produktionsbande bei der Systemcheck-Fachkonferenz 2022

produktionsbande bei der Systemcheck-Fachkonferenz 2022


Systemcheck is a research project of the Bundesverband Freie Darstellende Künste (Federal Association of the Performing Arts) and aims to improve social security for freelance protagonists in the performing arts. Within the framework of broad-based studies, they determine the status quo and can thus derive well-founded recommendations for further political actions. At the opening of this year's Systemcheck conference on 22.11.2022 in Berlin, kaja jakstat (zwei eulen) and luca sonnen (krass & krasser) were invited to present a greeting from produktionsbande in order to integrate the perspective of freelance producers and production managers in the performing arts into the discourses and contexts of the conference.

an artistic project from the point of view of the producers kaja jakstat & luca sonnen

Today we are invited to speak as part of produktionsbande. produktionsbande is a decentralized, nationwide network for production managers, producers, art workers, strategists and those who see themselves as protagonists and agents of artistic production in the independent performing arts. The network is open and there is the possibility to actively participate in the working groups or to get involved in the network by participating in the public formats or to stay informed about its activities. So: a warm invitation to all who feel addressed.

The perspective from which we speak here today is that of practitioners. Every day we are busy creating what we call the independent performing arts. But in this context we do not mean creating by testing text and movements on a rehearsal stage or performing in front of an audience in a theater space. We mean: organization, back office, strategic planning, raising money, managing and accounting for money, taxes, contracts, applications, amounts. After all, that's all part of being a freelancer in the performing arts.

Because next to a director or a choreographer, or even next to the artists, many others are involved in the creation of the social art form of theater. And all these participating people share the fate of the artists in terms of their precarious working conditions.

But slowly. Perhaps a short bird's-eye view of the life cycle of a project in the independent performing arts is needed as a common knowledge base. In this respect, festivals, conferences or theater productions are structurally similar. Let's start with a theater production for today: All beginning is in the self-commissioning of the protagonists in this field. Nobody will call our example artist on Monday morning to commission a production from her. She'll probably wake up Saturday night and have a good idea. Or - not to rain on the genius cult's parade - she knows about the next funding deadline, has put a time slot for concept development in her calendar on Thursday morning - after dropping the child off at daycare - and then has a good idea. So she has this good idea.

But she still has nothing else: no team, no supporting structure, no money to pay for the set, the performers or herself. So she writes a concept, contacts colleagues, inspires a venue manager (who unfortunately can't add anything to the project besides his enthusiasm, because his venue is also struggling with the increased heating costs), and finally writes a proposal - possibly with the support of a producer, e.g. one of us, Kaja or Luca. Before Corona, their chances of being awarded money by a jury were about 10:1. With Neustart Kultur, they were much better. We don't yet know how things will be after June 2023, in view of rising minimum fee recommendations, inflation and overlapping crises. Probably worse.

So far, it is estimated that our artist has worked between 10 and 25 hours. These hours will remain unpaid should she receive a funding rejection. If we have not agreed on a contingency fee, our work on the cost and financing plan and the application text will also remain unpaid.

But our artist is very good, or she is just lucky: she receives funding. Now we production managers get on board, because now there is a high probability that the project will take place, that we will get paid. Together we look for further funding opportunities, we plan rehearsals and shows. We take care of agreements and contracts, with cooperation partners, with the team. Playing email tennis until we get tired.

Like everyone else in the team, we as production managers work on a fee basis with contracts for work. The team is divided into two classes in terms of social security: The better-paid artists can insure themselves through the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK). Half of their social security contributions are thus paid by this very KSK. They also pay into the statutory pension fund in any case.

At the same time, a large number of them can also be exempted from value-added tax (VAT). This is a crucial advantage, because our client, the example artist, has long since been exempted from VAT - on the advice of her production manager. She receives her grant - i.e. the money from the funding party - as a gross amount, the VAT is always included in all figures. And that's how she passes on the fees to her contractors: as gross fees.

This means that all those involved in the artistic process, who can neither contribute to the KSK nor exempt themselves from VAT, de facto earn 30% less than the KSK-insured, VAT-exempt artist. This includes production managers, technicians, assistants, public relations workers, theater educators, documentarists, and so on.

It is almost fortunate that many of those to whom this applies do not have annual earnings above the small business entrepreneurs limit, which is €22,000 per year. Exactly: Their annual earnings are below that.

Let's not forget our example production, which not only - great luck - found a venue and funding and a wonderful team, but is now actually premiering. And 6 performances. Awesome! And then? After that, the production management settles the accounts: they demand invoices, pay before the deadline. They create long Excel spreadsheets that are sent to foundations, third-party donors, and the cultural administration of the federal, state, and local governments as proof of use. Hopefully no auditor looks too closely, because I can't guarantee whether I have really followed the Federal Travel Expenses Act in its entirety, even though I have taken so much trouble. In the end, we production managers are translators, hopefully aware of the most important rules and with the courage to take the (big) gap. Because we help to close the gap between the rules and laws of art and those of administration, public funds, taxes and the civil laws. We have studied neither administrative sciences, law nor tax law. 

Most of us studied something in the humanities. Even then, many of us were the ones who were a little better with numbers, Excel and multitasking. We producers and production managers gain years of experience in our positions, acquire knowledge from many different sources, learn tricks from very different areas of work, keep track of things. We are constantly explaining to outsiders what our day-to-day work looks like. In the process, we have to deal with quite a brain drain, because cultural institutions also like to have us under contract. And some of us - especially those who then have children - may also want to leave the insecurity of self-employment at a certain age, which knows no compassion for days taking care of the sick children. And no sick pay. And no pension insurance. And no ... oh, let's leave that at this point.

Our example production has reached the end of its life cycle: it has not received a guest performance funding or an invitation to a festival. After 1.5 years of preparation, 6 weeks of rehearsals, 1 week of performances, what remains is a poorly mixed recording that our example artist uploaded to Vimeo. 3 performers, 1 set designer, 1 video designer, 1 lighting designer, 1 public relations specialist, 1 assistant, the example artist and us, plus about 2 people in the venue worked on this production on a fee basis. If we convert the fee to the working time, we - who held the wallet for the production in our hands - have to assume that after deduction of costs incurred, sales and income tax as well as health insurance contributions, most people are paid at minimum wage level. Finally, the question arises: What about retirement provisions?