How to earn a livable income for theatre artists

How do you earn a livable income when you’re a theatre artist? Those of us who think, “the fumes of my art!” are usually the first to burn out.

The others, they’re the ones who find themselves a day job.

Usually, the more stable that day job is, the less flexibility it has to allow them to pursue their craft.

So most theatre artists are left at some point in their career (usually the beginning) with that terribly unfair choice: do I pursue my craft or do I eat?

Of course there are many theatre artists who find a way somewhere in between those two extremes.

Still, the general rule is: there ain’t much money in theatre.

A new solution: the era of the creator economy

But making an income in theatre doesn’t have to be in theatre.

A lot of theatre artists think very surface-level about how they can monetize their craft. Outside of actually doing our craft, we think that maybe we can teach or coach or do birthday parties…

And that’s kind of it.

But the reality is there’s an entire world out there that is looking for exactly what it is you can bring to them.

And you can reach that world, generate an income you can live off of while pursuing your craft, by being a creator.

What is the creator economy?

The creator economy refers to the community of content creators who are able to generate and grow income from the content they produce on various digital platforms.

That income could come from:

  • Digital products
  • Courses
  • Services
  • Sponsorships
  • Patronage
  • Subscriptions
  • Tip Jars

The idea is that you’re a self-employed creator using the digital ecosystem to build an audience and generate income through your skills, experience, expertise or knowledge.

Benefits of the creator economy

Whenever I talk about the creator economy, or building your personal brand, a lot of theatre artists give me the side and have legitimate questions:

  • Why?
  • What’s the point?
  • Will this help me get more auditions/book more roles/[insert desired goal here]?
  • Why should I hustle for something else that’s not what I’m passionate about?
  • I already have so much on my plate! Why are you giving me something else I need to do?
  • I don’t want to be the next Logan Paul.

Which is totally fair.

And the answer is a resounding yes: that is the goal—to book you more roles, get you in front of more decision-makers, get your name out there.

This is not about spinning your wheels on some useless endeavour.

What this is really about is empowering you to generate income from your craft (or from whatever it is that you want to be generating income doing) so theatre artists are no longer stuck being waiters or bartenders* who sometimes do theatre.

Being a creator allows you to generate income by doing what it is you want to do.

(*If you like being a waiter or bartender, there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re just expanding the possibilities.)

Understanding the creator economy

The ecosystem of the creator economy is quite vast. It includes things like:

  • Social media influencers (and micro-influencers)
  • YouTube channels
  • Podcasters
  • Course creators
  • Physical product makers
  • And so much more!

Today, there are literally tens of thousands of creators making a living for themselves by creating online.

And it kills me that so few of them are theatre artists.

Because the reality is, most of the skills creators need to make a living online? They’re ours.

From the skits on TikTok to the cross channel storytelling required to bring your audience from social media onto your email list—this is our house.

Theatre artists should own the creator economy.

Opportunities for theatre artists in the creator economy

Okay, maybe you need some examples to get your wheels spinning.

There are basically four questions I ask:

  1. Can I show myself doing it (or learning it)?
  2. Can I teach it?
  3. Can I run workshops for businesses?
  4. Can I turn it into a product?

Like I mentioned earlier, this is not just a framework for generating income through a side business that just happens to be more related to what you do.

Doing this work will increase the brand awareness of what you do and get your name in front of people in positions to hire you and your work as well.

Say you’re an intimacy director. This is a role with surging demand, not just in theatre productions but for films and TV shows as well. You could:

  1. Publish a regular blog post where you interview local actors about their experiences with on-stage intimacy and at the end of each post, you explain how you would have approached the situation instead.
  2. Create a course teaching the principles of movement that are the foundation of your discipline.
  3. Run seminars at large organizations and enterprises around consent and positive boundary setting.

Aside from potentially generate income in their own right, all of these actions will increase your visibility as an intimacy director, giving you the opportunity to generate more leads for people who are likely to hire you for that work.

Let’s look at another example. Say you’re a fight choreographer. You could:

  1. Go on TikTok and show off your mad skills.
  2. Teach a slew of online courses for actors around the world.
  3. Offer an executive coaching service for businesses looking to develop resilience on their teams.

Or you’re a playwright, you can:

  1. Share on Instagram the process of writing.
  2. Create an online course teaching the principles of playwriting to the ne t generation.
  3. Run a workshop for creative people who feel like they let their chance pass them by.
  4. Write a book on playwriting I’m the 21st century.

Producers managing events, stage managers and their infamous organization skills, set designers creating beautiful spaces, critics and their mastery of words…the list goes on.

How to get started in the creator economy

The biggest hurdle is figuring out what you want to do. And it’s easy to overthink it. At this point, you just have to answer three questions:

  1. What are you most passionate about?
  2. What are you really good at?
  3. Who can that be valuable to?

Try to brainstorm beyond the obvious! Think about who has money, power or influence that will benefit from what you have to offer.

The world beyond our walls is looking for our skills.

Are you going to be there?

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