How to be creative with/ creative about a work-life balance in theatre?

Convener(s): Toma Dim 

Participants:  Sophie, Michael Spence, David Mc Groarty, Zoe Pickering, Mary, Louise Platt, Vicki Willing

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

There was a general recognition that work-life balance was not just an issue for the theatre but for many industries in Britain and that many of the factors that contributed to the difficulty of getting it right weren’t unique to the arts.

Having said that, it was felt that the underfunded situation in which much of the sector operates (lack of money, time and people resources) makes it especially vulnerable.

Aspects of the theatre industry that affect the work-life balance

  • Unsociable Hours – evening and weekend work as standard
  • Touring
  • Wages  - relatively low for most, both for creatives and administrators
  • Workload -  (even part-time jobs seem to take fulltime hours) due to self employed nature or under-resourcing
  • Job security – lots of people after the same jobs, also freelance nature of much of industry and the unpredictability of acting work
  • Change in communications – mobiles, email and text means you can be available 24hrs a day 

Discussions (rearranged according to theme)

Hours, conditions, pay

  • There is a feeling, mainly unspoken that if you aren’t there all hours then you aren’t committed or not working hard enough
  • Bullshit myth that theatre has to be 24 hours,
  • Bullshit myth of artist as person consumed emotionally and mentally by the art 24/7 – pressure (maybe internal to conform to that or hold it up as ideal.
  • Unpaid work experience/roles. There is a definite attitude that if you aren’t prepared to work for free then you aren’t committed.
     - this means you lose out on a class of people who can’t afford to do it (class and ethnic diversity).
    - it also means that the sector loses out on people with a richer life experience.
  • THEATRE IS NOT A MERITOCRACY, though we’d like to believe it.
  • Pressure from Directors who seem to think that  the work is better for working 12 hour days
  • Freelancers are a large part of the industry
    pros – you might be able to shape your work around your family commitments
    cons – no job security or financial support structures for them
  • The working hours can create pressure on relationships, can be difficult to sustain when you are rarely at home or thinking about work when you are at home, you can find that you only have relations with those inside the industry 


  • Do you burn out if you don’t maintain a balance or do you fade out of sight if you prioritise it?
  • Discrepancy between perception of the arts as a caring, sensitive industry and the reality of a hard-nosed, financially pressured deadline driven reality.
  • You are driven by fear – that someone else will get the work if you don’t take it, if you don’t take this job then a relationship will be built with someone else so you won’t get offered work in the future, that if you speak out about conditions that you be branded disloyal, lazy, not advance, not get future work, anger colleagues in a competitive industry.
  • In an industry based on networking how do you cope with taking a career break (to recharge or be a carer) when you get forgotten when not ‘on the scene’


  • Everything else that you do as a person feeds into your work as an artist
  • Emotional investment needed both at work and at home, but not the sort of job where it’s easy to switch off when you get home. How can you make sure you’ve the energy /headspace for both?
  • How do you earn money and yet sustain yourself (emotionally, creatively, managing other responsibilities)? Idea is to be choosier about the work you do but is this possible for all?


  • Women who want a family and to stay in and succeed in the industry but keeping being told (in particular by other, older, successful women) that you can’t do both.
  • Question: Can you be a successful artist/administrator and a successful parent?
  • Taboo of even being seen to want to have children – not discussed at work in case people don’t invest in you (either as in your career opportunities or in trusting you in case you ‘leave them’ to have kids.
  • Why does it have to be a choice between family and work?
  • All the work life balance stakes are raised when children are involved
  • Being with children can inform your own work ‘open up your third eye’, teach you to play, teach you about who you really are


  • Change in culture needs to come from top down – managers, artistic directors, directors need to lead by example or by supporting reasonable work practices
  • Affordable childcare for all – potentially tiered by income ie low income pay less and at very least tax deductable
  • Community childcare in arts spaces – way to integrate further into local community, arts from cradle to grave, artistic release for people to be able to do story readings/learning from children’s play, in built audience for workshopping theatre for children and young people. Big institutions should lead the way
  • Treat all your relationships with respect, making them work is all about negotiation and dialogue.
  • Maintain informal networks with other who might be in a similar position – play readings coffee mornings
  • Arts training bodies (universities, drama school etc) to teach strategies for coping with work-life balance within the industry (starting a family as well)
  • Raise awareness – its illegal for people to consider your family situation in relation to your employment.
  • Why can’t we bring children to work?

General feeling that it was nice to feel that others were worried by the same issues – it can feel like you are the only one.

Balanced lives are crucial to better art!