Pride, passion & pitfalls: working in the Australian entertainment industry

20 Feb 2015

Explores the experiences and impacts of working in the Australian entertainment industry.

Executive summary
Entertainment Assist is an Australian charity whose undertaking is to help people overcome the pitfalls of the Australian Entertainment Industry. Its mission is to champion generational change which would see the Australian entertainment industry actively engaged in mental health support and suicide prevention.

Whilst the media alert us to the death of high profile artists, musicians, actors and other performers, there are other groups of entertainment industry workers who are reporting serious psychosocial distress. Evidence from the recently formed Australian Road Crew Collective paints a disturbing picture. The Australian Road Crew Collective are people who had worked as roadies between 1968 and 1982. At their inaugural gathering in St Kilda in November 2012, they stated at least 70 roadies have died, many from suicide due to feelings of abandonment.

Disturbingly, it is not only the roadies who are reporting on physical ailments, psychosocial distress and high rates of suicide. Similar disturbing reports are emerging from others who have been working behind the bright lights of the stage. For example, industry online blogs have been reporting on suicide and premature deaths of concert touring lighting workers, as well as production designers.

These events led to a growing concern for the mental, physical and social health of entertainment industry workers, and have driven the work of Entertainment Assist and their demand for deeper investigation. However, there is little empirical research undertaken on those who work in the Australian entertainment industry. This lack of research severely hinders our understanding on the causes of the distress experienced by these groups. Even the international literature focuses almost entirely on performers, artists and composers, and ignores those behind the bright light – that is the Performing Arts Support Workers and the Broadcasting, Film and Recorded Media Equipment Operators. Within these constraints, we need to make an attempt to weave a pathway towards understanding the causes of distress of those working in the creative and entertainment realm. In consultation with a research team from Victoria University, the following research questions were formed.

  • 1. What is the culture and work environment of the Australian entertainment industry?
  • 2. What coping mechanisms are employed by entertainment industry workers to negotiate their work environment?
  • 3. What are the joys and pleasures, and the challenges of working in the Entertainment Industry?
  • 4. Are differences apparent between diverse sectors of the entertainment industry?, e.g., performing artists and music composers; performing arts support workers, and broadcasting, film and recorded media equipment operators.

Entertainment Assist launched the research project on August, 2014 by inviting key people from the entertainment industry and the media to a VIP Gold Class advanced screening of ‘Begin Again’, an entertainment industry themed musical comedy-drama. Recruitment was assisted by advertising on Entertainment Assist web page, and in media magazines. Entertainment Assist also emailed over 2,500 invitations to participate from their membership database. Finally, both Entertainment Assist Board and the Victoria University research team used their networks to advertise and recruit participation in the research project.

Unstructured open-ended interviews were conducted with all participants. Participants provided a personal narrative of their involvement in entertainment history. The major concepts guiding the interview included:-

  • 1. Details of when they first became involved in the entertainment industry until their current status.
  • 2. The highs and the lows they had experienced in their career.
  • 3. Career trajectory – the beginning of their career, changes in direction of career over time, why this occurred, and what resources they needed to manage the change in direction.
  • 4. Work stressors they experienced in the entertainment industry.
  • 5. Handling Stress, based on Lazarus and Folkman (1984) work related to emotional focused coping, and problem focused coping, and seeking social support.
  • 6. Skills and resources needed to successfully maintain work in the industry.

Thirty-six people completed the interviews. Of these, 44% were performing artists and music composers, 33% were performing arts support workers, and 22.2% were broadcasting, film & recorded media equipment operators. The median age of the participants was 47 years, and 61.1% of the participants were male, and 38.9% were women.

The participants in this research largely resided in Victoria (52.8%), New South Wales (22.2%) and Queensland (11.1%). Overall, the participants are well educated, with all but two participants having completed Year 12. However, their annual income was $29,799.00 below the average yearly income from the general population.

Analyses of the interview data provided support for the concepts that were used to underpin the questions. However, while these findings provide important understandings for a starting point, the deeper analyses provided a much richer picture developed from a series of emergent themes. By reviewing these, the experiences of the entertainment industry employees and the connections between the ideas, is able to be brought to the fore. Table1, below, demonstrates the major themes that emerged from the analyses of the interview data. These include a passion and commitment for their creative endeavours, an overwhelming negative work culture, drugs and alcohol use, mental health problems and suicide and suicide ideation.

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