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SDC Releases Sobering Study of Directors’, Choreographers’ Livelihoods

The two-year, three-phase report shows disquieting trends for directors and choreographers, particularly women and people of color.

NEW YORK CITY: Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) has released a new study about the state of the theatre field from fall 2019 through 2020 for artists of color, women, and mid-career directors and choreographers. The two-year report, “On the Edge: The Lives and Livelihoods of Stage Directors and Choreographers…A Next Stage Report,” was culled from surveys completed by SDC members.

“Next Stage considers why an investigation and articulation into the lives of directors and choreographers has meaning right now—not simply for the world of these artists individually and collectively, but for our theatres, and our communities in New York and across the country,” said SDC executive director Laura Penn in a statement. “Even before March 2020, few directors and choreographers were able to rely solely on their earnings in the field to put a roof over their head or food on their table. Wages and opportunities were not fairly available, especially for artists of color and women. Because the top-line revenues of some artists were at record levels, not enough attention may have been paid to the glowing red warning signs.”

The full report reveals a sobering picture of retooled artistic aspirations and urgent financial insecurities for women, people of color, and mid-career artists with 15-30 years of experience. Among its key findings:

  • More than 70 percent of mid-career directors and choreographers make less than $70,000 per year, which includes income from all sources, not just SDC contracts. The average mid-career member only earns $17,000 from directing contracts—yet health care and debt costs alone are often more than $17,000 per year for the average mid-career member.
  • 70 percent of directors and choreographers report an overall income decline due to COVID-19, with 72 percent of respondents expecting to maintain their health insurance coverage in the months to come.
  • Following the COVID-19 shutdown, SDC developed a Remote Work Contract under which compensation is negotiable and benefits are paid as a flat daily rate. Under this contract, artists of color, though filing contracts at a higher rate, have earned an average of $77.57/day, while white artists have earned an average of $102.13/day.
    • Women reported a decrease in income during the pandemic at a higher rate than their male counterparts. They were more likely than men to report that they were not sure about returning to work in the theatre.

The full report is here.

The “Next Stage” project was made possible by grant funds from the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME, commissioner Anne del Castillo and director of theatre programs and partnerships Carla Hoke-Miller) and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA, executive director Mara Manus and former director of literature & theatre programs Kathleen Masterson).

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