...a company must be able to *afford* to pay them and still have enough budget left over for high production values. In order to afford artists/high production values, the company must attract a larger audience. In order to attract a larger audience, the company must produce *high quality work*--which, soon, may only come from paying artists.As a producer myself, I know how ugly budgets can look. Even with high ticket prices, we find that ticket sales are not enough to cover the costs of producing our work. Non-profits supplement their budgets through donations, grants and sponsorships, and yet many younger companies aren't yet 501 (c)(3) or lack the scale of support to grow without cutting corners. I realize that this is a reality for many companies and that there is no one answer to solving these problems.
Of my theatre-related income, more than 90% over the past year has come from teaching over performing and writing, and I generally operate under a small loss when I produce. The only way to end this cycle is if we increase the audience for theatre.
One of my New Years resolutions was to break out of the actor/slave mentality - not to hang a lampshade on a less than satisfactory experience without pay by saying, "Well, at least I'm acting."
I completely agree that increasing our audiences is the best long term goal to alleviate the plight of actor pay. However, this is a long term goal that serves to strengthen theatre at large and does not specifically address actor pay.
What I would advocate is for local producers and freelancers alike to take a stand and address this problem directly. I recently met with a theatre artist with vast experience in other American cities, who was horrified that so many small theatres in Boston did not pay their actors. I've spoken with freelancers privately who have expressed private frustration at how rarely they were compensated for their labor and work.
In almost every conversation I've had, these freelancers said that if a company even offered a tiny, little stipend, they would feel much more respected as professionals and artists. I, for one, do not find this to be an unreasonable desire. However, many of these actors continue to work for free because they don't get asked how they feel.
Well, I'm asking you. How do you feel about dedicating 40-60 hours of your time over and over again without compensation?
I'm not saying that we should never work for free or go on strike. But we need to seriously evaluate when we do or do not work. I just did a show without pay because it was a brand new company with a minuscule budget. I'm also doing a show this summer for a weekly stipend. I was just offered a small gig for a director I'm friends with. I turned it down due to time concerns, but I would've done it as a pro bono favor.
Actors who are dedicated to making acting part of their full-time profession need to treat themselves as professional freelancers and decide what projects are worth doing pro bono and when they need to ask for compensation or turn down a role. Have some balls!
Producers need to factor actor pay into their budgets according to their size and scale. Have a budget of 300 dollars and need three actors? Fair enough. But have a budget of $1,000 and need three actors? Surely, one can afford to pay $25 stipends to each artist for their 40-60+ hours of labor. That's less than 10% of the total budget. Some people might say that's too low. But I wager that the act of budgeting in compensation for the most underpaid members of the theatre community would be a giant mark of respect and mutually beneficial for all parties in the medium and long run.
As one of the comments said on my blog post last month, the time is coming when small theatres will have to pay their actors in order to maintain a steady level of professional growth. There is some debate over when that time is. I respect others who disagree with me, and I've never felt that any company or producer in this community was exploiting me or other actors. However, I feel strongly that the time has come.
The CoLab will be a part of this future. We are less than two years old. We have a tiny budget. We will be paying our actors small (and I do stress, small) stipends for our first full length production. We won't be able to pay actors for all of our shows and programming this year, and probably not next, but we will be factoring actor pay into the budgets of projects with higher production value. In the long term we hope to have an actor pay budget for all projects, large or small.
Think about this way: If this individual production can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on space, costume, props, etc, why can't we afford small stipends? It would be easy to save that money and put it towards production value, such as sets or other design elements. But instead, we choose to say to our actors:
We are young, but we are professionals and we are cut from the same clothe. As we grow, you will grow with us. We are all in this together.