March 7, 2008

It’s 29 Hours. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:57 pm

My Views on Small Gigs

After several weeks of unemployment, I have a little job. Actually, even Equity admits that a stage reading does not constitute “employment.” What they mean by that is, if you’re doing a show that allows you to miss rehearsal due to other employment in the industry, this is not a good enough excuse. But also, a week of work for $100 isn’t really a job. Still, I much prefer doing a reading to a showcase, as I recently turned down a 6-week showcase, even though it would have paid $600. My philosophy about jobs in theatre that don’t pay actual money is that if I’m not doing anything, I can dedicate a week of my life to meeting some new collaborators, learning a new show that might have a future, working with well-known actors I admire, and putting my full effort into making a 1-page contact sheet, putting together 29 hours of schedule, and helping them to coordinate the moving of music stands and chairs around a bare stage. I might even take the house lights up and down for the actual readings.

Contrast that to a showcase, which despite its name and original intentions, is a full production with a full design team, essentially a full-time job for usually six weeks, culminating in an actual production which needs to be loaded in, teched, and loaded out. And it still usually pays only $100 a week (if you can get it — that’s seldom the original offer). Not to mention for someone like me who subs on Broadway and Off-, I could lose far more money in lost sub work than I make doing the entire run of the Showcase. It’s happened to me several times. And lest that sound like it’s all about the money, let’s remember that if I’m taking a Showcase it means I don’t have a job. So yes, at least until the rent is accounted for, it has to be at least partially about the money. Personally I feel I’m making more art in the 8,125th running of the Phantom Overture than in many showcases I’ve done, so I actually feel no guilt about the art either.

But back to the reading. I don’t mean the title to sound like it’s going badly. It’s not at all. It’s actually something I’ve said many times, in fact to the director of this one when we first met for coffee. It really is my philosophy about doing readings. When you take a show, you don’t know if it’s going to be a good experience or a bad one, if it will go somewhere or be forgotten about forever, or if the people you meet will lead you to bigger jobs, or never call you again. In my opinion, if the show turns out to be a bad experience, there are two ways to rationalize getting out of bed in the morning: either they’re paying you a fair wage, or it will all be over soon. This is why showcases are bad — they satisfy neither criteria, so if you’re not having fun, you’re screwed.

I truly believe the process of putting eleven actors standing at music stands for 29 hours can’t possibly create the kind of unpleasantness that would make it not worth the risk. Thus, I took the job, no questions asked. We start rehearsal tomorrow, and so far I like the director, who I’ve met, I like the composer and musical director who I’ve gotten to know quite well via e-mail, and I like the cast — one of whom I’ve worked with and am thrilled to be working with again, one of whom I’ve spoken to on the phone, and the rest through e-mail. I’m excited to start meeting people and get to work.

The other great thing about this job is, as I said in an earlier post, I’ve missed being a PSM for the last six months or so. A reading doesn’t allow for the full use of PSM skills, but I’m hoping it will be enough to tide me over until summer, when I will have more responsibility than anyone could ever want, as PSM of a summer stock season.

I will share one other thing I’ve learned from being unemployed for the first time in about a year. Having a week or more to myself has reminded me how valuable my time is. I am an only child, I learned at an early age how to entertain myself. I am not bored at all. If I could be paid to do nothing forever, I would never leave my apartment. So I feel no desire to take a so-called “job” just for the sake of having one, if the money offered is not remotely worth the value of my time. I believe I provide Broadway-quality stage management to every show I do, big or small. That doesn’t mean I expect every employer to be able to pay me $1,500 a week, or anywhere near that. I know how much money I need to live, which is not much by New York standards, and I need health insurance, and I will never turn down work that meets those two requirements. But for anything below that I realize now that the only reason to take such a job would be if I wanted to. For whatever reason — believe in the show, want to work with one of the actors, like the director, trying to get in with the producer. There has to be a reason I want it, so badly that I’d rather do the show than sit comfortably at home doing something else. And in the last month I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with saying no to working your ass off when there’s little or nothing to be gained. In no other industry would anyone be made to feel guilty over such a decision. Should I call up an accountant and ask him to do my taxes for $5 in his spare time at night? If he tells me he’s actually quite busy watching American Idol, do I have a right to question his devotion to developing his accounting skills?

Now that I’m spending some time back at the bottom of the industry, just wanted to share the view. It’s easy to forget when you get used to a weekly paycheck.

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