UK Script-Readers Often Work for Below Minimum Wage

by dramaturgs' network Board & Early-Career Dramaturgs Working Group

Survey Prompts dramaturgs’ network Call for Recommended Fees

Freelance script-readers often work for well below minimum wage when assessing plays for UK theatres, a survey by the dramaturgs’ network (d’n) has found.

The d’n Script-Readers Survey found that, on average, readers take two-and-a-half hours to read, and write a report on, a full-length play.

This meant effective rates of pay in 2022–23 as low as £5 an hour when reading for The Bush Theatre (£12.50 per script report); £6.67 an hour for the Park Theatre (£16.66 per report); £7.20–£8 an hour for the National Theatre (£18–£20 per report) and £8 for Sheffield Theatres (£20 per report).

These figures are all well below the 2022–23 London living wage (£11.95/hour for over-18s) and national minimum wage (£9.50/hour for those aged 23 and over). For the third of readers who usually spend three to four hours evaluating each script, effective hourly rates sometimes drop below £5.

The survey revealed huge variation in the rates offered in 2022–23. The best-paying theatre cited, the Royal Shakespeare Company (£50 per script report), paid four times as much as The Bush (£12.50) and twice as much as Sonia Friedman Productions (£25). The second- placed theatre in the survey, London’s Royal Court, paid almost twice as much as the National Theatre. 

The d’n survey was completed by 35 freelance readers, who, between them, submitted more than 1,300 script reports for UK theatres and playwriting competitions in 2022–23. Readers are asked to write reports of varying length, typically 1–2 pages.

On average, each respondent has been script-reading for at least six years. Two thirds of respondents said their fees had not increased since they started script-reading.

The survey found that 94% of readers always accept the standard fee offered (only 6% have ever negotiated their fees), and that 80% of readers want higher pay.

Low rates of pay help explain why script-reading contributes a very small percentage of the income of most freelance readers, who may be drama critics, playwrights, directors, dramaturgs and would-be dramaturgs. Three quarters of respondents said script-reading contributes no more than 20% of their income from performing arts-related employment.

Most readers operate in something of a professional vacuum: the survey found that 71% of readers have never received feedback on their script reports from literary managers or competition coordinators; only 10% have been given access to some form of continuing professional development. Three quarters of readers want better career development opportunities.

One survey respondent reported “crappy pay wherever you go” as a reader. Another noted: “Often I am working well under minimum wage on an hourly basis.” A third observed: “[Script-reading] is one of the most valuable experiences I have had in regards to my dramaturgical practice. It’s a shame it is criminally undervalued.”

Responding to the survey findings, a d’n spokesperson said:

“UK theatres and playwriting competitions employ hundreds of freelance readers every year. The Bruntwood, Papatango and Women’s playwriting prizes alone used more than 200 readers between them in their most recent cycles."

“Readers are crucial to UK theatre, providing written feedback which is essential for the playwrights’ development. Readers are diligent and highly skilled, but they are largely invisible within the industry – and significantly undervalued."

“We conducted this survey to bring greater transparency to readers’ pay, terms and conditions, and to highlight their vital work in developing and championing new writing."

“Script-reading enables dramaturgs, especially those in the earliest phase of their careers, to connect for the first time with literary departments, and to sharpen their dramaturgical skills. Some of today’s script-readers will become the production dramaturgs, literary managers and new work associates of tomorrow."

“The Stage recently noted that, across the UK, ‘fees for cast and crew have… (quite rightly) increased’, and the d’n believes theatres should pay more for the expertise of the readers who help determine which plays will eventually secure a cast and crew."

“We acknowledge the unprecedented financial pressures faced by theatres, especially those in the subsidised sector. But our survey demonstrates that current rates of pay force some readers to give up; worse, low fees are likely to deter new readers – especially those from low-income backgrounds – from starting, which can only hinder industry-wide efforts to diversify the theatre workforce."

“Script-readers may lack the collective bargaining power of Equity and BECTU members, but not their expertise. They deserve better pay and conditions.”

Recommended Fees for Readers

Based on our survey’s findings on effective hourly rates, the d’n is calling on all UK theatre organisations to commit to the following recommended fees when a reader must read a script in full:

  • Organisations based in London: £30 or more per report
    (at least 2.3 hours’ work at 2023–24 London living wage of £13.15 for over-18s)
  • Organisations based outside London: £25 or more per report
    (around 2.5 hours’ work at 2023–24 national living wage of £10.42 for over-23s)

Readers’ fees should be reviewed annually. The d’n recommends they increase by at least the same percentage as annual rises in the two living wages.

The d’n invites all those who set readers’ fees to consider these £30/£25 recommendations alongside hourly rates for skilled freelance workers in other disciplines. For instance:

  • actors, directors and choreographers participating in workshops at the National Theatre Studio are paid £15.75 per hour (£126 for an eight-hour day that includes breaks).
  • a casual lighting technician at the National earns £15.71 to £18.80 per hour.
  • an ASM on Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre earns £18.64 per hour.


Readers’ Fees (per script report) in 2022– 23

  • Royal Shakespeare Company (general submissions) £50
  • Royal Court £35
    • batch fee of £140 for four full reports; alternative is £120 for a batch of 10 “sift reads” (no obligation to read entire script).
  • Chichester Festival Theatre £30
  • Royal Shakespeare Company (37 Plays project: final stage) £30
    • £30 for final stage of 37 Plays project; batch fee for preliminary stage of 37 Plays was £285 for 31 plays (readers allowed to stop after 20 pages if they thought play had little chance of progressing); £50 general submissions fee is higher than 37 Plays because more detailed report required, inc. full summary and comprehensive comments.
  • George Devine Award £25
    • additional £15 per hour to attend discussion meeting
  • Royal Exchange, Manchester £25
    • fee is for extensive report on unsolicited script window submissions
  • Sonia Friedman Productions £25
    • fee increased to £30 from April 2023; £40 for ‘fast track’ turnaround; supplement paid for scripts not in English.
  • Traverse, Edinburgh £25
    • £25 to read first 20 pages of six plays, no report required; £25 per report on complete play. Rate under review; would increase in line with rise in real living wage.
  • Donmar Warehouse £24
  • Soho Theatre £24
  • Verity Bargate Award £22
    • £660 fee for whole cycle: £110 to read first five pages of 60 plays (preliminary round); £110 for five full reads (later rounds)
  • Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting (phases four and five) £20 to £ 25
    • £15 fee for completing one hour’s training; Phase One: £7 per script; read first 30 pages, one-line report; Phase Two: £10 per script, read full script, one-paragraph report; Phase Three: £12 per script, read full script, two-paragraph report; Phase Four: £600 for 30 scripts, read full script, no written reports, but readers attend shortlisting meeting (travel expenses paid where necessary); Phase Five: £25 per script, extensive reports written.
  • Sheffield Theatres £20
    • £120 for six script reports; readers paid additional £80 for attending five-hour feedback meeting.
  • Women’s Prize for Playwriting (rounds three and four) £19
    • Rounds 3 and 4: median fee of £19.12 to £19.42 for full-read of script and submission of 1-2 paragraph response, based on readers invoicing at £11.95 per hour (London Living Wage), the rate paid in all four rounds.
  • National Theatre £18/£20
    • £18 fee from April–Oct. 2022; £20 from Nov. 2022; £22 since Dec. 2023.
  • Papatango New Writing Prize £17
    • Readers paid £750 batch fee for max. 44 reports.
  • Park Theatre £16.66
    • £500 batch fee for 30 scripts. Rate will be reviewed early in 2024.
  • Bush Theatre £12.50
    • £125 for batch of 10 scripts, read in full; separate £110 day rate during open submissions ‘sift weeks’ (readers do not read whole play).
  • ETPEP Award £4.30 to £ 5.70
    • Experienced Theatre Practitioners Early Playwriting Trust Award: £30 to £40 fee for seven scripts; award has now ceased operating.
  • The Space Unpaid
  • Theatre 503 (unsolicited scripts) Unpaid
    • Readers for unsolicited submissions are unpaid, receiving one free ticket to all full-run shows at 503, and, if possible, short-run (under three weeks) shows, year-round; they also receive bespoke career development support and training opportunities.

Other Rates

  • Lyric, Belfast
    • £1, 000 batch fee for 22 script reports and attendance at two training workshops (online)
  • Stephen Joseph Theatre
    • £11 per hour
  • Theatre 503 International Playwriting Award
    • £500 batch fee for approx. 150 scripts. Readers not required to read plays in full in first round, but in second round might read 20- 25 scripts in full.

Source: dramaturgs’ network Script-Readers Survey Fees have been verified by the respective organisations.

Additional Survey Data

  • Between them, the 35 survey respondents have 222 years of script-reading experience.

  • 74% of readers said script-reading contributed no more than a fifth of their income from performing arts-related employment; 23% said reading contributed between a fifth and half of their income from performing arts-related employment.

  • 37% of readers have never received training on how to write reports; 63% had received training.

  • 57% of readers have received related perks (most commonly free / discounted tickets).

  • On average, readers take two- and- a- half hours to read, and write a report on, a full- length play (26% take 1–2 hours; 37% take 2–3 hours; 31% take 3–4 hours; 6% take more than 4 hours).

  • On average, theatres and competitions give readers between three and four weeks to submit their reports.

  • On average, theatres and competitions take two-and-a-half weeks to pay readers following submission of an invoice.

Survey Respondents’ Views

“My experience of script-reading at [London venue] has been positive. The team are all lovely and generally respond quickly to questions. They’ve just added a content warning section [on the report forms] that writers fill in, which I think is a welcome addition.”

“I gave up very quickly because the work involved and the disconnect between the work and the programming were too frustrating, especially on such meagre pay.”

“I really enjoy [script-reading] and it needs to be advertised more to people who aren’t clued up. I am usually the only South Asian reader or one of only a few Global Majority readers on any panel.”

“When I ran a building I was deeply ashamed of what readers got [paid], but there were just too many scripts. No-one reads things properly in the industry because they don’t have time. I think I lasted as a reader through four scripts at [an off-West End theatre]: it was impossible to do good work for the money, so it felt too compromised.”

“I have built up a lot of experience and have read a lot of scripts over a lot of years, but the opportunities to do it for more theatres seem to be very closed-door. Like so many aspects of our industry, lack of transparency of opportunity is a real problem.”

“Always been treated well and have learned tonnes as a playwright reading script submissions and common pitfalls, or what makes a script stand out. Crappy pay though wherever you go.”

“I feel batch paying or paying by script isn’t entirely fair when some plays can be 40 pages long while others are 140. Often for my batches I am working well under minimum wage on an hourly basis because of how long things take me.”

“I would like reading to be a route to other work. I am rarely if ever offered opportunities to extend my practice. How does reading lead you towards working with writers or actors? I think reading work should lead to being invited in to workshops, being paid to offer notes, to talking with directors about their visions for plays that you’ve read. At the moment it feels very much like reading happens in isolation. I pass my opinion and my relationship with that play ends.”

“Working as a script-reader is one of the most valuable experiences I have had in regards to my own dramaturgical practice. It’s a shame it is criminally undervalued.”

“I love this job, but there aren't many opportunities that are advertised. It is also frustrating that I am unable to do this full-time and have to rely on other sources of income – although it does make my life more interesting.”

“It’s overall an undervalued and underpaid role with little room for real career progression.”

“I love script-reading but the rates of pay I’ve encountered do not match the time taken to read the script and produce the report. I’ve had positive informal feedback about my reports and I want to continue to develop my skills as a reader and report-writer, but at this point in time it’s not financially viable to me to do so.”

The Survey

  • The 2023 Script-Readers Survey was developed by the d’n Early-Career Dramaturgs Working Group, in consultation with the d’n Board.
  • 35 respondents completed the survey via a Google Forms questionnaire between 19 September and 23 October 2023.
  • The survey was promoted to all 100-plus d’n members (some of whom work as script- readers). Members were asked to forward the survey to script-readers they know.
  • Representatives of 45 producing venues, production companies and playwriting competitions received the survey questionnaire via email, and were invited to circulate it to all freelance readers they work with.

Notes for Editors

Established in 2001, the dramaturgs’ network is the only organisation in the UK dedicated solely to supporting practitioners, developing and sharing the practice and theory of dramaturgy.

It is volunteer-led, with more than 100 members. It works to explore and expand the theory and practice of dramaturgy in the UK, and advocate for dramaturgs in the wider sector.

Its members are seasoned professionals and people at the very start of their dramaturgy career. They work in theatre, dance, cabaret, live arts and many more forms. They’re freelance dramaturgs, literary managers, academics, theatre-makers, directors, writers. See:


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