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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Person: Crystle Reid

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

ED: CharPo invites comment to all pieces on the site. Please join the discussion by commenting below.


  1. It's the reason OUT's project-based - I don't want to do it without giving the artists what they truly deserve to survive (and I think in a way that artists in the anglo theatre community need it more than anyone else to keep us here). I don't think exposure = exploitation in most circumstances. I really don't. I also know from my own schooling and experience that theatre is not something to embrace if you intend to be paid well; find another job to support it if you are really great at something else. But most importantly I really want to say that as a charitable organization (in the case of many non-profit theatre groups) there is no support from the Charities Division for raising revenue to provide "support" or "tools" for our artists, or nurture them - you can only have the status to raise funds privately to help support them if your shows fall in the category of the advancement of "education, religion" or what might "benefit the public-at-large" (and salaies for self-employed artists or just emerging artists) is completely overlooked despite their huge contributions to Canadian diversity and arts / culture as a major part of the Gross Domestic Product.

    People take advantage, yes, but when they can't provide financially, companies can also provide in Equity / UdA credit, true exposure (ie for an agent they want) or benefit a good cause. We have to accept this profession's "riches" in other areas than dollars, be compassionate towards one another's schedules to survive, and fight for the right to be heard as growing artists at all levels of government (for example if fishermen are seasonal workers, why aren't we? after all we are seasonal too).

  2. I completely agree that this profession has a wealth of other, "riches." Making the choice to spend our lives doing something we love is a blessing, one I'm grateful for everyday. I am also extremely grateful to those companies big and small that back up their claims of support with actions. I hope it was clear that I wasn't directing my comments about fair pay at companies who are unable to provide financial compensation. However, don't you think it's likely that a full equity house is in a position to fairly compensate all of their full time performing and technical artists, in addition to an equity credit? Other than that agree with everything you’ve said. I adopted a bit of a hard line stance because I was hoping to stimulate conversation about the topic. It's important that emerging artists can survive in this industry, because the future of the industry depends on them.

  3. I understand where both of you are coming from but I am always astounded by how much Canadian society expects its artists to contiribute without fair compensation and about how the ethos of theatre, in particular, is built upon that belief. It is not that anyone is consciously or unconsciously exploiting anyone else, it is merely that everyone accepts that is the way it is and has always been and, more depressingly, will always be. From the funding agencies right down to the 50-year-old actor who is doing showcases still, we assume theatre will just happen! And it does! But I have to say, I am tired of believing that everyone who enters theatre having to accept they may never have a car, house or even kids. We ALL perpetuate this system and, worse, we're too tired (and satisfied) after closing night to do anything about it. We need a lobby. A lobby with big danglers and sharp teeth.

  4. I'm not sure which companies Crystle is referring to, how they're claiming to support, and how they're exploiting emerging artists. We want names, dammit!

  5. @Gaëtan: Pity that lobby isn't, say, Actors' Equity.

  6. @Patrick...hmmmm let me see if they have something to say.

  7. I'd be verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry interested to hear them weigh in on this topic ...

  8. It's a capitalist system - why should the arts be immune? Theatre companies and the government agencies are not interested in supporting artists but in supporting art. It doesn't matter who makes it, as long as it is good and cheap. Artists are replaceable. If a small company goes under, there is another one ready to take its place. This is something that the large venues are aware of and exploit fully. It is about the bottom line, as well as checking off all their boxes in their grant applications - supporting young artists, diversity, women, new work, etc. It's about power and politics, not art. As for naming names, you've got to be kidding. Why should she name names and have some d*bag who takes offense wind up ono her jury and deny her funding? You know, the same people who then would approach her on opening night and tell her how "wonderful" her work is. Do some work here, young woman, and then get out of Montreal.


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