M-O-N-E-Y and the “emerging writer”

I’m a member of a professional writers’ group for the Bath / Bristol area. Great people, all quite different in style and temperament. Very supportive. I don’t get there often enough (childcare, blah de blah) but without fail, it’s inspiring.

So here’s last night. After a session on another writer’s work, we rolled up our sleeves and got talking about MONEY.  Some of us had already been to-and fro-ing this on Facebook, with much debate about how theatre buildings should spend their dosh (how far can it be stretched between writers, actors, techies, the building itself, marketing, and reaching new audiences – what’s a theatre’s duty?! – but that must be saved for another day).

Yes: How do we make money?

We were told that a recent “new writing” event paid the actors (dead right) but not writers. It was a funding / budgeting accident. And, of course, it was (yet another) Development Opportunity. And we are genuinely always grateful for Development Opportunities. I have had loads and could not be where I am without them. It’s just that – well, didn’t these opportunities used to be called Work?  Why are actors “developed” and getting pay, when writers of their lines aren’t? What line have they crossed that most of us haven’t? Where is it and what’s the password (and is it John Cleese on the bridge or a troll underneath?)

The thing is, we all sympathise with the financial struggles  faced by theatres and the like. And of course, with actors. This must not become divide and rule, with theatre-devotees ripping the ticket money from one anothers’ bleeding claws. If we do that, we may as well give up now.


Scripts (or their devised equivalents) are the bedrock of theatre.  But just now, our best hope outside of large-scale commissions (but often with small ones) is to be paid £1,000 for several months’ work, or the same as an actor, but only once we hit the rehearsal room.

Is this a model that will sustain our theatres?  How can we grow as the writers of the future? Is our trade going to go the way of acting, with the independently wealthy being the only ones who can afford to train, to sit for sustained periods to write?

Off a great script, hangs a show, grows a company, which grows the talent, spreads the word, brings a tear, raises the roof, and perhaps, perhaps, wins a prize.

There are theatres that do very well with new writing and new writers. And there are writers who work bloody hard and refuse to take non-writing work. I thoroughly admire that gumption and determination (and skill).  Until now, I’ve always subsidised my own work. I now have a Peggy Ramsay grant to work on a new script and am seeking funding for my quantum mechanics show (blethered about on most posts this year). Obviously, if you want to help out, my door is open.  But I’m a freelancing single mum in a “post”-recession economy. Bread, butter, etc.

So what to do? This is wider than getting more funding from Government. But, as the Conservative Party knows all too well, the older generation – the voting, theatre-going generation – will not be holding things together forever. Adaptation to the new needs is vital.  If people aren’t coming to new writing, or even to theatres, we can’t force it down their throat – why would we want to?

I can’t stop that bloody nursery rhyme going round my head:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.




  1. Lolly E. says:

    We’ve also got to do something about all these competitions where the prize is staging of your show. I see theatre companies (Papatango) surviving and gaining plaudits but they are unable to pay their writers. Its not a good model to offer a production as a prize, it does away with the need ever to commission work. The theatre company never learns and the profits seem to go to continuing the broken business model year after year.
    Learn how to run a sustainable theatre company.


    1. Gill Kirk says:

      I think you make a really interesting point, Lolly E. And what’s the impact of all these competition shows on the wider writing ecology…?


  2. The sober light of day…yes money? I suppose, to receive money you have to do something that actually earns it…or is that just my take on it? You can have a play without an original script but not without actors, so which must you pay?
    Bums on seats really; if there is money coming in…everyone should get a share, a percentage on the door for the writer at least.
    Cinema audiences are increasing, the TV isn’t the centre of everyone’s entertainment these days…and some theatres are still open! It can be a golden age, a new beginning and a financial opportunity for writers and theatres. The only flaw in my strategy is…it has to be material the public want to see, and in numbers. Perhaps to receive creative respect some of us have to expect smaller portions?


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