The world of Show business is a funny one…
“There’s no damn business like show business – you have to smile to keep from throwing up”- Billie Holiday
So you started singing and dancing at an early age, you graduated from a well known Musical Theatre college and you can now call yourself a ‘professional‘. You’ve performed on a West End stage or at a massive arena to sold out crowds, you booked that national commercial or just got back from Panto…. but once the job is over it seems like you are back to square one – auditioning!
But we do it because we love it, and in those down times we often have to pick up what I like to call ‘Survival jobs’ ( Working at a bar, promotional work, temping or teaching etc ).
There is no harm in that and we all have to pay our bills, but with the increase of performers over the last few years – it has left the industry over saturated and therefore meaning people have to work ‘Survival’ jobs more and more. There seems to be no shortage of performers and artists auditioning for jobs that just aren’t there.
The good news though is that it’s not all doom and gloom! ( Phew ). I’ve always said it, but persistence is key, and for some performers they choose to fill the void of those ‘in between’ times with fringe theatre and profit share.
The term Fringe theatre comes from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In London, the term Fringe is applied to small scale theatres, many of them are located above pubs ( such as The Landor, The Queens head etc ). Profit Share is as it sounds, a show where the profit made from it is distributed among the performers, stage staff and creatives.
In the world of Fringe Theatre and Profit Share there may or may not be a wage attached to a show. That could be a one off low payment for instance £100 – £200 for an entire 4-6 week run or a weekly minimal fee. Some fringe houses are money controlled which is great, meaning you are guaranteed a prearranged fee – bare in mind that fee is more then likely to be a lot lower than Equity minimum.
These theatre’s and venues vary in size with seating averaging from anything from 40 seats to 400. Some of the fringe and profit share venues are located in the West End of London, so therefore fall under the small umbrella of ‘Off West End’.
So no one wants to work for little to no money, but on the flip side Profit Share and Fringe Theatre can be a great stepping stone to securing more work, getting an agent and improving your skill set and confidence. If you look into a lot of leading performers careers I’m sure their CVS will show that a lot of them have done some form of profit share, fringe theatre or job for experience.
So I decided to ask some performers who have done fringe productions to see what they thought of it and why they did it.
Closer to Heaven – Union Theatre.
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I feel the same way about fringe and profit share as I do about any work we take, whether it be tours, West End or gigs. It’s an amazing opportunity to broaden our skills and work and learn from talented people in our industry.
It is a great platform for showcasing new talent and also a way to get our ‘names out’ in this small circuit of work. It is not something everyone can afford to do, but with savings from other jobs, I was lucky enough to take mine and enjoy to the full knowing that only good can come from it and in the end I’m totally fulfilling that creative buzz!
I Loved every minute of it. I was showcased the best I could be, had top creatives see the production and rave about it and made it into the best of what it could be. I’m not sure if it opened any doors as such, maybe if I was more of a pusher it could have, but it certainly taught me a lot just being in a company again, especially as it was in central London- that felt nice.
I Would always recommend if the performer can afford to do it. You have to be prepared to get no money at all and know when you sign that contract. Any added money at the end is a bonus .
Disadvantage- beans on toast for a week.
Fringe theatre has given me some valuable experiences, especially once I graduated as it was easy to commit to a day job and a production at the same time, they can also give you valuable additions to your cv. I’m not a big fan of profit share as a concept, often this is just a term for ‘no pay’. Having entered into a few productions on this basis and experiencing the very strict and low budgets, it is surprising the number of my peers who feel that they will still be guaranteed profit. I always say if you can’t afford to work for nothing – don’t do it! I have also been involved in revenue share performances, these actually really do seem to drive a cast and crew to get ‘bums on seats’ as you will at least make a small fee.
I think for low pay you need a definitive reason for doing the show. The role itself for me needs to tick a box as to why it will help me or my career. On this occasion ( A Little Night Music ) I was pushed vocally and I managed to gain confidence in other weaker areas of performance. I certainly expanded my network of contacts.
I would recommend it, you are still networking, still performing and provided you can manage financially it is a good way of fitting in a shorter project. Directors are also very understanding about other audition and work commitments. The obvious disadvantage is money or lack of it and having to work all day and all night. The advantage is its likely you will still be networking and able to invite industry professionals to see you.
Assistant Choreographer Singing In The Rain, ( Upstairs at the gatehouse )
Casting Call Pro Link
Fringe or profit-share productions give performers and audiences the chance to perform in/experience a greater range of shows than is available solely in the West End. Of course the audition process is still there, but your options as a performer are opened if you are willing to embrace fringe.
I was attracted by the show itself ( Singin’ in the Rain), one of my all- time favourites, as well as the fact that I’d get to take on a new role that I’d not tackled before. ( asst. choreographer)
I got what I wanted from the show, I was able to work evenings around the rehearsals, so at least I had some income ( on top of the one-off show fee), and it was creatively satisfying to watch the show come together and be a part of that. Plus I could tick that role off my list, as it were.
It definitely increased my experience, as I’d now feel very comfortable taking on an asst. choreographer role again. It hasn’t particularly opened doors, but I think it could in the future. I would recommend fringe theatre although it’s not necessarily easier to get into than other shows!
The advantage is that it increases the range of shows that are available to performers, so it’s not just limited to West End. Fringe venues can also be more experimental, or put on more varied styles of show, eg. contemporary dance, or puppetry, or little-known musicals, which are all great, but would never fill a full-scale auditorium.
The disadvantage is that you have to supplement your income during a profit-share show in order to survive, so it can be pretty tiring.
Kiss Me Kate ( Upstairs at the Gate House )
Regularly performers with The Pocketbelles
I have always loved the musical Kiss Me Kate since seeing it on Broadway when I was younger and performing it at secondary school. I instantly wanted to be a part of the fringe production at Upstairs At The Gatehouse as soon as I saw it was casting, simply to live out my dream of performing in it as a professional!
I was cast as Dance Captain/Ensemble in this production and gained a great deal of new experience, as this was the first time I had been given the responsibility to work as Dance Captain professionally.
I enjoyed a massive learning curve during this 3 month contract and connected with some incredible fellow performers and creatives, who have continued to support me since the show ended.
One of the main reasons I took this contract was to enable me to become more recognised within the casting world of London’s musical theatre, and help open some audition doors for me, but unfortunately that did not end up happening in the way that I’d hoped. It definitely improved my CV but didn’t instantly help me get seen for the shows I really wanted to be considered for.
Reaper Review at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival,Our Town at the Kings Head and The Linden Tree at The Pentameters to name a few.
The fringe plays a vital role within the industry, helping young and inexperienced performers to gain vital hours on stage, it helps them to hone skills and develop their craft. It also gives writers a chance to develop and bring new plays to an audience relatively cheaply.
There is no guarantee of a successful production at any level and putting on a fringe production is no different. One way to reduce the risk is to spread it across all the people involved, by offering an opportunity to share in the financial success of the production if there is a surplus. Profit share has come under huge scrutiny in recent years as some producers have abused the idea of a collaborative, all benefiting and low risk production into an excuse just not to pay performers.
The fact that many fringe venues have less that 100 seats means that even a successful sold out production will struggle to make a profit, so it’s difficult for even the best intentioned companies to afford to pay everyone involved a fair wage.
I have done a few Fringe productions; the play and the part are almost always the main reason for choosing to get involved. If it fits into my schedule just after a paid gig then that’s even better.
I feel that every production teaches you something and helps develop you as a performer. I feel like I’ve learnt and grown from all my fringe experiences even if I didn’t realise it at the time.
The fringe definitely challenged and helped me to grow as an actor, the most successful production that I was involved with did lead to three offers of roles in other fringe plays and I definitely got seen for a few more auditions because it was on my C.V.
So there you have it folks,…. straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Well 5 very attractive horses, I would say something more along the lines of 5 show ponies.
So it seems that as long as you can afford to do it and it’s a project you want to do, Fringe and Profit share could be the way to fill those gaps in your schedule and keep you performing.
It doesn’t guarantee to lead to a successful after career, but can be a great learning experience and a great platform to network and invite creatives and future employers too.
Just be smart about it, sadly the term ‘It’s great exposure’ is thrown around too much these days, trying to mask the low pay of a project with the performance value. Fringe whether it be in London, at Edinburgh or small shows across the country has its pros and cons.
There is this constant struggle in the industry and at times it can seem that one person’s exploitation is another’s opportunity. We put so much into this industry as creatives that nobody should have to work for free, but plenty are prepared to do so, particularly if the other option is sitting at home and waiting for your agent to call.
Just make sure you know your worth… and break a leg!