How a Regional Theater Producer Does Money
by Lily Nichol
Jeanie is 42 years old and has worked in professional theater for 24 years. She received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
Lily Nichol: Jeanie, tell us what you do for a living.
Jeanie: I’m an artistic producer at a professional regional theatre. Basically what that means in the context of where I work is that I do everything! I am the artistic director, I am the general manager, I am the production manager. I oversee sort of every element of the theatre. Including all the staffing, budgeting, scheduling, and programming. Pretty much everything.
Lily: And what is your annual income approximately?
Jeanie: Roughly, about $58,000.
Lily: And is that a major jump for you from jobs you’ve had previous to this?
Jeanie: I wouldn’t say it was a major jump, but it’s definitely a step up.
Lily: Is this your dream job?
Jeanie: That’s a really good question. Yeah. This is sort of what I was aiming for in my life. Part of this job that has not come to fulfillment that I would want to is directing. I haven’t been able to direct. Though I will get to direct this coming season. But it is something I would like to do more of, and whether that means I have to step away from the job I am doing, or I have to go somewhere else that will give me more time to direct, I don’t know.
But ultimately I started out with the idea that I was going to be a designer and that didn’t really work out. And so when I started working at my first regional theatre, the Artistic Director put me in every job he could. I did everything from stage managing to being a technician. I was their marketing officer, facilities manager, associate producer — I mean I did every frickin’ job known to man other than management. I didn’t do finance. But ultimately all of that lead to running a company, which is what I’m doing now.
Lily: Was it at your request that he did that for you?
Jeanie: No, I think he just saw something in me that made him believe that I would be good at this job — at running a company; that I was a good leader. And so, he took it upon himself that I had training in absolutely as many areas as he could put me into so that one day I would be able to do this job, which is an unbelievable gift. Not a lot of people have the opportunity to do the things that I have done in a very safe and very supportive environment.
Lily: How do people usually get to be qualified for a job like yours?
Jeanie: I think lots of people who end up as artistic producers start out in a couple of different ways: They’ll either be actors and start their own companies, or they may start as stage managers or something like that. So they start out in one particular role and then develop into being a director if they’re an actor, or a manager if they’re a stage manager, and work into the role that way. People will go to school to become theatre managers. Some people just fall into it. There’s a wide variety of ways of getting into where I am. Ultimately you start at the bottom and work your way up over the years. Some people start their own companies, and some people run other people’s companies.
Lily: So, before you told me you weren’t sure if your Bachelor of Fine Arts helped you get where you are. Could you have done what you did without it?
Jeanie: Because I have very special circumstances — by the time I went to UVIC to take my BFA, I’d already done almost two years working in professional theatre. And at the theatre I worked at, I learned everything I needed to know prior to getting my BFA. Because I already had that connection with that theatre company, I probably could’ve continued on and ended up where I am without that degree; I already had that support and that background and that network already.
Lily: And theatre also has a lot of apprenticeship opportunities.
Jeanie: Exactly. I think more and more society is saying we have to have a degree. We have to have that piece of paper. But some of my favorite theatre practitioners have never been to school. But have worked their way through the system, and have very good jobs at, say, the Shaw Festival.
So, I think going to school is a good idea, there are some things you learn in school that are very important. But I don’t know if it’s absolutely necessary to do what we do.
Lily: Now, how does one get a job in the theatre world? Is there a job board or something that simple?
Jeanie: There are lots of different job boards. But particularly in BC, there is a tendency to create your own work; to start your own company; to make your own show and take it to a fringe festival. We have a tendency to be very self-sufficient. But there are a lot of opportunities out there. And a lot of job boards. Like Canadian Actors Equity has a job board. All the major organizations — Canadian Institute for Theatre Technicians (CITT) has one. There’s a Canadian Theatre Hub. There’s tons of different job boards.
If a person is starting out, I always recommend they start as a volunteer in a professional theatre environment. And work your way up. Like our production assistant last year is our technician this year. She was a volunteer first and then we hired her as a front of house assistant, then discovered she had this technical ability and so we put her in as a production assistant and she was amazing at that! So now she’s a full time technician. She’s just 19! She came right out of high school. She basically ran the theatre program at her high school, produced their shows, had a good knowledge and a keen interest and a great work ethic.
Lily: So, as you were mentioning with the job boards there are a lot of unions within theatre. Are you a part of any of them?
Jeanie: I am a member of the Canadian Actors Equity (Equity) because I started a million years ago as a stage manager. They regulate actors, directors, fight directors, choreographers, and stage managers. And there are many other unions as well. ADC (Associate Designers of Canada), which is an association that set, lighting, sound and costume designers are a part of. Or can be part of, it’s not required. Those are the main theatre unions. There are other unions that we butt up against. Like ACTRA, which is the film actors union. We sometimes end up hiring those actors. There’s the Quebec Actors Association, and they’re not a part of Equity. So if we hire an actor from Quebec we have to hire them under a reciprocal agreement, that kind of thing.
Unless you’re a stage manager, you don’t have to be a member of Canadian Actors Equity. They’ve opened up the regulations and it’s made it a lot easier for people to work regardless of their membership status. Which is great for companies too.
Lily: These unions have regulations regarding pay. Does that still affect what you do, or have you moved beyond that?
Jeanie: Because I’m management that doesn’t affect what I do. But when I direct shows for my company — any artistic director is sort of exempt from the standard contract that you would have to sign. What I do, however, because the organization I work for doesn’t have benefits, when I do a directing gig I don’t get paid for it because it’s a part of my regular salary, but I do sign myself to a CTA (Canadian Theatre Agreement) contract so that I’m paying into my RRSP [Registered Retirement Savings Plan — similar to to the 401(k) in the U.S.]. So, for me that’s a benefit. I have an RRSP through Canadian Actors Equity since I became a member, which was like ’94 or ’95. So I pay into that every time I do a contract. I mean, it’s not a big RRSP, but there’s a bit of money there. So, anytime I do a contract for my company I want to continue paying into my RRSP.
Lily: Do you mind me asking how much is in your RRSP?
Jeanie: In my Equity RRSP, it’s not very big, I think it’s just around $3,000 now. I haven’t been doing a lot of contract work while I’ve been running a theatre company. So, I haven’t been paying into it a lot. Though I do have several other RRSPs as well. I have one through the Royal Bank which is about $3,600. And I have a GIC [Guaranteed Investment Certificate — a secure investment that guarantees 100% of the original amount you invest] which will get turned into a RRSP through ING which is about $2,600. So, I have all these little pockets of money floating around. I also have a high interest savings account through ING which is, what? Like 1.75%, you know, “high interest.”
Lily: Let’s talk about the rest of your finances. Do you have any debt?
Jeanie: Hmm, I own my own home — or the bank owns my home and I get to pay them a couple times a month for the privilege of living in my house. I also have a car loan. Which when I bought my car in 2011 it was a five-year contract. So, it will be finished in 2016 and then I will actually own my car. That’s my debt load.
Lily: What are your other regular expenses?
Jeanie: Oh you know, the usual stuff. Crack cocaine, alcohol… (laughs) No, you know, bills. Hydro, gas in my car, groceries. The usual stuff. I don’t think I have any weird unusual expenses. I have to put new tires on my car…
Lily: So, can you afford to live working in theatre?
Jeanie: I can! Part of the reason for that, specifically in my current situation, is that I am working, as I said, in a small regional theatre in a remote area, which pays me well. I suspect I am higher paid than many of my colleagues in the same position in other theatres. Because of the location. Because the society I work for really wants to make sure that they are able to bring good people here and make it worth their while to be here. It’s a hard place to live! So, absolutely I can afford to live. You know, it’s funny, I had breakfast with a couple of actors this morning. One of whom is on tour with Axis Theatre. And they’re doing fine! She is currently touring. He’s been doing film and TV work while doing other theatre. And they’re making it. I know lots of theatre people who do. I mean, we’re never going to get rich, any of us. But we are making a living and surviving.
Lily: Is there anything else you want people to know?
Jeanie: As a piece of advice? As often as you can, wherever you can, buy into investments. Like RRSPs and things like that. Like musicians who are members of AFM, whenever they do a contract, not only do they pay into their RRSP, but so does the company that hires them. Do that. Whenever you can. For those of us who will probably not get to retire for a very long time and may not even have a CPP [Canadian Pension Plan — a contributory, earnings-related social insurance program] when we do retire, that’s going to be it. I mean, I haven’t paid nearly enough into my RRSPs and I’m 42! In the next 20 years there’s no way in hell I’m going to be able to afford to retire. So, my advice is: Buy in whenever you can. Specifically when it’s a matching program. When you have an employer who has a matching program or if you work for an association who has a matching program. Do it.
Lily Nichol lives in Canada (but not in an igloo or anything). She likes cats and words and also writes for imagirl.ca