enough not to ignore that with my own events company. However, I would not expect to have to pay my actors less or nothing for their services just so I can keep my profits up!

    One thing I have noticed in the 18 years I have had my company. I have had many actors drop out on my work at last minute, despite paid work £80 - £100ish) for the evening….or £200 - £250 for the day….for corporate events work…whilst that actor goes off and does a Student film, or ducks out to audition for a no pay play? (They only do it once mind you!!) So I ask myself what drives an actor to do that?

    Is it the art?! Is it the quest for recognition which drives you all on…..or is it really the experience you desire?

    The wider picture I always bring this point back to is this: If we all keep working so readily for nothing….how will this help yourselves, your colleagues and the future of the industry for professional actors in general.

    As I have stated in the forum earlier and 1000's of times in the past….perhaps the best thing would be to simply put the ace card down and rule that no actors are paid anymore!! Ha….at least the best (in theory) will stand more of a chance of shining!

    Those who - because of rich parents…work for nothing….rely on my taxes to pay your dole….or you are so desperate that you will live like a pauper in the name of telling the world "I am a professional actor darling!" No you are are someone who is "claiming" to be a professional.

    I prefer the economics of prospecting here and there when I have the time and or can afford to do so…..but I prefer not to draw dole from a country on its knees! I pay my own bills, and drive the car I want to drive and live in the house I want to pay for or rent. The only way I can do what I love best of all and still live a normal and healthy life….is NOT to continually accept NO PAY work! That's what has worked for me for the past 22 years. I don't think that makes me a better actor or better person….but in my experience, that's what has got me by!

    I see the industry eroded 10 fold - year on year by those of you being so willing to ignore the wider picture by willingly accepting non paid work "all the time" Sorry….but that's how I and many others feel!

    When I see posts asking for cheap video editors to "knock up a showreel for me" or anyone know of any cheap singing teachers……or when I get calls for my show reel editing services…asking if I can work three days for £50 because others will….it make me sad for the business and its foreseeable future.

    It also makes me sad, as actors, many of you think you can get away with shoddy cheap PR and yet still wish to be looked upon with respect and admiration in what has always been a highly competitive industry.

    Perhaps it's all part of the "we must have everything instantly" culture which seems to have grown of late? Oooh..controversial and old fashioned I hear you cry!! Either way….if you want respect and quality work experience, I'd be very weary of accepting unpaid work without giving each project very careful evaluation and ethics analysis first.

    With regards to almost 3 months worth of time for free: Perhaps if I knew the director had many successfully acclaimed productions under his or her belt, the writing was unique and fresh, the role was great, the cast brilliant, the possibility of a transfer to a longer "paid" run a prospect, the accommodation and out of pocket subsistence/expenses all covered …I might think …this could be worth a punt.

    Without any of those…..I doubt I'd touch the job with barge pole!

    Best to all.

    • 8th May 2012
    • 18
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    I guess this is a vicious circle. If you don't have a lot of credits/no showreel it is very difficult to get auditions for paid work. But at the same time, if you only work for free, how can you expect to be taken seriously as an actor?

    Personally, I wish I could only do paid jobs. Unfortunately this is not the case for the moment.

    However, I would never agree to work 3 months for nothing.

    I am aware that right now my best chances to network/build a showreel/forge my experience are to agree to low paid work.

    I am not happy with that but I am very picky and only chose projects in which I really believe. And of course I expect from the producers, directors etc a minimum of respect in return.

    3 months without pay is in my opinion a lack of respect for the actors in general. I really wish this kind of "contract" were made illegal.

    • 8th May 2012
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