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.