Songs for the Struggling Artist

What I wish American Theatre would learn from the Brits (#9)

No assholes allowed.

After working on a show at the Arcola Theatre in the summer of 2006, I decided I was going to move to London when I finished grad school. My friend Yvonne (who was in that show) asked me why. I gave her a lot of reasons based on the production we worked on together. Everything I said, she’d say “Well, that was really just that show.” or “That’s not really the case.”
For example, I was convinced that English Theatre was really international and inclusive. Yvonne dismissed this by saying that our production was pretty unusual in that way.
“Ok, ok.” I said and tried a few other ideas I had about the British theatre.Then I said, “And. . . I know you’re going to say that this isn’t true and that it was just this production but it feels like nobody is really an asshole there. People just seemed to be essentially nice when dealing with each other most of the time. But I know you’re going to say that was just our show. . .”
“Oh – well – that’s true actually.”
“Yeah, if you’re an asshole, you don’t work. It’s just that simple.
“It feels like it’s just the opposite in the American Theatre.”
“I’ll tell you. I went to Drama school with this actor who was extraordinary. He was amazing in our King Lear but he doesn’t work. And he won’t. Because he’s a world class asshole.”
(She’s a good code-switcher. She said “ass” instead of “arse” for me.)
Can you imagine a world wherein, as an artist, you didn’t wonder if you might be a bit farther along in your career if you were a bigger asshole?
I’ve been in such a world and everyday I’m trying to recreate it. I hereby declare my theatre an asshole free zone.


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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