Re: Anyone else feel like getting out of the theatre biz?
- I freelance at several different aspects of theater--it's one of the
ways I keep myself feeling fresh and excited about projects, because I
get easily burned out on doing the same thing over and over and over
again (even when it's for different shows).
However, I recently took one of my regulars off my list. Why?
Because the theater had changed management, and the new management
proved to be very lackadaisacal (sp?) when it came to things like
getting me my budget on a timely basis. The last show I did for them
(as a props designer) involved me and the set designer putting in
almost three full days (resulting in about 3-4 hours sleep each night
for me...he lived another hour further away so I don't know how he got
through it) because the theater had not cleared their equipment with
equity rules (fog machines) and wouldn't pony up the funds to rent or
buy something that would work, so we had to modify several items (and
then ended up cutting the fog machine completely, for the simple
matter of expedience). When they called me a few weeks back to ask if
I was available to design a show for them, my initial reaction to the
voice mail was a sense of dread...so I informed them that I had other
commitments. Between the amount of headaches involved in EVERY
production I've done with them, and the 45 minute commute to the
theater (with current gas prices), they could have doubled their
design fee and I still would have been loathe to take the job.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to maintain your enthusiasm for
theater is not do so much of it...
As for why I do what I do...
I stumbled into theater through a back door (I took a makeup class
because I enjoyed doing haunted houses and wanted a better idea of
what I was doing)...the constantly varying nature of theater, the
challenge of figuring out new solutions to new problems for each
production that comes along, was intensely appealing to me...and I
enjoyed all of it (while in school, I did almost everything from
playwriting through designing and acting to directing, and added more
aspects of theater to that after graduation). I ended up as a
costumer because my first 'real' theater job (as opposed to just a
summer-stock position) needed a wardrobe person and I was the closest
thing to qualified that they had at the time (I didn't feel like I
knew enough about sewing, but I've taught myself a lot since then).
The wardrobe manager left the department before that season ended, I
stepped into her role, and I've been there ever since...which gives me
enough stability that I can afford to pick and choose which freelance
jobs I want to take (I have a lot of friends who consistently moan
about how much they despise the show they're currently working on, but
they don't have the luxury of saying 'No thanks' to work offers...)
I must add, while there are theaters in this area that don't exactly
treat their personnel in the greatest manner, I have never heard of
anyone getting run through the wringer in the way Sylvia described.
It's kind of odd, but theater in Northern Utah is actually a fairly
close community, and ill treatment of an actor/designer/crew person
creates a ripple effect that goes through pretty quickly. There are
some theaters in the area that I would never think of approaching to
design for, because of how they've treated some of the individuals I
know. But while there are projects I'll take on 'for the love of it'
(I do makeup for one show a year at one of the local high schools, for
pennies on the dollar for the going rate for makeup artists around
here), if I feel like I'm being taken advantage of, I'll finish that
project (for my own sense of satisfaction) and never darken their door
again (though I will freely explain to anyone who asks WHY I won't
work for that group/person/theater again).
Theater is populated by people who love the art...but it IS a
business. The folks running theaters are going to try and get their
productions done as cheaply as possible. Some of them get
unscrupulous about how they accomplish that objective sometimes (as in
Sylvia's case), while others will usually decide to hire someone
less-proven who will take a lower design fee. Those of us who
approach it from the artistic side are often disadvantaged by those
who look at it from the business side...because the artist in us will
go the extra mile to make it look good, even when we aren't
necessarily being paid to do so, and they know it.
One of my professors told me, very shortly after I started the theater
program, "The most valuable skill you can learn in theater is how to
say 'No.'" While I thought it was simply a matter of avoiding burnout
from accepting too many assignments, I've learned that it's also the
best method for avoiding finding yourself harnessed with a string of
jobs that pay you pennies.