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Tag Archive | "economy"

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Exit Stage Left: the low pay/no pay debate

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Tristan Pate

money

This month Spotlight is hosting a consultation with its members, both actors and casting professionals alike, on the much discussed “low pay/no pay” debate.

In recent years a culture of internships has become the norm in a number of British industries. Having struggled their way through three years of higher education (and now paying £27,000 in tuition fees for the privilege), university graduates are commonly expected to then volunteer in their chosen sector for an indeterminate amount of time until they have sufficient experience to progress to paid work.

Such poorly paid positions are often thought to be vital exposure for a fresh face in the industry and a valid way into projects of a higher profile, but, for a lot of us, working for nothing is simply not an option. I’ve never been able to afford it. My only foray into the London fringe was in 2011 when I undertook a profit share production with a group of fellow graduates. In this instance I had to save the money from six months of hard touring to pay my way through it, and I only took it on as I felt the material and production team were of a bankable quality. The company’s accounts were clearly made available to all involved so we were assured that we would be receiving an equal share of the profits. However, many actors are not treated in this way. Taking on a fringe production is often nothing short of a gamble for a young actor: they have no creative control, the shows are often under-rehearsed, and the production is usually reviewed early in the run before the piece has had a chance to settle. There is never a guarantee of it leading to any further work and the (very poor) majority of actors end up working overtime at day jobs to fund such endeavours. Alternatively, to some, the option of performing in a profit share piece is an elitist thing, available only to actors with rich benefactors to fund it.

Above all though, it is thoroughly unfair that actors are always the last people to be paid in these arrangements. Because producers know that so many actors out there are desperate to perform, they are certain to find those who will work for free. They end up paying the director, the designer, the venue etc. and leaving only the actors to work for nothing. This is unacceptable. We are highly trained professionals in a skilled, competitive industry and we deserve to be valued just as much as anyone else. It’s bad business sense to give something away for free, and acting for free devalues us all as performers. For this reason it is especially upsetting to hear that many producers make a lot of money out of not paying their talent properly. The Menier Chocolate Factory is a venue I’ve heard accused of this, despite the fact that it sells out regularly and a lot of its shows transfer (Mark Shenton wrote a brilliant piece in the Stage about this). In these circumstances to refuse to pay a living wage is nothing less than exploitation.

Theatre is a heavily subsidised industry and cuts have hit us all hard. There is an argument that exciting new work is generated on the fringe and we would miss this if creatives weren’t prepared to offer their services free of charge, but I believe it is only by Equity and Spotlight members standing together that we can stamp out this kind of manipulation. We need the government to make a bigger investment in this country’s theatre, which is not only (let’s face it) the best theatre in the world, but pays its investment back twice over into the UK economy every year. It is also of utmost importance that we continue to campaign for Equity Minimum Wage for all performers across the board. This requires something of a leap of faith for all those that rely on low pay/no pay work to get a foot on the ladder, but one we all have to make together, a bold new commitment to stand strong and learn to value ourselves more highly.

Image: Images_of_Money

Tristan Pate

Tristan Pate

Tristan is an actor and musician and graduated from the Birmingham School of Acting in 2010. Since then he has appeared in plays, musicals and physical theatre pieces both touring nationally, and in London. He lives in Oxfordshire with his fiancée and young daughter.

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AYT USA: Is there a future for Broadway?

Posted on 02 July 2012 by Sophie Schulman

Sophie Schulman has just graduated from American University in Washington, DC with a degree in musical theatre. She is now trying to figure out what to do with her life and where to do it. To kick-start our AYT USA blog series, Sophie considers the future of Broadway.

According to some, Broadway was dead before I was born. A very depressing prospect for someone who just graduated from college with a degree in musical theatre. Apparently, I don’t have much to look forward to.

While I can understand why some people may be frustrated with the apparent lack of interesting and original new musicals, I believe it is a fallacy that these shows don’t exist. The problem is not that no one is creating new and fascinating works, rather that no one is producing them and that on the rare occasion that one is produced, it usually can’t survive a long commercial run.

Last week, I saw The Scottsboro Boys at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, California. With a book by David Thompson, and a score by Kander and Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys opened on Broadway in October 2010 and ran a mere 49 performances before it closed, despite positive reviews. The show is based on a real court case where nine young African-American men were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train going through the American South.  It’s told in the minstrel tradition, a great source of shame for the American people. Minstrel shows were performed by either white or black actors in blackface and reinforced negative stereotypes about African Americans by exploiting them for comedic effect. The Scottsboro Boys uses this usually offensive art form in an ironic and satirical way to comment on the events of the trial and on the racist attitudes of the time.

I truly enjoyed the show and it made me think and question so many things in a way that not many new musicals have done. That is not to say that there have been no great Broadway musicals produced in recent years, but when you look back into theatrical history and see that Wonderful Town, Guys and Dolls, Kismet, South PacificDamn Yankees, Finian’s Rainbow and Pajama Games were all part of the 1955 season on Broadway, it’s easy to wonder what changed between then and now. This year, for the first time in Broadway history, two straight plays were nominated for best score. There is obviously a bit of a musical drought on the Great White Way.

So, what is the reason for all of this? The obvious answer is money. Audiences aren’t willing to risk what little cash they have on a ticket to something they’ve never heard of, and producers aren’t willing to risk their money on shows that won’t put butts on seats. After all, The Scottsboro Boys was a great piece and I’m sure none of its producers got anywhere close to recouping the investment they made in the show. So, they make safer choices by putting their money into musicals based on popular movies and books, and sometimes these pieces are amazing and sometimes they just aren’t. Yet even the mediocre shows with recognisable names end up making more than the good ones that aren’t familiar to tourists.

But what is the solution, aside from fixing the economic crisis in our country? Do producers have a responsibility to develop and foster new work? As a young performer I constantly hear my collaborators perform pieces by new composers and lyricists. Adam Gwon, Peter Lerman, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, Pasek and Paul, Jonathan Reid Gealt, Joe Iconis… all of these artists are creating great work, but very little of it gets produced commercially. So, we know there is talent out there and people should be backing it, right?

I have a hard time telling anyone they have a moral obligation to invest money in something. As I said, I just graduated from college, I know what it means to be on a budget. Whether it’s the hundred dollars often needed for a Broadway ticket, or the millions of dollars needed to produce a musical, who am I to tell others how to spend their funds? I can understand that losing millions of dollars would probably not be particularly fun or exciting. So, I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not sure how to fix this problem, but I do know that this is a vicious cycle that has to be broken. Otherwise, there really may not be a Broadway by the time I get there. Or, at least not the kind of Broadway I want to be a part of.

If you are an American reader of A Younger Theatre and would like to contribute to the AYT USA blog series, please contact blogs[at]ayoungertheatre.com.

Sophie Schulman

Sophie Schulman is a proud recent graduate of the musical theatre program at American University in Washington, DC. While in school, she studied abroad at the British American Drama Academy and fell in love with the London theatre scene. She is interested in all genres of theatre, and enjoys looking at and writing about current arts events from an ethics perspective. She recently relocated to New York to work as an actress in the big city.

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