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Don’t Call Yourself Professional…Unless You Are.

January 10, 2013

You know those annoying salesmen in furniture stores who follow you around and insist you need a 7-piece bedroom set for your unborn child and a china cabinet for your nonexistent china – when all you wanted to do was come in from the cold and sit on some floppy furniture you never intended to buy?  There’s a big difference between those people, and the people at the grocery store stocking the shelves. The Furniture Store people work on commission.  They only get their paycheck if they sell a certain amount of furniture.  If you find yourself submitting to the $40 furniture polish because it’s the cheapest thing you can purchase from the smiling nice lady, then she did her job well.  Because she’s Professional.  And she’s on commission.

You may think these type of positions only exist in retail, but it could be said most of the Entertainment Industry works on Commission.  For arguments sake, let’s say the Producer is honest and actually has $X amount to produce a show.  The Producer should have $XXX amount to produce this show, but all dreams must adjust with the size of the budget.  And so, Producer’s Dream Show becomes somewhat of a Labor of Love; meaning that if any of the employees actually bothered to breakdown their hourly pay, it’d likely be lower than a sweatshop in a 3rd world country.

Now, the practical among you may say “NO WAY, I NEED TO BE PAID MORE! I MAKE FOUR TIMES AS MUCH BUSING TABLES!”  And if you honestly think that statement you are no longer a working artist, you have become a hobbyist.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, many people enjoy Entertainment as a hobby and pursue it casually.  And I’m not saying to let you or your art be taken advantage of if you are consistently offered jobs at a higher pay rate; but if you are turning down your only Industry job offer in 4 months because it would mean going out twice a week instead of four times, I’m insulted you call yourself a working Entertainment Professional.  We must sacrifice to “make it” in this career.  It’s not all Luck, Parties, and Big Breaks… it’s a lot of “dues” to put in, drastically abnormal lifestyle requirements, constant application of skills, careful financial planning, and yes – schmoozing with the right people in the right places.

There are 3 types of people who apply for these “Labor of Loves”   [meaning all artists are being paid for their work, but not enough to live off]

  1. The First Type are the inexperienced.  Those who either have degrees and haven’t worked in the industry since graduation, or those who are looking to “break in” and bypass the Showcase/no pay/off-off-off-off broadway theatre scene.  In school things are ideal: your tuition dollars go to the latest equipment, hippest styles, and ideal technical situations.  In real life: you could be working with equipment twice your age, on a show that makes no sense to you, and be operating 3 separate boards at once with no backstage crew.  It’s not school: you don’t submit an idea, get a B, and walk away content.  In Entertainment: you submit an idea, get a “B”, and have a ridiculously short amount of time and budget to turn that “B” into an “A” because the Producer wants an “A” and the Producer pays your paycheck.  You need appropriate experience before thinking yourself qualified for design or management positions in professional theatre; there’s too much money and risk on the line already to take a chance on you.  I know, the old Catch 22 of “you have to have experience to gain experience.”  Get an internship at a professional theatre while you’re still in school; take as many business, history, acting theory, and tech courses as you can [the more well-rounded you are, the more career opportunities]; or after graduation get a low-stress “survival job” with flexible hours that allows you to take the low/no pay opportunities or PA positions to gain experience.  Don’t expect a weekly salary on your first gig.  You’ll be lucky if you get a stipend.
  2. The Second Type of people who apply for these positions are those budding in their career.  They have the non-educational experience, whether through internship or indy theatre, there has been some low/no budget application of skills, so this Labor of Love is a mild challenge, not an overwhelming Everest of impossibility.  And these type of people have found a way to give themselves fully to this position, on the salary offered, without personal lives getting in the way of creative application.  Type 2 are financially stable or are willing to sacrifice through the duration of the gig, meaning the production doesn’t suffer because a member of the team is too mentally stressed to complete their job.  These type of people thrive on challenges, respect their employer, and act professional.
  3. The Third Type are those established in their career.  The “one hit wonders” who may have a few big Assistant credits, but haven’t quite yet had a consistent Commercial Theatre career of their own.  This type of person has two subcategories: Type A – those for whom these Labor of Love shows have become a routine source of income; and Type B – those who think the Labor of Love isn’t quite worth their time considering but nothing else has come up, so they put little effort into the position [and usually complain of less-than-ideal equipment & situations].

Whether it is $X or $XXX, the Producer spent a lot of time considering the budget, offered you a paycheck and funds to work with, and you agreed to the terms.  Type 2 & Type 3A understand this concept and will likely go far and be rehired by the Producers they work with. If you find yourself to be a Type 1 or Type 3B: finish the job and rise to the challenge – a true Thespian will understand the amount of work and hours necessary for any given production.  If your paycheck is $X or $XXX, you agreed to the position and if you didn’t know what the position entailed, you shouldn’t have applied [again, going with the “honest-Producer” scenario].

Long story short you need 3 things to “make it” in Entertainment:

  1. Respect the Industry, the Work, and the Professionals involved
  2. Be willing to sacrifice and put in your “dues” – working at least 30 hours a week on your career
  3. Have the undeniable determination that you would be utterly miserable doing anything else and that your creative input to the profession is essential.

If the #3 isn’t fact, you may be an Entertainment Hobbyist and not a Professional.  You are not an Actor just because you have a degree, live in a metropolis, have waited tables the past 4 years and “the only reason” you haven’t been to an audition the past 6 months is because you’re only looking for gigs that pay as much as your restaurant job so can’t get into the audition without an agent or couldn’t get off work on such short notice or you wouldn’t move 500 miles for summer to that one regional theatre…

You get my drift.  It’s a New Year.  Make a Resolution to remember what you really want out of Entertainment, and realize that you’re the only one who can make it happen by the lifestyle you choose to live [hey – if it means waiting tables & being an avid Indy theatre supporter for life, that’s AWESOME, we need audience members because half the time the artists’ friends can’t afford the ticket to see their show!]  But if you are the Server who dreams of Neon Lights and the Great White Way but haven’t auditioned in months, take off your next shift and go to that open call.  Your Professionalism isn’t measured by your success rate, it’s measured by your application, determination, effort, and positive attitude.  If you have these in abundance, someone will take a chance on you.  But you have to be willing to ruin your Career as a Waiter just for a Chance as an Actor[Director/Designer/Etc.].  Are you willing to do what it takes to be an Entertainment Professional?



Kelly Sig

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 12, 2014 1:05 am

    I love this. It’s true- you get out what you put in, and if you’re not willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears, chances are, you won’t achieve the highest of your abilities. Sometimes you need to look yourself in the mirror, and really ask if you’re doing all you can to move forward…because if you’re not, you’ll be looking at a whole lot of stagnation and “what ifs”.

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