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Actor: Salary and conditions

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Case studies

  • Equity, the trade union for professional performers and other creative workers, negotiates minimum wages for its members, with minimum rates depending on the type of employment, location and number of performances. Equity members are entitled to a subsistence allowance while touring. Equity provides a careers information service for members.
  • For some roles agreed minimum rates may be set, whereas for other roles pay rates may vary significantly.
  • The Equity membership fee is payable on a sliding scale as a percentage of the previous tax year's gross earnings from your professional work (including royalties, repeats and residuals). Details of fees are located on the Equity web pages. If you are currently studying on a higher education full-time course in performance, or a related subject lasting one year or longer, you may be eligible for student membership.
  • Many actors sign up with an agent, who may be able to negotiate higher wages, but will take a percentage of earnings as a fee. The percentage taken varies according to the type of work, e.g. theatre or television. Agents vary considerably, and securing an agent is itself a competitive process, involving networking and often inviting agents to see you perform, or sending them a 'showreel' of your TV or film work.
  • Very few people become wealthy through acting, although for some the rewards can be immense.
  • Earnings are not necessarily linked to experience or qualifications.
  • Working hours may be long and unsocial. While on tour, an actor may be travelling and setting up scenery during the day and performing at night. Television and film work often involve very early starts and late finishes.
  • Actors usually work indoors in theatres or television studios, although some contracts will require actors to work outdoors, for example some film and television work and street theatre.
  • Actors are frequently self-employed for tax purposes. Not all employers pay National Insurance contributions. Many actors employ an accountant. Accurate record-keeping skills are essential.
  • The lifestyle implications are considerable. Time spent away from home is an inevitable part of the job. Disruption to home and social life may be unavoidable. Many actors leave the profession because of difficulties finding work.
  • Actors may find themselves working all over the UK and abroad. Auditions are usually held in London or other major cities and actors may be required to attend them at very short notice.

Salary figures are intended as a guide only.

Written by AGCAS editors
July 2015

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