Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Let me take you back to 2013. I had just finished two years at college after studying Business, Psychology and Politics, and received rather rubbish results. I wasn't interested in university, in fact throughout my education I hadn't really been fussed by 'higher education standards,' for instance in Primary school I was encouraged to take the 11+ (one of only three students encouraged to by the school) but I refused because I didn't want to go to a grammar school, I wanted to go to a 'normal' school (much to my grandmother's outrage).
I moved from home to pursue a summer job in the midlands.
Sadly the job ended and I had to move back home. Now, where I live has very little to offer other than some strong tourism landmarks and an abundance of retirement homes. There wasn't a university or even a decent college. The college I had attended before has been 20 miles away. Alas, with a great amount of time on my hands due to funemployment I decided to sign up to the local college for a TV Production course. It was always my dream to move to London, and everyone in London works in TV, right?
I hated it. From the moment I set foot in that classroom I hated it, not only was I older than the other students by two years (what seems like a huge age gap back then), once we had learnt how the industry actually works, I just was not interested.
Around this time I had developed a love for theatre, I was travelling up to London once a month to see shows and visit friends I'd met online who also loved the arts. Thankfully, my tutor noticed what was going on and decided that instead of completing coursework, I was to submit a UCAS application to drama schools to learn theatre production. And I did. Well, I wrote the application. And then I chickened out. I had no experience in theatre. Up until very recently I has thought it was boring and for old people. I settled for what I knew, business.
I applied for an Arts Management degree (fancy wording for Business Management but for theatres and live events) and was accepted purely because I had dabbled in online radio while playing Habbo relentlessly as a child. Fast forward to 2017, I graduated with a First and was working full time in a West End theatre.
From there, everything snowballed. I worked front of house, selling programmes and ice cream to posh people, until I drunkenly approached the Master Carpenter at a leaving party and asked to give backstage 'a try' - two weeks later, someone called in sick and off I was, pushing set pieces and giving actors cues to go on stage. Although I started covering sick days, I quickly became a permanent member of the backstage crew, and in my free time learnt about lighting and stage management by doing little 'fringe' gigs. Soon enough I was working freelance about 40% of the time, taking shows to Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe, when I wasn't lighting some celebrity on a West End stage. After about two years, and meeting various people in the industry, I was headhunted to join a touring show's stage management team.
I'm going to give you a brief idea of touring theatre. These are large shows (like The Lion King or Mary Poppins) travelling around the country for a year, if not longer. The sets and technical elements are built often in under a day for a show to take place that evening, and taken down again overnight on the Saturday. It is hard graft, unsocial hours, long distance travelling and months away from family and friends, but the pay reflects that. We didn't have a choice but to stay in hotels and eat out at restaurants, something the shows would have to cover.
My basic wage while working on touring shows could be up to £700 per week, now add £100 average travel costs, and additional pay for hours worked or extra bits you had to make that week. My take home was often £850 per week.
I stopped being a Freelance Technical Stage Manager in October 2019. I moved from London back to the South West and got a job in a local theatre. I took a £24k pay cut. Because I was no longer freelance, or working on large commercial productions, I was working the normal theatre hours (up to 58 a week, averaging somewhere about 45) but on half the money. I was unhappy while travelling, after two years the novelty worse off and I hated moving around so much.
Three months into my new full time job, I'd had enough. I'd realised it wasn't the hours, or the travelling I hated, it was the job. I had fallen into it, I was good at it, but it was never what I set out to do.
Now, I still don't know what I want to do. But I quit theatre in March 2020 and I've never been happier. While freelance I earned £44k in one year. Now my salary is £18k, I work 33 hours a week, have settled down.. and I even got a boyfriend. My work is 100% more rewarding and I'm excited for the future.
Find out how my career change has affected my finances here!