Being paid to tell stories, 2009-2010

Posted: April 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

I have a day job. It’s an in-the-office, 9-5, pay-the-rent, J-O-B job. (Thanks to Dovie Thomasin for drawing that distinction!) And, like so many people right now, my position has been classified as “at risk” and I may be facing unemployment in the next few months.

It’s not a particularly surprising situation, I don’t think anyone’s job is secure in the current economic climate. What has surprised me is the number of people who have said that this may be my chance to “go pro” and try and make my living working as a full time storyteller. I even had another teller, one who does use storytelling as their principle income, explain to me that I was working in some very prestigious, very highly paid circles, and that I should surely be able to make a modest living doing the work I do.

A full time storyteller, living by my wits and skill! It’s a glorious dream. And maybe, in future decades, it’s something that I might be able to pull off, but it’s not really an option right now. What I thought I’d do here is unpack the misconception about the world of performance storytelling, which accounts for the majority of work that I do.

Coincidentally, we’ve just passed the end of the tax year. I’ve finished up my books for the year 2010/2011, and I’m quite happy to share that information here.

I received a little over £2,000, in total, over the course of the year, from telling stories. I work hard and I take just about every offer that comes my way. However, I also paid out a lot in travel, I did a lot of work for free, and have a whole heap of other expenses as well. So overall, I probably made closer to £900 in profit. I’ll be declaring even less than that to the tax man, because of the deductions for using my home as an office.

I was walking back through London a few weeks ago with Suresh Ariaratnam. I’d just been telling some stories at Rich Mix as part of a night of Mad March Hare stories with Jan Blake and Hugh Lupton. And as we were chatting away I described storytelling as “my hobby.”

Suresh seemed a little taken aback by that statement and challenged me on it. I didn’t mean to say that I don’t take Storytelling very seriously. It is my passion. I put my all into my performances, and I work in service of the artform. I dedicate many, many hours of my free time to composing, to developing my skills. Being on stage with Hugh and Jan? That’s an honour, the culmination of a childhood dream, and I appreciate how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing.

But it’s not my livelihood, and it’s not my profession.

That’s no bad thing! Hey, my hobby pays for itself. It pays enough for me to travel the country, for me to keep a simple website, to buy a book here and there, to see other people’s shows. That’s fantastic, and it’s a constant incentive to grow, to put the work in.

Maybe it’ll be more that a hobby one day. But right now? I am more than content to enjoy what I’m doing without any illusions.


One Comment on “Being paid to tell stories, 2009-2010”

  1. 1 admin said at 10:09 pm on April 13th, 2011:

    A few other thoughts! There’s another cost here that’s invisible. All the gigs I do across the country represent time off from my day job. I take about four, maybe five days holiday a year as my own time for me to do my thing, mostly spending them visiting family. The other days I have off are spent storytelling, which is to say composing, researching, writing workshops, filling in my tax returns, travelling, performing and all the rest of the glorious business that is being a storyteller. I have the usual finite number of days paid leave from the day job, and my employer is sympathetic enough to let me take additional leave unpaid if I need it in order to gig.

    It’s this “time off unpaid” that represents a hidden cost, all the money I would have been earning if I had just gone into work as normal.

    But let’s ignore that for a moment. If we compare this year to last year, 2010/11 to 2009/10 we’ll see that my income from storytelling has dropped considerably. It’s about halved. I’m doing more work, but I’m getting a lot less money for it overall. Part of this is that the industry, especially the performance/platform and club telling that I do, simply isn’t paying as well at the moment due to the rough patch the arts is in. Part of it is because I had some incredibly high profile work at Festival at the Edge in 2009, and I suspect that led to a lot of further, more highly paid gigs. Less exposure means less opportunity. If storytelling was my bread and butter, I’d have to be massively, massively concerned by such a drop in my income.

    And because this is a hobby, I don’t work very hard to create new business. If I wanted to do this full time I’d need to properly advertise. I’d need to put in a lot of work networking. I’d also probably have to learn to drive and get a car, because there are plenty of schools, prisons etc that are simply not economically viable via public transport. My whole attitude would have to change. And if I was lucky, and put the time in, maybe I’d see bookings coming in within a year of trying to drum them up.

    But there’s no rush. Not right now. It’s just a hobby.

    Tim Ralphs


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