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Re: [TheCostumersManifesto] Finding work that pays a decent wage

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  • Sylvia Rognstad
    It s an ongoing dilemma, that s for sure. I just experienced yet another example of it this morning. I had seen an online ad for a costume designer for a
    Message 1 of 8 , Apr 13, 2005
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      It's an ongoing dilemma, that's for sure. I just experienced yet
      another example of it this morning. I had seen an online ad for a
      costume designer for a summer music festival and it was starting just
      about the time another design job I have is ending, so I figured I'd
      apply for it. I had a feeling something was not right about it when
      the production manager replied instantly to my email inquiry. I hadn't
      even sent my resume. Good design jobs get lots of responses and I
      often don't even get a reply. Anyhow, the guy called me this morning
      and we chatted for about a half hour about the position before I asked
      what the design fee was. $1600 for 2 months work, which consists of
      designing an opera and helping construct that plus a musical and a play
      with only 2 other people in the shop. I told them that was way too low
      and when he asked what I would need I said $500 a week. Needless to
      say, the conversation ended there with my informing him that he
      probably wanted someone much younger and less experienced. And the sad
      fact is that he will be able to find someone like that, someone who is
      still in school or right out of it and will jump on the opportunity.
      As long as there are inexperienced designers out there who are willing
      to work for slave wages like that, this will continue, and I'm not
      trying to put down anyone out there on this list. Summer theatre is a
      great way to get experience, but I'm afraid the notion of being able to
      hire costume designers for peanuts extends way too far down the ladder.
      Of course, the other problem is that there are also a lot of married
      women out there who will do this for fun and don't need the money.

      It creates a real problem for those of us who wish to make a living at
      it, especially if we don't want to teach at the same time. I think
      about the only answer is to get on the regional theatre circuit and
      that is not easy. Regional theatres hire union designers and have to
      pay union wages, which still are not great, but if you can work about
      10 shows a year, you could possibly live off the fees. At least I
      could. Of course, getting into the union is also not real easy,
      although I have never tried, so I'm not sure. Maybe some of you all
      can speak to that. And getting hired by such theatres is almost always
      a matter of being referred by someone. Sending out resumes seldom
      results in anything at all. I honestly don't know any profession that
      is so contact run as is theatre, and especially the design areas.

      Other than that, I would recommend going into tv or film. If I had it
      to do all over again, I might go that route, although I really love
      working in live theatre.
      At this point I am about ready to hang up my design hat, though, and
      get a good secure job as a draper, which I have done before and know I
      can do again, since my draping skills are fairly high, but I really
      love designing the most.

      I would love to hear what other list members think. This topic comes
      up from time to time since it is such an ongoing dilemma but I'm always
      interested in how other costumers handle it (or don't).

      Sylrog


      On Apr 13, 2005, at 12:21 PM, catslave54 wrote:

      >
      > Okay,now that I have some downtime between shows,and have just done
      > my taxes,it occurs to me that being a costumer doesn't pay very
      > well.Now just why is that? Is it because 'everybody's mom or gramma"
      > can sew?
      > Is it theatre versus television or films? Do they pay better just
      > because everbody there gets paid better? Should I be trying to do
      > more film work instead of theatre work? Is teaching the only other
      > solution? I know my stuff well now, and want to work, but not if it
      > means less than minimum wage. $500 to do a high school show?
      > Please.The sad thing is that once upon a time, I thought that was
      > good money.And a lot of folks still do. Where do you look for work?
      > Is it all "who you know"? Can a person transition from stage to
      > screen?
      > How?
      > The union? There seems to be more work for folks who do lights and
      > sound than anything else.Should I switch my skills to that if I want
      > to get a decent wage?Does it depend on the town you're in? Do all
      > the costumers in town need to strike? Then what? The theatres just
      > get "somebody's mom who can sew"?
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
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    • CostumeShopManager
      Supply and demand. There are more designers than jobs. Period. It is true for union as well as freelance. Film and TV is as bad, just pays better. And it
      Message 2 of 8 , Apr 13, 2005
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        Supply and demand. There are more designers than jobs. Period. It is
        true for union as well as freelance. Film and TV is as bad, just pays
        better. And it does so because of larger budgets. Even a big theater
        will only sell 6000 - 8000 tickets in a week, x $75 each = $450,000 -
        600,000. Think of opening weekend for a blockbuster, $50 - 75 million.
        No mystery there.
        In both industries, the key is who you know and how they remember you.
        Go to events and remember the people you meet. Do favors, student film
        projects, whatever will keep you connected. Have standards and
        aggressively seek to maintain them. Know what makes you happy and do
        it. Is it making money or making art?
        You also have to look at the "decent wage" in the location of the job
        offer. If you want the slower pace of a rural area, expect lower wages,
        fewer opportunities and affordable rent. If the city is for you, you
        can have several projects at once that will pay the high rent.
        Do not blame the moms who like to help out. Without them there would be
        no theater in schools, followed by no interest in regional or
        professional theater. Blame a society that does not value art. Society
        wants everything fast, cheap and easy. Theater is none of those things.
      • Sylvia Rognstad
        ... I m not blaming moms who help out at all. But there are a lot of community and professional theatres that don t pay their designers and they always seem
        Message 3 of 8 , Apr 13, 2005
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          On Apr 13, 2005, at 4:42 PM, CostumeShopManager wrote:

          > Do not blame the moms who like to help out.  Without them there would
          > be
          > no theater in schools, followed by no interest in regional or
          > professional theater.  Blame a society that does not value art. 
          > Society
          > wants everything fast, cheap and easy.  Theater is none of those
          > things.

          I'm not blaming moms who help out at all. But there are a lot of
          community and professional theatres that don't pay their designers and
          they always seem to be able to find ones who will work for free. I
          don't actually know if they are moms or married women with time on
          their hands, or students still living at home or what. Yes, I know it
          is a matter of supply and demand which is why it will remain an ongoing
          probably unsolvable dilemma. I have actually been able to find some
          paying design jobs in the past year that either paid enough that I
          could do them full time (summer positions) or I could keep my other
          part time jobs and still have time to do them as well, so I consider
          this a good year, although I'm still having to dip into my savings to
          pay my bills.

          I agree about living in a big city. You will find more jobs there,
          although the rent will be higher, unless you choose a location that is
          not so central to where the action is. I know you can do this in L.A.,
          since I used to live there and L.A. is a good place to choose because
          of the film and tv industry. Also New York and Chicago.

          I still say regional theatre is one fairly lucrative avenue. Not
          compared to film and tv, but compared to other live theatre. I
          interviewed one such costume designer a few years ago and wrote an
          article about him for an alumni newsletter. He seemed to be making a
          decent living with his work going back and forth among several
          theatres who hired him on a consistent basis. He started out assisting
          a big designer and I gather that is how he got his lucky break and
          managed to work his way into the regional theatre circuit. So I highly
          recommend working as a design assistant. That usually means living in
          a big city though where big designers work.

          Are there any regional theatre designers on this list who have
          something to chime in about?

          And yes, contacts are the most important thing! Make as many as
          possible.

          Sylrog
          >
          >
          >


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        • williamson
          How right this is. I worked on the stage for twenty years before taking time out to do costume and design (first love) at the London College of Fashion.
          Message 4 of 8 , Apr 14, 2005
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            How right this is. I worked on the stage for twenty years before taking
            time out to do costume and design (first love) at the London College of
            Fashion. Having graduated at the 'mature' age of 44 I have made a concious
            decision not to try to begin all over again in this costuming field for all
            the reasons already stated. I love 'knowing how' and 'being able to' - but
            mostly I get aproached to do alterations or peoples curtains, now that I
            'know how to sew'. Sigh. I tell people I can't make clothes, but if they
            want a boned, piano-felted, reversible leather doublet with slashing and
            hand detailed finishing, then I'm their gal - but it'll cost 'em!
            jules

            ...
            Society ..
            wants everything fast, cheap and easy. Theater is none of those things.







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          • Randolph Keator
            Catslave ? Any cousin to Felinestoy ? Seriously, I m going to sound unrealistic but the first and most important thing you need to ask yourself is ; Do I love
            Message 5 of 8 , Apr 14, 2005
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              Catslave ? Any cousin to Felinestoy ? Seriously, I'm going to sound
              unrealistic but the first and most important thing you need to ask yourself
              is ;" Do I love what I'm doing enough to be doing it whether I get paid for
              it or not ? " I do what I do because I really do love it. For me it's not
              really a job, it's a passion. The pay is a fringe benefit. I gave up the
              "big" money and high stress shows ( some of you know exactly what I'm
              talking about ) to do community theatre. I still do special effects makeup
              and some pretty fancy and elaborate costumes, but I don't have the headaches
              associated with "the big leagues". If what you really want is " THE BIG
              MONEY " then you will have to go where it is . If that means moving to a
              different location, then that's what you may need to do, at least for a
              while until you can get your work noticed by the "right" people. The biggest
              question is ; What are you willing to sacrifice ? Sounds harsh I know, but
              reality often is. Wish you all the good fortune possible.(~:
            • Cynthia Spilsted
              Hello all: I just had this very same discussion with my kids! I live in a small town and do costuming primarily for dance with the odd theatre stuff thrown
              Message 6 of 8 , Apr 17, 2005
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                Hello all:
                I just had this very same discussion with my kids! I live in a small town and do costuming primarily for dance with the odd theatre stuff thrown in. I make more than the $500 quoted by one lady per show, but not enough to live on. However, to live where the money is would mean to give up the lifestyle I enjoy and the people I love. I still consider my biggest paycheque is to see my costumes on stage (sometimes six years after its original performance!) and on performers I know as people.
                Cynthia

                Randolph Keator <rkeator@...> wrote:
                Catslave ? Any cousin to Felinestoy ? Seriously, I'm going to sound
                unrealistic but the first and most important thing you need to ask yourself
                is ;" Do I love what I'm doing enough to be doing it whether I get paid for
                it or not ? " I do what I do because I really do love it. For me it's not
                really a job, it's a passion. The pay is a fringe benefit. I gave up the
                "big" money and high stress shows ( some of you know exactly what I'm
                talking about ) to do community theatre. I still do special effects makeup
                and some pretty fancy and elaborate costumes, but I don't have the headaches
                associated with "the big leagues". If what you really want is " THE BIG
                MONEY " then you will have to go where it is . If that means moving to a
                different location, then that's what you may need to do, at least for a
                while until you can get your work noticed by the "right" people. The biggest
                question is ; What are you willing to sacrifice ? Sounds harsh I know, but
                reality often is. Wish you all the good fortune possible.(~:




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