Sunday, January 20, 2013

Union thoughts from a few months back

Abummer of a situation down in Philly has really got me thinking a lot about my work, how it's done, and the people in this crazy entertainment industry.
A bit about me-more than I can fit in that about box: I've worked as a lighting designer--and more importantly PAID as a lighting designer-for over 10 years. I'm blessed to have been that lucky.
That certainly wasn't every job, nor all of the time. I've worked as an electrician, a carpenter, a propsman, draftsman, SFX, a little of everything to pay the rent over the years.
I've worked in theatre, opera, dance, architechture, and most recently and extensively, television. I've done all of this both union and non union, and all of the world.
Meanwhile, I come from a pretty rad theatre scene down in Philadelphia (currently, I'm based in NYC). It is a vibrant beautiful thing with a lot of creativity happenning...however there is a problem that has arisen at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Their stagehands are on strike. I have some knowledge of the situation, but only as an outside observer. I'm reading up on it and fascinated by it...primarily because I'm stunned it hasn't hapenned sooner. I don't mean that as an indictment of PTC or of their labor, either.
However, there is a fundamental "growing up" that needs to happen to every growing buisness and profession-and I find this especially true with anything in the arts.
I knew I wanted to work in the arts from a fairly young age. I committed, paid my own way through college because my parents didn't think it was a "real job"...and ended up going to SUNY Purchase. It's a bit of a bootcamp of a program, and at the time, my entire freshman class was 65 people. By the time we graduated, I was just one of 4 LD's and had a graduating class of about 15. At my graduation, I had a professor wish us all well...and looked forward to see who stays in the buisness. Over his years of teaching, he told us, he found that by the time we are about 30, another third of us would leave the industry. He never explained what he meant, but as I crossed that threshold a few years back, it was true...and I think I understand why.
For any of us that
do spend our career in the industry, there is a tipping point. Many of
us get into it because of the fun, the passion, the people. With age, however, your needs and priorities change. Some of us want a family, others decide that they just need a normal schedule, something more predictable or a life that doesn't involve living paycheck to paycheck. There's no shame in leaving. I know people who have given up theatre and the arts for "regular jobs" and are flourishing because of the strange and wonderful skill sets the arts have given them. For the rest of us who chose to perservere, it means something else, and eventually it hits you:
This is my career.
This isn't just fun; It is a choice between continuing to do this as a hobby or a weekend project, or making it your profession. Professionals need to be paid as such. No one in this industry is going to be making exceptional money--but a fair living wage isn’t unreasonable.
Many of these Theater companies start as passion projects and that is
wonderful…however there needs to be a point where people put away the
childish attitudes of “theatre isn’t a real job” and assuming that
because there is a litany of schools constantly pushing out fresh meat,
willing to work for barely minimum wage or just above, while doing
potentially dangerous tasks, uninsured, that it is acceptable. You want a profitable, professional product, but pay for it in the sweat equity of over skilled and under paid labor makes it difficult. Sometimes you don’t need to suffer for your art. Sometimes treating it with professional respect,
and dealing and working with professionals makes all of the difference
in the world.

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