We need to start to speak up about the state of this industry and so we’re tackling awkward conversations head on. To kick off; Tipping
This will be an on-going discussion, with articles being posted as and when the conversation develops. Below is one person’s opinion. Disagree? Agree? Get in contact.
Advise for Actors by A. Dresser
Tipping dressers in theatre is a tradition stretching back a very long time. It carries on for a couple of other reasons though - working in wardrobe you can end up taking on a lot of other responsibilities that aren’t strictly speaking “your job” and it is still one of the worst paid departments in theatre (Front of House - we see you and we appreciate you)
We are often expected to refill water bottles, carry mints and throat sweets, run out between shows to buy tampons or chocolate bars, escort guests to the dressing room and then wait around for them to leave so we can actually collect the laundry, be the person to listen to your problems and support you through a show after a painful break up.
And if a dresser is comfortable doing that, win for you. But appreciate that those things are not their job. And compensate them.
Tipping is not compulsory but,
1. If you are a huge named movie star in a west end play doing a limited run, tip your dresser and tip them well. £30 a week is a minimum. Get them a card for opening night and get them a card for closing night.
2. If you are celebrity lead in panto and you have a personal dresser, tip them. Depending on the length of the run £10-30/week or all of it on the last day. If you don’t have a personal dresser tip wardrobe - a bottle of Prosecco or similar and a thank you card at the end is probably fine.
3. If you are a lead in a musical, tip your dresser. £10 a week is the minimum. Get them a card for press and a card when you or they leave.
4. If you are a supporting character in a play or musical, judge it by how much help you get. For example, if you’re in historical costume and need them in your dressing room the moment the show comes down so you can make your train home, give them £10 a week. And a card for opening and a card for closing.
5. If you are a minor part in a play (eg, young actors with one butler costume) don’t worry about weekly tips, come to pub and buy us a drink occasionally. Or get a bottle of something at the end of the run, and a card.
6. If you are in the ensemble of a musical in a very costume heavy show or a very sweaty show, tip your dresser. Doesn’t have to be much, get together as a group in your dressing room and discuss it. For example if there’s eight of you, one of you tips £10 each week, but each individual only tips every 8 weeks. If there’s three of you, £5 every three weeks. Think about it. Or for a short run, save it up and give them a big pile of cash at the end.
7. If you are in the ensemble of a less costume heavy/sweaty musical. Maybe a fiver a week is cool for a big dressing room. Maybe just get a drink at the pub occasionally. Have the discussion with the people you share a dressing room with. If your dresser leaves before the end of the run, buy them a card. If you leave in a cast change, buy them a card.
8. If you are in the ensemble of a poorly paid panto, don’t worry about weekly tipping or scrapping together cash at the end. Get a bottle of wine that was £13 before Christmas but has now been reduced to £8 and a card from everyone. And if you get them in Secret Santa, don’t buy them laundry or sewing related stuff. Get them something they want.
9. If you don’t ask for anything over and above, your dresser probably still goes out of their way to make things easier for you. Get them a drink in the pub. If you’re not going to the pub but you know they are, once in a while when they’re collecting the laundry have a fiver ready and tell them to have a drink on you. And get them a thank you card at the end.
Some dressers think that I have massively under sold the going rates and they would expect more. Some dressers look at the amounts I have listed as a luxury. So none of these should be considered rules.
It is just a reminder that your dressers are part of the company and are often not thought of as such. A lot of us have degrees in costume. We are important to the running of the show and we are not your maids. We are employed to look after the costumes and make sure you’re wearing them. We aren’t employed to clear up your sweet wrappers and empty water bottles.
Show us that we are appreciated. Seriously, buy a cheap multipack of cards now and keep track of them. You could be appreciating dressers for the next five years on a £3.50 trip to paperchase today!
NOTE: Not all of us are people who drink alcohol. I have used bottle of wine/prosecco/pints as shorthand. Don’t buy alcohol for people who don’t drink. Get to know your dresser well enough that you know if they’d rather one of those massive bars of Dairy Milk or a succulent or a knitting pattern.
"A" is a west end dresser who has worked in opera, plays, musicals and pantos over her twelve year career. Currently dressing on a west end musical.