The Ethics of Budgeting

The Ethics of Budgeting

Metta Theatre's Jungle Book. Photo: Richard Davenport
Poppy Burton-Morgan. Photo by Anna Hammersley

by Poppy Burton-Morgan, freelance theatre and opera director and Artistic Director of Metta Theatre.

Date Published: 18 April 2017


As producers, as those in control of the physical resources of a production, what are the ethical considerations in budgeting? Do we cut that £10,000 from set to gain an extra rehearsal week (We have made that choice before)? Or lose a member stage management to gain an extra performer? Beyond strategic and economic implications of these choices there are also major ethical considerations.

Running a midscale touring company (Metta Theatre) whose work sits predominantly within the subsidised sector we have the huge privilege of making work with perhaps one or two development weeks and then five weeks rehearsal. Subsidy allows us to prioritise an artistic process before considering the revenue driven process. As an artist led company we create budgets that prioritise paying artists and rehearsing for the longest time possible to make the best piece of work. Most of my commercial colleagues start with income and work backwards - can they manage with 2 weeks rehearsal and just one stage manager on that studio scale two-hander? Yes, probably.

And diversity? It costs. It costs more admin time (and hence money) in reaching diverse artists for casting and access costs that come with working with deaf or disabled artists, or those with caring responsibilities, often have to come from the production budget. Not to mention the costs of developing diverse audiences. But within the subsidised sector, spending public money, we have a moral obligation to represent and that has to be taken seriously both to serve audiences and to serve the sector.

What too of the disparity of pay scales within a production? Certain roles (irrespective of experience) are paid at what equates to a significantly higher day rate than others. Musical Directors are often paid more than double the weekly rate of Directors (as SDUK’s great work on this subject demonstrates - Directors are paid terribly). Of course, you’re paying for more than just an artist's time, you’re paying for value of their contribution to the process and production, but within a finite pot of resources is it fair that some roles are paid so disproportionately to others? At Metta, we calculate fees (beyond the minimums) at roughly £100 per day or £500 per week, but what then of artists who work at an unusually slow rate? What about childcare costs? Additional travel for those living outside of London (so often disclosed after they sign their contracts)? Should ‘named’ actors be paid more because they increase ticket sales and hence revenue (aside from what their agents will fight for) or conversely less because they need it less than the jobbing actor on her first job back after maternity leave.

Should we take a Robin Hood approach - leaning on the ‘rich’ within our sector to better support the poor? I write funding applications for large-scale commercial producers for several thousand pounds a pop, allowing me to offer pro bono fundraising support/mentoring to emerging artists - particularly those facing structural barriers to success there. Should that principle extend to budgeting? It’s no secret that touring companies ask for different guarantees from venues based on their respective capacity to earn (or level of subsidy), rather than on the weekly cost of the show.

If our sector is a microcosm of society and the Arts Council effectively functions as a welfare state then should we be doing everything we can to reduce our reliance on ‘public investment’ (as they now call it), budgeting at minimums and minimising our rehearsal periods? Also, that subsidy won’t be around forever.

Each producer has different priorities including their own political ideologies about where the money should come from in the first place. But as a sector, are we compromising the wellbeing of our teams by stretching them too far with too few roles covering too much work? Are we failing to represent, through lazy budgeting? As a provocation to anyone with budgetary decision making power - let’s share these processes with each other and above all let’s question our choices!


Poppy Burton-Morgan is a freelance theatre and opera director and Artistic Director of Metta Theatre - a regularly project funded midscale touring company (though not an NPO...yet!)

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