Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Price of Commitment

Now, this is a topic that's certainly complicated, and each person has to figure out for him or herself.

That being said, here's where I'm at.

The thing that is nice about being able to pay artists up front, or give them an idea of the compensation, is that they definitely invest a little more into it.

This goes double for the non-professional artists that I've worked with.

I actually had two people drop out of my original production, as Celia Wren mentioned in a Washington Post piece last summer, not so much about my show, but the Capital Fringe experience.

The latter one mentioned that not only did he not expect the rehearsals to happen as often as they did, but he had to take up a paying job.  Understandable, the guy had been unemployed for more than 6 months.

Flashforward to a more recent encounter, this time with a theater professional.  She had auditioned for a a production of Once on This Island, with KAT 2nd Stage, which I am choreographing.

After the show's been cast and rehearsals have started, she sends an email to the director explaining that a paying gig has come up and that she has to take it, hoping that we'll understand and all.

And we a point. I understand needing to make a living, but more important, I understand the need to commit.

How would she feel if the tables had been reversed and we let her know that we had recast the show with another actor in her place?  No, the analogy doesn't work on the financial level, but the point is that when we cast, we commit to the actor. And that commitment is a two way street.

That's part of the reason we ask for conflicts from the get-go, right? Not just tangible ones, but potential/tentative ones as well.

And that's why one of the main bits of advice I've held on to is never audition for something you cannot commit too.

The second bit of advice I would give is that this theatre (and larger) performing world is smaller than one thinks.

The theater she's possibly leaving our show to do work for, I'd say I have a fairly close relation to, having done a couple of shows with them over the past several years. And if she'd leave our production for a paying gig, who's to say she wouldn't drop that for a better paying one? Not that I would go out of my way to share this information, but if it came up I would certainly not keep it to myself.  But before that happens, I'd hope she'd learn better.

Again, I understand the income bit, but I believe the ability to commit based on an informed decision you make with your own life should be the foundation for making those kind of professional decisions.

Just my two cents, based on my own experience.

Which brings me to this fundraiser.  Again, commitment is a two-way street, but I can understand how it's harder to make a personal investment, when someone is asking and not giving.  All I could give last year, was the promise for a cut of part of the box office revenue.  I was actually quite pleased with what I ended up paying all those involved.

With income of about $1,200 from the box office, I was able to donate $100 each to the two organizations which in turn had donated materials and publicity as partners, DanceSafe & SSDP, I could pay my designers $50 each, and my stage manager and performers between $125-$150.  Again, this barely compensated them for maybe 1/3 of the time they spent on The Rave Scenes, at a modest hourly wage. Myself, I paid about $5, because everyone else's gift of time and energy was more than payment enough.

But this compensation was an unknown at the time of commitment. And especially in this day and time, asking people to invest time and energy when you don't know what you can offer them in return, except a promise,'s a lot to ask.  Being able to tell them at the least, I can offer them something solid and concrete, compensation for at least the rehearsal time, if this fundraiser is successful, well hopefully it lets them know how serious I am about the value of their time, and how valuable their commitment is in return.

Which isn't to say that those who did pull through with me on my epic journey last year didn't know how much it meant to me that they stayed.  In fact, because most of them were friends from the theatre and the rave scene, I think they knew even more so how important that piece and their participation was, and it is why they stayed.  And even if I could have compensated them appropriately, it still would not represent what their involvement was personally worth to me.

Anyway, I have a feeling I'm digressing. Probably part of my effort to postpone the weekend's end.  Every new beginning, though, I suppose.

So there you have it, with this fundraiser, I hope to put this money where my mouth is, and be able to get people what they give in the first place.

- JR Russ, Vision Director, A Way of Life Productions

1 comment:

  1. Thinking about this, this kind of ties in to this larger issue about how we in America value the arts and value the artist as a society, but that's a conversation for another day.