As the SDUK Earnings Report showed, freelance theatre directors’ fees are so low that without a West End run most cannot make a decent living. Even a ‘successful’ director doing, say, 4 productions a year, can only earn £20-£25,000, which will not cover most mortgages, London rent, or basic childcare. In fact, once preparation is taken into account, he or she can earn less than the National Minimum Wage, even at top venues. ( Early career directors on the Fringe are accustomed to having their fees cut, or removed completely – ‘so that the actors can be paid’. Why not pay the directors too?

The director will also earn less than the theatre’s CEO, AD, General Manager or its Head of Finance, Publicity, Development or Production. All of these will be on long term staff contracts – with paid holidays and no down time. They will also, unlike directors, cost the theatre up to 1/3rd as much again in administrative ‘on-costs’. Freelance directors really do come cheap!

Directors’ preparation time is almost never paid for, but SDUK data show that most jobs require as long in prep as they do in rehearsal (HERE). A £5000 fee (very common) is only worth £416 per week when spread over 12 weeks: even a £6000 fee is only £500 p/w – about the same as a labourer gets for working 37.5 hours a week!! Directors rarely work less than 50 or 60 hours a week.

Even commercial theatre pays less than it did. West End theatres now cream off up to 12% of the house take by dubious means, and the remaining 88% is further eroded by producers via their ‘pool system’ and unilaterally imposed ‘amortisation’. On Broadway, under Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) contracts, 100% means 100%!


Most companies employ very few freelance directors, so higher fees would cost them very little. And although regional theatres have lost funding, the new Theatre Tax Credit is now producing useful sums, and the recent Budget Settlement for the Arts in England was better than expected. Fees certainly could rise, and until they do, directors will continue to be drawn from a narrow, well off elite; this is bad for social diversity and bad for British theatre.

Dramatists in both England and Scotland tell us that the dramatic lift in their fees that took place around 10-15 years ago is the most important single factor contributing to the current flowering of playwriting in both countries. It is time that directors, too, were allowed to flower!

Following SDUK’s campaigns, some companies are now paying for preparation time, and a few made the effort to raise fees last year, but by no means all. After years of being virtually the lowest paid members of the creative team, directors deserve better. Equity, with its low minimums, outdated contracts and cosy relationship with employers, has shown itself unable to redress the situation: hence the rapid growth of Stage Directors UK.

SDUK is now asking all UK theatre directors to back the creation of a new Directors’ Contract, similar to SDC’s, with decent minimums, payment for prep and fair royalties – based on 100% of takings. We invite all directors who are in London on April 7th to come to the Clore Learning Centre, at 6.30 for 7pm, and discuss the best way forward.