Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just Curious...

I'm just curious: just how is it that this business model is seen as something that theatre people should aspire to? How is it deserving of defense? How is it that our reaction isn't outrage and a demand that something change? I read this and I shake my head. Time to reboot.

13 comments:

The Director said...

Sad. Unfortunately, that's one reason why I hope to teach at some future date.

From what I understand, it's doable to make a living in theatre -- maybe not securely, but doable. Having said that, I think the best option is to get a second job. Most people buy the waiting tables thing, but honestly, that's just a bad idea -- and another blog, for that matter.

Thanks for the advice in your comment on my blog, by the way. Appreciate it.

ilannoyed said...

scott - why do think i keep saying what i'm saying?

it's really not that different for actors - even down to the declaring bankruptcy.

unless you have a teaching position or run a large theater - there is NO making a living in the theater

it's not "doable" - no one tells an engineer to get a second job WAITING TABLES for godsake.

The Director said...

Well, I have a ton of friends and aquaintances who say different. In fact, most of my friends who pursued professional theatre are working full-time making a living.

Granted, they're single and have no children, so their expenses are lower, but it's doable. The trick is to go where the jobs are and not to limit yourself. My cousin is a professional actress who limited herself to Birmingham, AL because after her mother died, she wanted to stay near her father. Now, I don't know how well you know the theatre scene in Birmingham, but there's one professional theatre, and she worked there for peanuts.

My friend James, on the other hand, is constantly in work. He's got gigs lined up for the next year, and he hasn't had a break in employment in at least three years. At least, he hasn't had breaks that he hadn't already planned for.

There are dozens of friends that I know that work full-time in theatre: whether for small theatre companies or large, whether on tour or regional, whether in NYC or Iowa.

You wanna limit yourself to Chicago or any other city, that's fine. Get another job to support yourself.

You want financial security, teach.

Scott Walters said...

Director -- Let me get this straight: as long as you don't live where you want to live, and as long as you do anything at all without concern for its value, then you can make a living? That is PRECISELY the approach I am fighting AGAINST.

Yes, ilannoyed, in the current paradigm, it is very, very difficult. Which is why we need to ditch the current paradigm. It is idiotic to get into an art form because you love it, and then sell your soul. It reminds me of prostitutes who love their pimp, and so go out and sell their body in order to support him. Yes, it happens, but it is sick sick sick.

Now, before you go off on my ass about "what can we do about it," let me say that that is what this blog is about. A new paradigm will be forthcoming as the weeks go by But at the moment, it is important to note just how sick the current paradigm is.

And a sidenote: I wish you all would quit talking as if teaching theatre is the secure side of doing theatre. They are two entirely different professions that require entirely different skills and entirely different focuses. Being a theatre artist is not part of the same continuum as teaching theatre. The idea that it is is why we have so many abominable theatre teachers who once were professional theatre artists and think it is the same thing. For my money, we should stop seeing the MFA as a degree that allows people to teach. That's just me.

Mac said...

Excuse me, Professor - the plural of "focus" is "foci" - points off! Now go write that on the board one hundred times! No, not the dry-erase board, the chalk board! That was good enough for me as a boy, it's darn well good enough for you too!

Scott Walters said...

*LOL* Excuse me, Mr, Playwright, but you've let the language pass you by. American Heritage:

fo·cus (fō'kəs) Pronunciation Key
n. pl. fo·cus·es or fo·ci (-sī', -kī')

Ever since I got busted for foci by a McGraw-Hill editor, I have stuck with focuses.

Laura said...

I am looking forward to the discussions that start working on the answer to "what do we do about it."

Low-pay for theatre artists in a capitalist society has always been presented to me as a problem of supply and demand - too many people want to do it, and there's simply not enough money in the system to pay them all.

I'm not using that as the cop-out which it is for a lot of other people. I'm simply using it as a jumping off point for my own meanderings. If that is, in fact, the problem, then we either need to a) increase demand or b) decrease supply. (or, alternately, relocate to a not-quite-so-capitalist society, but I'll leave that option off the table for now)

Option A actually gets a lot of attention in certain circles. From questions as immediate as "how do we get people to OUR show?" to the far-ranging ones of "how do we increase theatre's value to society-as-a-whole?" Unfortunately, a lot of those discussions never go beyond the theoretical wanderings that theatre people share over a couple of beers.

(And, of course, nobody EVER talks about option B - decreasing supply. After all, we all want to pursue our dreams, and nobody really wants to be seen as the grinch who points out that maybe not everybody can or should do this for a living.)

Scott Walters said...

I think the option you leave off the table should be put back on the table, but in an altered form. Instead of a different country, we need to investigate different COUNTIES. We have allowed an outdated myth from the early-to-mid 20th century -- that the center of civilization is NYC -- to wrongly create a belief that there is a supply-and-demand issue, when in actuality this is primarily true in NYC. The fact is we have been Sinatra'd -- we sing "New York, New York" to ourselves each night as we turn out the light, mumbling "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" as sleep overcomes us. It is a false myth, one that gives away our power as artists. The solution lies outside the current so-called system, not within it. More will come.

The Director said...

Scott, to make a short answer: yes.

Right now, for me, that's not a bad thing. I've been in one small section of the country for so long, traveling regularly would be nice. But you're absolutely correct that this needs to change somehow.

Malachy Walsh said...

I wrote a play about two people in the arts (one an actor, one a writer) with big educational debt and narrow opportunites that's been getting read by a lot of people around the country.

Obviously, it strikes a truth.

Of course, no-one wants to produce, so maybe there's just a little too much truth in it.

But it's a truth for more than just artists.

Scott Walters said...

It definitely hits home. There is a whole book called "The Trap" that looks at the issue. It is quite passionate, and disturbing.

enrico said...

"Unfortunately, that's one reason why I hope to teach at some future date."

"You want financial security, teach."

I am continually dismayed at the frequency of this kind of attitude and I, for one, am frightened of the prospect of these people teaching. I don't want them leading a classroom. Not one of kids: we certainly don't need any more disaffected teachers getting their mitts on our youth, and not college students, either: what does this say about the future of our art if more and more of our instructors are doing it just to make a buck?

I thank you Scott for making your point about teaching/doing in your comment.

Those of us who choose to teach, as well as perform, direct, etc., because we think theatre education is incredibly important and worthwhile for many kids and young artists, get unfairly and dispiritingly tagged as taking the easy way out, or even as being less qualified as artists than those who attempt to ply their art (often impossible, as we've noted here) full-time.

I think the idiom "those who cannot do, teach" should not only be pulled out of our mental file cabinets and shredded, but replaced with its opposite. "Those who cannot teach, do" makes sense because a good teacher should (usually) be able to do the thing they teach fairly well. But not everybody who does that thing fairly well is suited to teach it.

Of course, this pours into a greater problem facing our country, in its attitudes on education. I, for one, think that we as artists should hold a better opinion of education than the rest of the population, considering that—and I'll bet this is true—most of us do what we do because of someone else who taught us something about it long ago.

Scott Walters said...

Enrico -- Check out the comments on my "tap Tap Tap" post. The first one by Joshua exhibits the same dismissal of academia that you and are revolt against. I remember when I was a kid, my parents told me to get a secondary education degree so I would have "something to fall back on." It is a common idea, and one that leads directly to the anger toward higher education that I see in many of the comments I receive here. So many young artists had an abusive or unsatisfying experience with their education, and I can't help but think that a big part of that is that the profession is filled with people who don't actually want to teach, they just want to "do plays." Thanks for commenting!