It’s summer. So naturally it’s time to start thinking about panto.

After a quick survey of approx. 20 friends and colleagues [working in Wardrobe and Stage Management plus a few LX/Sound] 95% agreed that the conditions and wages of the pantos they had worked were not good enough for either the hours they worked and/or the amount they were responsible for. The other 5% declined to comment.

We believe that pantomime contracts for Wardrobe are grossly underpaid. The weekly wage is not increased from the industry norm – even though you are working a 12 show week compared to the normal 8. There are no bonuses or time and a half for working Sundays or bank holidays. And no extra compensation for working around the Christmas holidays often away from home. Many companies also include holiday pay within their wage offer, avoid paying appearance fees and some don’t even offer a weekly digs allowance.

A typical working day for the wardrobe department on a panto looks like this;

11am – 1pm: Laundry, Maintenance [inc. Lunch]

1pm – 1.25pm: Pre-set

1.25pm – Half

2pm – 4.30pm: Show One

4.30pm – 5pm: Out of costume and Laundry

5pm – 6pm: Laundry plus any maintenance [inc. Dinner]

6pm – 6.25pm: Pre-set

6.25pm – Half

7pm – 9.30pm: Show Two

9.30pm – 10.30pm: Out of costume and Laundry

It’s hard work and long hours. And we should be paid properly for it.

We are aware that panto contracts make up a large percentage of a freelancers yearly wage. It’s a guaranteed amount of money coming in, and once you’ve done a couple you know what to expect. But this is where companies can take the piss. They know we want the job. They know for many people starting out in this industry it will be the first ‘properly’ paid gig, perhaps the first time actually receiving a contract. And so it can be scary to query it.

But do.

Trust us that people filling positions for pantos want it done as easily as possible. They’re probably stretched to breaking point with all the different venues so they certainly don’t want to have to put out a job advert on Mandy and receive 1000 replies that they’ll then have to sift through. And more importantly; YOU ARE WORTH IT.

Whilst we can’t publish exact numbers on what you should expect to be paid – we can suggest the following guidelines. So when you receive an offer of work:

  1. 1. Never accept the first offer.
  2. 2. If it is unclear, ask for clarification as to whether you are being treated as a freelancer or as an employee. If the company is squirreling away the employee benefits within their weekly wage offer then it might be better to be treated as a freelancer so you can claim back expenses etc.
  3. 3. If the contract isn’t a union agreement ask why
  4. 4. Where you are away from home, don’t accept a job without a digs allowance
  5. 5. For contracts where you are being treated as an employee check you are being paid holiday pay. If you are a freelancer BECTU suggest you add 12% to your contract to cover holiday pay.
  6. 6. Work out your hourly rate. If it falls below what you’re worth then ask for more money.
  7. 7. Also – side note. Join your Union. They can help with all this contracty stuff. We’ll do a whole separate article to discuss the benefits of these beauties.

We will be releasing some templates soon for those tricky-not-sure-how-to-word-this-without-sounding-rude emails. So watch this space!

And remember; you are worth more than minimum wage.

Rachel Dingle

Rachel began her career as a set and costume designer and then began to work more in wardrobe. She has worked as a dresser, wardrobe assistant, wardrobe manager, costume supervisor and occasionally as a costume maker – in various theatres around the country, including on the fringe, West End and UK tours. She recently started writing and producing in her home town of Southend. 

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