October 3, 2012

My Non-Equity Actor Manifesto

Dear Boston-area non-Equity theatre producers:
I am a non-Equity actor. I call myself a professional due to my two decades' experience, training, attitude and ability. I made a choice to work a full-time career outside of my art from economic necessity. I neither expect nor demand a living wage in exchange for my services.


My time is valuable.
In addition to my full-time job, you're asking me to spend 4-6 weeks in rehearsal and 2-4 weeks in performance. When I'm working on a show, I leave the house at 8:30 am and roll in after 11pm. This is time away from my friends, family and partner. My cats miss me. My laundry and dishes pile up. My milk goes bad. I miss other people's shows. I miss family gatherings. I miss concerts, movies, museum exhibits, TV shows, and other cultural events. I spend money on gas, tolls, parking, bus fare, cab fare and subway fare to get to rehearsal.

My skill set is valuable.
Check out my résumé. I don't need any more exposure or experience, thanks; I've been at this for twenty years. Trust me. I've got plenty.

There is a limited set of circumstances under which I'll work for free.
It's my first time working with you.
I'm excited about the play, the role, the cast, the director, etc.
There's a realistic chance you'll bring me on board as an artistic associate, let me direct someday, etc.

You really should pay your actors.
If you don't already, I strongly suggest you make it your mission in the very near future to do so. This may mean more active/aggressive fundraising, a slightly higher ticket price, or choosing plays with smaller casts. Even if it's only a $100 or $150 stipend, it's a start, and it's meaningful and beneficial to us actors.

I know it's not (always) your fault.
I understand that there are economic realities at play, especially in this city. Performance space is expensive and limited. There's nowhere to rehearse. It costs a lot to put on a show, and I absolutely respect that you want to reach a broad audience and keep ticket prices low. I know you're investing as much if not more time and sweat into this as we are, and quite often you're not making a dime on this either. I don't accuse you of deliberately exploiting the actors of this city; I trust that the vast majority of you would pay us if you could.

But the more that actors are willing to work for free, the more that theatre producers become accustomed to actors working for free. When we set our value at zero, eventually our worth becomes zero.

When you pay your actors:
  • You attract better actors, which usually improves the quality of your productions, which usually raises your profile.
  • You make the theatre scene more competitive, but in a good way; actors with less experience are motivated to improve their skill set.
  • You stymie the attrition of the area's talent pool. You give a reason for early and mid-career artists to stay around, and for artists to settle here.

Until that happy day when someone opens a checkbook and creates a complex of affordable blackboxes specifically for the emerging/small/fringe theatre scene, when the local university theatre programs are more willing to share their spaces and resources, and when there is increased mentoring between larger and smaller theatre companies, a major step in pushing our theatre scene forward is paying the artists you hire. And for our local actors to take a stand and demand compensation.


Kenny Steven Fuentes said...

Solidarity, sir. The producers who produce season after season and don't pay their actors have to ask themselves how serious they are about their work. If they're fine with stagnation and developing a reputation as an amateur's dead end, fine. But if they want to be taken seriously as a business/artistic venture, they need to make an effort to pay for their labor. I've seen so many talented actors leave town for this reason. I'm, sadly, one of them. But then again, I'm not so sad.

I hope the companies that don't pay will start to realize how much of a hole they're digging themselves into. The talent drain will continue if they don't.

Beth said...

Here's something really weird! A few weeks ago, I came across your photo (Mr Geffrion) on Boston Casting's site while I was fishing around for people for a play reading/workshop of my own play (no audience, just to help me improve the script.) I investigated a little and found your website and said "Oh, nah, this guy is too experienced. He won't do a 4 hour workshop for $25 and snacks." Now Im wondering if maybe you would have! At least it seems you would have appreciated the gesture! :) (Im writing after I just randomly found your post thru your tweet to Howard Sherman ...)

Anyhow, thank you for addressing this in such a positive way that considers the complexities and some different solutions. Definitely room for new models of sharing the burdens and benefits out there. And there are some paralels for playwrights. (I also have a list of situations where id write for free.) Thanks for sharing.

John said...

Readings are fine! $25 and snacks for one evening is more than adequate compensation :-)