WHAT INFORMATION YOU NEED TO FIND OUT BEFORE ACCEPTING A JOB AS A COSTUME SUPERVISOR
A colleague recently put me forward for a Costume Supervisor position for a company and theatre I had never worked for before, all I was told was there were 5 people in the cast and the fee was £2000. For anyone that has done this role before, you will know that this isn’t enough information to work out a proper day rate so I asked the producers some more questions and did some quick maths and we negotiated a day rate I was happy with - that was worth my time and appropriate to my skill level. I’ve negotiated contracts a lot, but this was the first time I asked questions, normally it’s an “actually I was hoping for XYZ a week”. This new way makes much more sense and it’s interesting how I’d not thought of doing it before, not only does it give more information on the job role, but it also shows a company that you are serious about the role and know what to expect.
So, here are five questions you need answers to before you accept a job as a supervisor, this is not an exhaustive list so do feel free to add your own!
1. How long is the tech/dress/preview?
This should be scheduled already. Some shows tech, dress and open in two days, others are two weeks. And you should be paid for the days you are there
2. How many in the cast? And roughly how many costumes per actor?
A cast of forty students with five costumes each or a professional two-hander with no changes?
3. Are the designs particularly complex?
Sometimes tricky for the producer to confirm before final designs are presented but usually if they are ‘challenging’ the producers know in advance. Are you going to need to create quick-change outfit whilst the performer falls from hoop? Is there going to be blood or food spills on stage? Are you going to need to hire someone with a particular set of skills as that will need to come out the budget.
4. Is it modern day or period costume?
It’s usually much quicker to source jeans and a tee than a jabot and doublet. Account for that extra time in your fee.
5. How much budget is there for the costumes? And is there a costume store?
Sometimes producers don’t know how much a costume costs, which is okay because that’s why they hired you! So if the numbers don’t add up tell them,
Once you have these questions answered you can work out how many days it will take you to complete the job. Multiply that number by your day rate and you have your fee. Also start the conversation about how long you expect your working days to be and negotiate an overtime rate in case things change last minute.
If you’re unsure how to word it, here is an example paragraph below that you are welcome to borrow/adjust. I like how simple this format is – it clearly shows you know what you’re doing, you’ve read the tech schedule and you’re simply asking to be paid for the days you need to complete the job.
Following our conversation, I have estimated needing __X__ days research/sourcing/returns, ___Y___ days fittings/alterations, plus the tech/dress/previews is __Z__ days, which totals ___XYZ__ days.
My day rate is £____ per day so I would be looking for around £TOTAL providing the designs can be sourced within the days I've allocated. Once I’ve seen the designs I can confirm this amount.
Personally, my day rate for costume supervision is in the range of £150- £180 per day for theatre. I have been in the industry for 11 years and have a BA degree.