When Should Actors Work for Free?

Summer is upon us, and many young theatre students are undoubtedly headed for summer theatre jobs and/or unpaid internships. This recent article on the Guardian Theatre Blog talks about both the pros and cons of working for free in the theatre.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine taught me a handy shortcut for deciding whether or not to accept a project.

You look at three things: the project, the people, and the money. If two of the three are positive, then you take the job. Otherwise, you don’t.

Here’s how I define the positive aspects:

The people: People you enjoy working with. People you’ve always wanted to work with. People who will push you as an actor. People you’ve never worked with who could introduce you to a new circle of people you didn’t know previously. A company you admire.

The money: At the bare minimum, a living wage. Enough to cover your expenses. Enough to not need another job while you’re rehearsing. Maybe even enough to keep you going for a few weeks after the show closes.

The project: A dream role. A dream show. A script you feel passionately about. A role that will stretch you. A role that scares you.

Any one of these in isolation is not enough. A dream role won’t be a dream for long if it means both hating the people you’re working with and eating Ramen noodles every night.

I learned this shortcut WAY too late in my career, but you know what? It’s guided every decision I’ve made about my career since and it’s never steered me wrong.

About the author

Craig Mason