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Re: Anyone else feel like getting out of the theatre biz?

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  • Curtis
    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
    Message 1 of 9 , Oct 25, 2008
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      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.
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