How to become a freelancer in theatre

What is freelancing?

To work as a freelancer or on a freelance basis means working on a contract basis for a variety of companies rather than being an employee of a single company. Freelancers are often self-employed.

There are many roles in theatre which you may do as a freelancer rather than on a permanent contract. There are lots of benefits that come with being a freelancer including the flexibility to take on the work that inspires you. Before you set yourself up to work as a freelancer these are the four key things you need to know.

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Think of yourself as a business; the product that you are selling is yourself and your craft. Recognise what your strengths are so you know how to upsell yourself, and also understand where your weaknesses lie so you can work on these.

Having the confidence to approach people and discuss opportunities is important as a freelancer. Have a business card with your contact details and a short description of what you do is a good starting point and gives you a reason to approach somebody.

Networking can be daunting, but remember that people are just people and sometimes just having a short conversation and introducing yourself can make a huge difference. If you watch a piece of theatre that you enjoyed and have the opportunity to see the Director, Producer or Artistic Director afterwards then it’s okay to approach them and compliment them on the show. For example, if you are aspiring to be a Lighting Designer, have in mind a section of the lighting that impressed you and why.

Make sure you are professional and don’t gush too much or overstay your welcome when you start up a conversation. Go over with the intention of just saying a quick comment, if they instigate they'd like to continue the conversation then that’s great, but also don’t be offended if they don’t. Your quick conversation can still have a big impact and lasting impression.

Promote yourself on social media. Use Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok, LinkedIn and Instagram to follow industry professionals and comment on performances you have seen or workshops you have been to etc. If you have met an industry professional and then follow up later with a quick tweet, this can remind them of who you are and what you do.

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In between work as a freelancer is where self-motivation is required. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people and others in the same industry as you can really help. Continue learning and growing with your craft, go to classes or workshops.

When you aren’t working, give yourself a reason to get up out of bed. If you are spending this time adding to your portfolio, practising a song, or sending applications then the idea of doing this from your bed is tempting, however can become a habit which is hard to shift. Set your alarm, get showered and dressed as though you are going to work as this will help shift your mindset into ‘work mode’ and you may feel more productive.

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You will need to register yourself up as self-employed with HMRC in order to pay your taxes. You can do this hereThis is compulsory for any freelancer or business. Each year you will submit your earnings to HMRC and they will work out how much tax you owe, or if you need a tax rebate. If you are a PAYE employee then tax will automatically be deducted from your payslip, however when you invoice a company for your time the tax will not be taken into consideration so you need to declare this to pay the right tax. A new website and app has been set up called Sans Drama, this has been created by a Performer and an Accountant to help those working in theatre understand how to file your taxes. Find out more about Sans Drama here.  


You can claim for expenses that you have purchased to do with your trade. For example, keep receipts of classes, workshops or any travel you have needed to take in order to complete your job as a freelancer. When you are inputting your taxes into HMRC you can also add in these receipts and claim against your taxes. Some people employ an Accountant to help them input their taxes and expenses into HMRC.

It's ok to have a second job to support yourself, alongside your theatre work. View our 'Misconception Series: If you were good enough you wouldn’t need a day job' blog.


Photo: Arts Educational Schools London

Updated: 12th June 2024

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