In a stark contrast to the glamour and glitz of premieres and awards ceremonies, the survey also found that, on average, Equity members spend only 12.5 weeks a year in their chosen field of work. Many actors and singers have to find work in other areas, such as entertaining on cruise ships or at trade shows. Some 14 per cent of members said their main earnings came from walk-on parts in theatre.
On the question of pay, it emerged that a quarter of members surveyed earned nothing at all from acting. A further 42 per cent earned less than pounds 5,000 and only 8 per cent earned more than pounds 20,000 a year. The stars earning over pounds 100,000 accounted for just 2 per cent of members surveyed.
Despite generally low earnings, only 18 per cent of members made a claim for the jobseeker's allowance, which suggests, says Equity, that they take "sizeable amounts of non-professional work".
The busiest category are stage managers, though even they work only 17 weeks a year on average. Singers average 16 weeks, variety artists 15 weeks, dancers 14 weeks, and actors 11 weeks. Only 8 per cent of the union's members worked for 41 weeks or more.
Television is the biggest employer, with 37 per cent ranking it as their main work; 21 per cent work in regional theatre, 16 per cent in variety and 12 per cent in West End theatre.
An Equity spokesman said: "What is striking is the large number of types of work taken by members, including stand-up comedy, ice-skating, puppeteering, cruise ship shows and trade shows."
One thousand Equity members, chosen at random, took part in the survey. Over 90 per cent of them said the biggest problem was pay. For those in work, the minimum rate of pay in regional commercial theatre is pounds 233 a week, in subsidised repertory theatre pounds 266 and in the West End pounds 350.
But despite the prevalence of low pay and lack of work, respondents to the survey were keen to stress that, as well as rates of pay, they were also concerned about government investment in the arts.