Songs for the Struggling Artist

You can’t afford to work in theatre. Full stop.
December 31, 2010, 1:58 pm
Filed under: art, business, theatre | Tags: , ,

First, go read this: “You can’t afford to be a lighting designer” It’s a blog written by a successful lighting designer about the impossibility of making a living doing what he’s doing, even from the top of his field. It’s sobering. And I don’t think anyone can afford to work in theatre. Not if you’re an artist. (Not a designer, not an actor, not a director, not a writer. . .) The only way to make any money in the American theatre (Broadway excepted – but Bway’s a whole other thing. Most of the good stuff came from England this year. Can we really call it American Theatre?!) is to become an administrator. That’s pretty much the only way you’re going to get a salary. So to make a living, you must essentially become a gatekeeper for the migrant workers (the artists) who are trying to get into your establishment to work.

This Lighting Designer calculates his hourly wage at about $15 an hour. This is for someone with a terminal degree and expertise at the top of his field. If money is a reflection of how a culture values something, we can say that we value this designer’s work slightly above a McDonald’s burger slinger and slightly less than a legal secretary. This is for someone who is working regularly in big budget theatres. There are many many talented theatre artists who don’t have that “advantage” and they’ll count themselves lucky to get a burger slinging wage occasionally.

Meanwhile, the people who guard the gates of the institutions, those standing at the top, tend to be doing just fine. (Exhibit A: See my shocking realization that the Executive Director at the Arts Org I work for makes over $154,000 a year in the previous post.) Perhaps this is just the American way now. The top 1% making all the money while the workers at the bottom are scrambling for scraps. It’s just that in this case, the scrap scramblers all have masters degrees and “prestigious” positions. Hmmm.


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