Songs for the Struggling Artist

What I wish American Theatre Would Learn from the Brits (# 7)

More Egalitarian Structures

The job I found in London was in the cloakroom at the Battersea Arts Centre, during the run of Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death. It was a bottom of the totem pole job and I worked a few nights a week for not very much money. (Side bar of shocking info re: minimum wage type jobs – I got paid Holiday wages even though I wasn’t anywhere near full-time. Oh yeah and that National Health Care thing. So benefits, too.)

In an American theatre, only my immediate supervisors would have recognized me or known my name. In London, I was invited by the Theatre Manager to participate in an organizational meeting (a meeting for which I was paid, by the way) wherein all parties involved in making the theatre go were invited to discuss the future of the organization, to evaluate what it is and where it had been. My voice, as the recently hired cloakroom assistant, was just as valuable and heard with as much weight as the voices of the Artistic Director, Education Director or the Marketing Director. I have worked for many many arts organizations and business over the years and I have never before had anyone really truly ask me what I thought. Periodically, I’m asked to fill out an evaluation of a project I worked on (which I can rarely be fully honest about given my precarious positions in these jobs) – but nobody ever asks me, or anyone involved in the everyday workings of the organization, for participation in it on a big picture level.

I think this is a great loss. Sometimes the people who are on the periphery know things, important things, about the goings on in a company and his/her wisdom is lost because everyone thinks of the janitor as “just” a janitor. Arts organizations, more than any institution, should understand the value of everyone’s voice being heard.

As the lowest woman on the totem pole at that meeting at the Battersea Arts Centre, I felt more valued and heard than I have ever felt in any of my Arts jobs here in the US. Despite the fact that I was working in a low wage position when I’m highly qualified to do many other things, I would have stayed on in that company for a long time, had the law allowed. (Immigration laws are a bitch.) All it took to invoke my sense of loyalty was to ask me once, at one meeting, for my opinion and to truly listen to it.

In all my Arts in Education jobs here, the program managers and the middle men (my direct supervisors) change every year. I suspect that no one asks them what they think either and so they move on to jobs where they have some sense of contributing to the big picture. It’s so simple –  but find me one American arts organization that does it. Please. I’ll go check coats there.


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[…] about the organization I work for. (This has happened once, but not in this position – see what I wrote about that.) I am waiting to be appreciated as a valuable asset to a team or organization, to be given a bonus […]

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