When SHOULD I STOP working for free?
"Look, I need a plumber to fit a new bathroom and sort the dripping tap out in the kitchen. Now, there's no budget... I simply can't afford to pay you - but I will let everyone else know what a great job you've done. It'll be fun! Deal?"
The problem with acting is that, unlike any other profession, there are hobbyists or amateurs who can, and do, regularly work to a high standard - with no further reward than personal satisfaction. They have other jobs and income sources that support them. It's a love of the art, a break from the mundane, a need for achievement.
There is no such thing as accepted amateur workers in any other area of life. Would you ever expect to find an amateur company of gas fitters? Doctors? Teachers? Lawyers?
So what defines 'amateur' from 'professional'? It's simple: you're making money - sourcing an income that pays the rent and adds a little to your joie de vivre.
So, why are so many professional actors facing exploitation?
The actors' union, Equity, are keen to point out that working for free is not acceptable.The National Minimum Wage Act makes it illegal to pay adult workers less than the minimum wage, apart from a small number of exemptions such as registered charities. The Arts have no special trump card to play.
Ultimately, persistently working for free can lead to significant career harm. By the time a young actor hits twenty seven, they'll face a possibility of leaving behind a career they had so much hope for - replaced with a new line-up of upcoming talent who are willing to take yet another spin of the 'no budget' roulette wheel.
When SHOULD I decide to work for free?
If you can acquire a new skill or insight, working on no-pay projects can be of value. There are many opportunities to be involved in charitable and political arts projects that, from your own personal perspective, may be of interest.
When SHOULD I decide to say NO ?
If you're starting out, you're unlikely to see working for free as a problem. Indeed, it can present itself as a 'working-up-the-ladder' opportunity. Please be cautious: a career plan that's ultimately based on working for free, won't pay the rent. In time, it could undermine your own and other people's careers - and the perception of a skilled profession.
Ultimately, it's the quality of your thinking that determines the quality of your career.In the words of Equity's on-going campaign for a fair deal, if it's professionally made, it ought to be professionally paid.
Lead Practitioner, Thinking Actors.
Those employing people should take note that the National Minimum Wage is:
*As from April 2018:
£7.83 per hour - 25 yrs old and over
£7.38 per hour - 21-24 yrs old
£5.90 per hour 18-20 yrs old
£4.20 per hour - 16-17 yrs old
£3.70 for apprentices under 19 or 19 or over who are in the first year of apprenticeship.