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.