On Words and Actions
"I’m truly sick of hearing companies wax poetic about supporting young emerging artists when in reality they don’t compensate them fairly for their work and time."
By Crystle Reid
To choose the path of theatre is ultimately fulfilling, but inevitably challenging. It’s increasingly difficult to ensure rent and student loans are paid while focusing on our craft, especially since there is no previously beaten path already established for us.
Indeed, each artist must carve out his/her own way in order to build a life in theatre, which is intimidating when we first start our journey into the field. The idea of helping up-and-coming artists begin their journey in theatre is a commendable one. Many theatre companies around town make the claim that they want to do this. It sounds very nice in interview, so I write this as a plea: please, if you’re making this claim, be sure you’re out there, really supporting.
I’m truly sick of hearing companies wax poetic about supporting young emerging artists when in reality they don’t compensate them fairly for their work and time. Established companies ask young artists to work full time–often for long periods of time–without paying attention to the work schedules these artists need to maintain in order to eat and pay their bills, as well as pay less than social assistance would for the same overall time. This is not supportive.
Exploiting new artists and their love of theatre is still exploitation, and simple exposure is not enough of a benefit from any organization that is in a position to do better. In the cases where a company is not in a financial position to compensate their artists fairly, they must then at least be flexible enough to allow these young artists to support themselves while working on the current project. And I would like to add that companies who can provide a living wage to a director and a producer do not belong in this category. It’s an undervalued lesson that is vital for emerging artists to learn: “my work and time is valuable.” Often, the question of remuneration is an uncomfortable one, but asking does not undermine our artistry, nor does it imply we are not willing to suffer for our creativity. On the contrary, it reinforces that our work has value.
We are all aware that there is an incredible amount of financial sacrifice ahead as we begin creating our own artistic opportunities. Working with my company, Astra Theatre, on the ongoing ArtHere! Series (including ArtHouse, ArtHotel, and ArtCrypt) I am acutely aware of the amount of unpaid work that goes into each of our events. At ArtHere!, anywhere from eight to twenty different groups of artists stage 15-20 minute pieces in found spaces, with audiences taking in whichever pieces they choose, creating a choose-your-own-adventure theatre experience.
Using non-traditional spaces is an expensive venture, and for us, recouping our costs is a great success. As yet, we are certainly not in a position to pay our volunteers and artists, including ourselves, and so we strive instead to provide other benefits: a unique space where each group has full creative control; an opportunity to take risks; new audiences; gratuitous gratitude and respect.
That being said, we are constantly striving towards the day when we can pay ourselves and all of the artists working with us a fair amount. My intention is that, as I transition from an emerging to an established artist, I will continue to be the kind of artist, leader, and human being who believes that every person’s time and work is inherently valuable.
The next ArtHere! will be an ArtHouse, taking place on March 11 and 13th. For more information please visit AstraTheatre.com.
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