Thursday, November 27, 2008

Working In The Theater

Today one of my classes brought in a fine young gentleman who is a director of Yspilon Theater in the Czech Republic. We asked him a few questions. Here's a pair of choice answers (highly paraphrased, unfortunately, due to my bad stenography skills):

Q: Why did you go into the theater?

A: Well, you know, I'd been involved in some amateur theater in secondary school, and when it came time to choose a school, I decided to apply to [named his Drama school]. But ever since then, you know, I've never had to ask for jobs, you know, to sit down and write applications... they just sort of came to me.

Q: How is government support for the arts? What do you have to do to get government grants?

A: Um. Well. You know, there's a lot of money for the arts here. But I've never really had to, you know, apply for any grants. I don't think I've written a single grant application. We just do what we do, and there is money.

Let me take a moment to quote from a book; the chapter is "The Economic Realities Of Acting," from Acting Is A Job: Real Life Lessons About The Acting Business by Jason Pugatch (2006).

On the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' Web site...the acting profession is bullet-pointed with these warnings:

- Actors endure long periods of unemployment, intense competition for roles, and frequent rejection in auditions.
- Because earnings for actors are erratic, many supplement their incomes by holding jobs in other fields.

Another fine quotation:

Your bare minimum turkey-dog diet annual cost of living is about $18,500... Median annual earnings for an AEA member in 2004 were $6,638.

In other words, in the Czech Republic, if you are an average worker in the theater industry, you will be able to support yourself without effort. In the United States, you will make roughly a third of your cost of living if you are working in the theater industry.

This is not right. I'm not talking about "lack of support for the arts" and "not making culture flourish" or any of those arguments. I'm simply stating the fact that you have an industry in which the median annual salary is one third of the cost of living.

We have failed.

The idea that in any field, if you are good, you can make a living--that is simply wrong. Grossly, grossly wrong.

We work. We put in hours, we create a product which people pay for. We contribute economically--studies show that we raise property values near where we work. Just by virtue of us living in places, we raise the standards of living. And we work. We perform a trade. A trade which is not easy, which takes skills and training--the latter of which costs a lot of money.

This is about economics. The fact that actors can't support themselves means they take jobs in other fields--unskilled service jobs, jobs which the unskilled working class need for themselves. We have a trade. We have managerial skills.

I am sick to death of our job not being considered a job. When I apply for a job, I am treated as though I have no experience. I have worked for money, albeit never for as much as "minimum wage;" in fact, I have managerial experience. Stage Manager. I have been put in charge of a team of 15 and a bare-bones budget, and done something with it. That's something that should make me more skilled in the job market. the idea that my skills and expertise are economically useless, and that I should be waiting tables in order to practice my trade... it should be unheard of.

We need to come up with a plan to make this happen. In this economic downturn, the government has an incentive to help us out: they need us spending money, they need us working, and most of all--they need us to do our skilled jobs so the unemployed can take our unskilled jobs.

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