Working for Free

Working for Free

Working for Free | brokeGIRLrich

Under what circumstances would you work for free?

So far, for me, it’s been strictly under volunteer circumstances. For years, I used to help my church with their Vacation Bible School skits and dramas, and that was the one time a year I would do any kind of theater work for free.

Despite this the free theater beast has reared it’s ugly head in my life again.

I lucked out and landed a pretty decent part-time gig after less than a week of being unemployed after my tour ended. It was enough money to carefully get me through the summer, while still allowing me to stick to (or even exceed, if I wanted) my $500 budget.

However, the show is only scheduled to run until the end of June. When I interviewed, it was pretty clear that they were very likely to extend through July too (and possibly even much later than that). The first two weekends of shows I worked were completely packed.

Then last week it wasn’t.

Because it’s sort of a weird, experimental Off-Broadway show, we have a Facebook page, that our very active director/producer posts on often. And since our poor ticket sales (that were really the fault of one of our online ticketing companies forgetting to list us last weekend), the company has been in full freak out mode and the very first thing that popped up was her floating the idea of doing two shows a night.

At no additional pay.

To which, my first thought was, “oh, hell no.”

I have little doubt in my mind that I’ve made it as far as I have and as long as I have as a stage manager because I don’t get involved in little projects that are a hot mess (except when I’m building props – which has further solidified my lack of interest in stage managing such shows).

I even generally stick to a pretty strict hard minimum rate.

But, then I decided to think this through a little more:

  • This is a gigantic show by a really well known director in the experimental theater community.
  • Helping bolster the show now, while it’s struggling a little, could pay off in the long run with a steady gig and a pay raise.
  • This show is also an Equity gray area because of our seating arrangement, so this show has quite a few Equity performers, which is really the first opportunity I’ve had to interact with them and expand my network into that world.
  • I’m working on 42nd Street! I’m right next to Aladdin and across the street from On the Town. I know this is the stupidest reason on the list, but I walk into the theater each day thinking, I’m kind of getting somewhere with this.

So while financially, that 2nd show a night would be free, there are still some pretty big networking opportunities I’m building.

Despite thinking that, I’m still on the side of not doing a 2nd show – largely because my commute in would go from $17 to about $50 between tolls, gas and parking, because our 2nd show wouldn’t end until after the last train back to New Jersey has left Penn Station.

It’s one thing to me to volunteer a small, set amount of time to a project, not to progress indefinitely as free slave labor.

Also, I realize for directors and producers, a performance is their baby. They’re willing to do a lot for it. One situation where I have worked for free for years is this very website. Because I love it and I think it has long term potential and it is kind of my baby. But that being said, I would never expect others to work for me for free. Occasionally, I approach people to guest post or newer bloggers contact me, but if I were to outsource to another blogger for help – they’d get paid.

I’m well aware that most times in life, someone else’s labor of love is just another person’s job.

I think it’s easy to lose sight of that.

Are there any situations you would work for free?

12 thoughts on “Working for Free

  1. Interesting perspective, Mel. I can see how this is a tough choice for you. I’ve worked countless gig in my career for free. Some paid off, others didn’t. It sounds like you’ve thoroughly weighed the pros and cons. On the plus side, it sounds like a fun project to work on while you’re waiting for your main job to begin again!
    Kate @ Cashville Skyline recently posted…How To Orchestrate a Career ChangeMy Profile

  2. I believe that it doesn’t matter what career your in, when an opportunity arises that you can work and get some great experience to add to your resume, you should take it. There are a few jobs and volunteer work that I have completed in my past that I have on my resume and they are great for displaying diversity and good character. Also its just good to give back once in a while.
    Petrish @ Debt Free Martini recently posted…5 Top Must Have Financial HabitsMy Profile

    • I’m not sure it applies to every career, because there is rampant underpayment in the arts, as well as the idea that since it’s your passion/you enjoy it, that should be payment enough.

      But you can’t eat passion. It doesn’t put a roof over your head. Also, other companies recognize low paying or no paying companies on your resume and know you’ll work for next to nothing – which then effects the offer you get from them.

  3. I’ve been involved recently in volunteering my time to help spread the financial literacy word, it’s a few hours a month and had lead to some good networking opportunities. This show sounds like it could makes some connections for you, as long as you keep it within your budget and time frame guidelines who knows what it might lead too in the future.Agreed it tough to be shell out $50 a day out of your own pocket and work for butt off for that possibility.
    Brian recently posted…What’s the state of your Network?My Profile

  4. Girl, I’ve been there. I just started stage managing a show that I probably should have said no to because of how little it pays…but I hate not working. In your situation, if the producer is really serious about additional shows and the rest of the company seems to be on board, I would say that I was OK with not getting a pay increase for more work but explain the additional commuting expenses and see if they would cover those.

    • Hahahaha, if the cast was OK with it. There were dang near riots when she suggested it. It was almost hilarious, if I wasn’t in the middle of it. It was also fascinating to watch the wheel’s spin and see the difference between the people who were onboard and the people who weren’t.

  5. I involuntarily worked for free 10 to 20 hours week over a 10 year period when I was a salaried engineer in my first career. Although salaries and benefits were based on a 40 hour work week I was constantly “working for free” because of the increasing work load with the never ending layoffs and a “fix it fast I don’t care by who” business model where the incompetent went home on time when things went bad. Then for the pleasure of working there I got to carry a pager 24X7 by 365 days. Oh the good old days in corporate-America. I sure don’t miss it. I think sometimes we allow our employer to take advantage of our go-getterness. You will gain something from this but don’t do anything you don’t want to do.
    LeisureFreak Tommy recently posted…Identity Loss in Early RetirementMy Profile

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