Monday, May 5, 2014

Deserve's Got Nothing To Do With It

I think this has been bubbling up lately. Every so often it comes back around.  Money and Theatre.  What got me thinking about it was a post from Devra, and another post from... someone, and then the meeting about the (possible) new Carborro ArtsCenter.

There are a few standard variations on this one. Artists deserve a living wage. We shouldn't do work for no pay, you don't expect a banker to work for free. Bakeries don't give away bread, we shouldn't give away theatre.  Etc...

The basic thrust of it tends to be that people feel they ought to be compensated for producing/performing/ creating art. Because it's hard, it takes skill and training, because it's important to a community.  Let me assure you it is all those things and more. It's heart and faith and being willing to expose yourself (sometimes your physical body, but more importantly your psychic self, who you are in an honest way) which takes incredible commitment. It takes hours upon hours of rehearsal and line study, not to mention set building, lighting, etc... It takes a lot of work to make it look like it's easy.  But just because something is hard doesn't mean you get paid to do it.

Let me preface this by saying in a societal "ought" yeah, it would be great if artists (theatrical performers the only group I can speak of, being one) were paid a living wage.  I would love nothing better than having a full time job creating theatre.  Creating good theatre takes a whole team of talented, dedicated people. People with really amazing skills and training.  And I would love, LOVE for each and every one to get paid what they are worth.

But that doesn't happen, and it WON'T happen, and people just need to get over that and decide if they are willing to create and share art anyway. Even if they know that the hours they spend will get them much less money than working at McDonalds. And it's not because it's not deserved, it's just the simple economics of theatre.  Our last show was at Common Ground, which holds (in the seating arrangement we had) 56 people.  Even if I sold out all 11 shows at the maximum full price ($16 per seat) that would be a total of less than $10,000 ($9,856 to be exact).  That's with NO critic comps, NO cast member comps, NO student/senior discounts and NO kickstarter discounts.  There are venue costs, set costs, costuming costs, then we have a graphic artist, and promotional help (kickstarter video), ASM, and THEN we have cast, director, SM and designers.  We had probably 150 hours of work between rehearsal and performance (not counting work outside of formal rehearsals and work calls).  Federal minimum wage as of our production was $7.25 per hour with no benefits. That would work out to $1,087 for each actor, the director and SM. Even if we max out revenue (which won't EVER happen) there is NO way we can pay even minimum wage, no benefits and still cover costs.  Now of course bigger venues are bigger, higher ticket prices, etc... but those spaces come with higher costs too.  Theatre just doesn't scale. The reason that TV and Movies pay money is that they can show it to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions at once, over and over again.  Theatre just doesn't and can't ever be that way with the exception of a few places (New York and London principally in the English speaking world, plus touring companies) where people will go specifically to experience live theatre and where you can rehearse a show for 6 weeks and run it for 6 months (and even then it's a precarious business).

Theatre then, is charity. Sometimes it's the charity of foundations businesses and philanthropists who donate money to regional theatres to enable them to pay actors a living wage. More often though, it's charity of actors, designers, back stage hands, spot light operators, etc... who do what they do because they love it. Because they like being in theatre and sharing it with people. Because story, creating, re-enacting, sharing story, is one of the most human things we can do.  Other animals cooperate and specialize, other animals use tools, but no other animal (as far as we know) will create and share story. And theatre really is a democratic art form.  Honestly, all it takes is an empty room, a story and a group of actors willing to put in the work.  As long as you're not trying to make a living at it, the costs can be quite small.  Small enough that I and my partner can afford the up front costs.  Small enough that if we fail, if we lose money, we don't have to declare bankruptcy.  So we do it, and we love it, and we should keep doing it, but unless you are selling toothpaste or fighting a giant robot, chances are you will ALWAYS be engaged in a charitable endeavor. Most likely it will be you donating your time, or perhaps you will be one of the lucky few whose performance is a gift to the community of from a wealthy patron or business concern. But art, theatre at least, is simply not a for-profit business.

Now I want to be clear again about what I'm not saying. I'm NOT saying artists shouldn't be paid, or that they don't deserve to be paid.  When I produce, I pay my co-artists as much as I can because their contributions are valuable and ought to be valued. I'm not saying that art isn't important, or that performance skill and training are not valuable. I'm just saying that "deserve" has got nothing to do with it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Unified Auditions: Why You Should Go, Or Shouldn't

So, the big unified triangle audition day is tomorrow.  Judging by how fast the slots filled up there is a LOT of interest this year.  I will be attending again this year on behalf of Southstream, so I wanted to write a quick word about what it is and what it isn't.

First, let me say about auditions generally: I really like what Taylor Mac wrote here. I'm not crazy about auditions in general, either as a producer or as an actor.  And let's be honest, I know a lot of people in the area.  When I'm looking to cast a role, I am probably going to invite people I know or have seen on stage to work with me (that's one of the reasons I go to see so much theatre). I think it's more respectful to the actor and the process.

That said, if you only stick to what you know, your circle will never expand.  As many shows as I've done and seen, I haven't seen everyone, new people come to town, etc...  You NEED a way to find new people or you wind up ossifying. Unified is really a great way for me to see who else is new, to think about new options.  I didn't cast anyone from unified last year, but I did call someone back based on it (the actor's schedule didn't fit with my show).

So: why do unified auditions?  Jaybird describes them as a "one minute headshot" and that's a pretty apt description. It's not about getting cast in anything. It's just about being seen. It's "saying hello." So if you are new to the area, or if you haven't worked with many of the companies here, it's a great way to introduce yourself.  It can also be a good opportunity to show you've grown as a performer.  If you feel you have really learned and grown and can express that, it's a nice opportunity to let that show.  Notice, I am not saying "if your resume looks better" because honestly, no one is going to look at your resume until after the audition. If you get my attention, that can be a nice bonus, but it's your growth as a performer people want to see.  It can also be a nice opportunity to show a new side of yourself.  If you are always cast as the heroine and you want to play a villain or a clown, bring it!  Finally, it can be a fine thing just to remind people you are still around.  Most people last year really were quite good. You never know when someone is going to want to cast someone your age/shape/race/youness/etc... and stopping by is a good way to remind people you are an option.

So, why should you NOT go?  Don't go because you feel obligated.  Don't go if you are just going to do the same thing you did last year.  Don't go if most people in town already know you (well you can, but you don't need to). Don't go if you expect to get feedback or get cast in something.  Most people are just looking. Sort of a memory bank so I know what is out there. Heck, maybe I'll get an idea from some cool people I see and change my mind about the play I do... Who knows?

Really and truly it's an honor to watch auditions.  Everyone last year was so good.  I know that's cliche bullshit, but really, maybe 5-8 bad auditions out of 80. You people were damn good!  And know, KNOW that everyone in that room is loving you and wanting you to nail it. And if you don't hear something it's not because you weren't great, it just means you didn't fit in a particular show.  So relax, have fun, and break a leg!