John Kachoyan is a freelance Director/Dramaturg based in Melbourne and Creative Director of MKA.
So my year, like many others, is made up of feast and famine. Often my credit card and/or my partner (also an artist) subsidises our cash flow as I chase various invoices and also, simply because it is expensive to live in Melbourne and arts pay is shit. I have a credit card debt, a dog, a lovely house to pay rent on and an understanding group of friends.
I believe its really important to talk about money – as long as it’s not (as often happens to artists) an offensive inquiry based on the assumption you either earn nothing or upon revelation of the amount, met with a patronising tilt of incredulity at the sub-median wage figure. It’s important we talk to each other about this.
The more we talk about how little we all earn, and as was revealed at ATF 2015, how often we treat ourselves worst in our own projects, the easier it will be to advocate for change.
So this is my 2014 #illshowyoumine…
I am one of the Lucky ones. I make my living almost entirely off theatre – be it making work, running a company or lecturing/teaching theatre. I am 32, have a MA in Advanced Theatre Practice (not as fancy as it sounds) from an international university and have worked here and abroad for major theatre companies as a dramaturg, director and writer. I have had a salary in the theatre once, whilst working for Bell Shakespeare in 2012 – and it was amazing.
I draw annual ‘salary’ from MKA of $15,000 self-rationed (with my restraint) over the whole year. I work more than full-time hours most of the year at the company alongside my Co-Creative Director. The company has no real resources to pay for flights, expenses, travel or accommodation unless the project we’re working on is funded or commercially viable. This means essentially our ‘salary’ also subsidises the creative, curatorial and producing work of the company.
Thankfully, when we are funded, I also get some project fees, which top up this amount by about $5000 for the work all up, as a Creative Director, GM and Artist. Outside of this, we often work on Projects for nothing, with MKA essentially supporting these endeavours – as many others do. Often, particularly with a profit share project, I take no share, to try to increase (even by a tiny amount) the cash going to artists.
In March, I direct an Opera for an Independent Melbourne company, involving night and weekend rehearsals and a two week tech. I am paid a modest fee, a lot for the company, but a fraction of the Equity rate.
March to June, over the last 3 years through two great colleagues I have had a casual position lecturing in Dramaturgy, Directing and occasionally Shakespeare at Monash University for one semester. This makes me great money when it happens but the university’s pay structures and timelines are utterly byzantine and the work is not guaranteed year on year. It keeps me alive for that four months.
I am also an Assistant Director for a Melbourne Theatre Company production – the fee, whilst generous (the most I will be paid for a single theatre gig during the year) is quickly whittled away as the project is developed over a period of months, and involves more than 6 weeks full-time rehearsals/tech/previews. This gig though, keeps me from starving for those two months.
The end of the year is always hard. I Produce the multi Green Room nominated ‘The Trouble With Harry’ for MKA at the Melbourne Festival. This is the culmination of a year of work, traveling to APAM to get it into Melbourne Festival, pitching it at RAV showcase to get a Tour, supporting developments, readings and travel for the work on my base MKA money.
This work is supported by Darebin Arts Speakeasy, the Festival itself in-kind and the Australia Council but still no where near enough to pay any of us equity rates. It will take up almost all of my time Aug-October, and constitutes $4000 of the $5000 I said I earned on projects – $4000 over 4 months – I can’t work on anything else leading up to opening.
At one stage, because the Production needs it and the venue requires it, the company has to risk a lot more money to bring the show off. I and Tobias, essentially cash-flow this risk with our remaining Salary. If the show sells we’re okay, if it doesn’t, well that’s it…we’re not investors and don’t take profit.
The show breaks even, so the company cash is repayed and we can once again draw a salary. The show is a success in many other better ways, a great testament to all involved but I am exhausted. In the other organisations I deal with, almost everyone is on staff and a salary – it is sometimes hard to work on a project where everyone else is paid but the artists involved.
The end of my year is always hard. My partner supports us, sometimes working non-arts job, taking that hit to confidence and time that entails. I also do, for the first time in years, temp work as event staff for a catering company. It’s with good people, but hard work, the hit to my pride barely balances with the pay. But it keeps us moving.
We get to Xmas, exhausted, having spent about 3 months apart over the year and often times, incredibly stressful periods due almost exclusively to the work I do, and its intermittent and inadequate pay.
So approx. total for my year is $38000.
If I was paid EQUITY rates for the work I did, that Salary would be in the range of $70000, let alone if MKA was funded adequately to wage its staff.
I do not complain, only share.