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April 06, 2010

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Scott Walters

"We all know the nonprofit sector (or at least theatre) is rife with these programs. Yet we also live in a world where many theaters can barely afford the staff they do have. What is to be done?"

I don't think this is an excuse. Or rather, it is the same excuse used by profit companies to fight the minimum wage laws. If your business model only works if you exploit workers, then you need to rebuild your business model. Harsh, I know -- but the arts aren't somehow separate from basic economic justice.

SashaNaomi

I've done more internships with stipends lower than anyone could ever imagine. One, right after college, although low-paying, was at a place where my coworkers were at least overall, decent people. The rest, not so much. I've been told to clean the crumbs from my boss's keyboard, fetch coffee, and haul boxes of merchandise for commercial shows making more money than any other show on Broadway at that time. Photocopying and faxing was a luxury activity for me. When I moved up to "assistant" or "receptionist" for a whopping $12 an hour from 9:45am to 7pm, (Oh, and if you need to know just how low that is, here's an idea: Harlem Children's Zone, a nonprofit pays its lowest level employees, who usually just have a high school diploma, $12 an hour), with no insurance, I got to empty and fill the dishwasher. I drained out my savings working shit jobs where immoral, money-sucking bosses made false promises that I would move up in the company. What really kills me is that the places that engage in these practices are usually the ones that make the most money. Nonprofits that aren't doing so well are usually more upfront about the whole thing: they'll ask people to work part-time rather than full-time, making it clear that the chances of the interns moving up depends on whether or not the company moves up.
Theatre IS a profession for the rich. Classes, headshots, networking events. . .it adds up. Not an actor? You're just as screwed. Say you don't want to get an MFA in acting, but directing instead. How does one get directing experience for their resume? By directing shows, of course. And how does an unknown director begin work? By producing his/her own shows. And where does the director get the money? From his/her bank account, and maybe some fundraisers that take forever to organize. And forget trying to pay to see shows to inspire you or whatever. Too much money.
I went to a private school for college. Coming from a public high school, I felt completely out of place. On weekends, while kids saw Broadway shows and talked them up to the professors, I worked at Banana Republic and J. Crew. One student, whose parents donated large sums of money to the dept., always seemed to get a lead in the mainstage.
Of course if we had serious federal funding for the arts, we wouldn't run into quite so many problems. But, considering our country can't get its shit together to provide health insurance for most people, I think thearts don't have much of a chance.

Adam

The lawyer that I was in a past life couldn't be happier that the IRS is drawing attention to this.

99

Didn't want to jam up Isaac's comments...but I kind of disagree. Thoughts here:
http://99seats.blogspot.com/2010/04/once-in-blue-moon.html

In short, Scott, I'm all for increasing economic justice in theatre and making internships more available or even financially viable, but they have a ton of value, precisely because that's how you learn how a theatre works. At the very least, that's how I learned.

If I felt like all internships were dead-end, either within the organization or in the field, that would be one thing. But most everyone I know has done an internship somewhere and it led to other, more productive and more lucrative work. It's not time-wasted (for at least some) and it actually might lead people to more sustainable jobs in the theatre.

I have absolutely no argument that there are elements of privilege in the way they work, and that can and should be looked at. But I think, by and large, they're a good thing in theatre.

Personally, as I say in my post, I don't go so far as to call internship "exploitation", but they can be quite abusive. That, though, I think, has more to do with the abusive nature of jobs in theatre in general.

SashaNaomi

Yeah, most jobs in theatre ARE abusive. The big issue with internships is that the ones we're talking about are full-time gigs. It's one thing to say, help us out for a few hours a week, we'll show you the ropes, and give you a good recommendation. It's another thing, a downright wrong thing to say give us your life for nothing.

Jonas

"Yeah, most jobs in theatre ARE abusive. The big issue with internships is that the ones we're talking about are full-time gigs. It's one thing to say, help us out for a few hours a week, we'll show you the ropes, and give you a good recommendation. It's another thing, a downright wrong thing to say give us your life for nothing."

Unfrtunately I have some experience in this. A company offered my an internship, but I ended up doing harder work than any of the employees there. For no pay. People really have to be careful when applying.

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