No professional I know in the arts began with the idea “to get rich”. Indeed, pursuing the arts comes from an irresistible impulse to write, to make music, to act, to paint, to perform, to create something new. As artists, we spend countless hours and prodigious amounts of money to develop our skills. I began with the piano which drew me like a magnet. It was an inner impetus: I had to take lessons. I had to learn how to play. It was an all-consuming urge that could not be denied. I didn’t start out with the idea of becoming a star, or even of making a living in music – although that goal developed in pretty short order! When I was learning to hand-copy music manuscripts in college, a teacher gave me an orchestral work that had been composed by a friend of his. I was delighted to spend weeks extracting the parts from the score, just for the practice and experience of learning. I don’t think the tiny check I received covered the price of the paper and ink I used!
To my mind, the performing arts can be more treacherous than fine arts (painting, sculpture, etc.) in this regard because in most instances performers crave to relate directly with other performers and ultimately to the audience. One has to “keep up their chops” between gigs, so workshops are formed and often participants pay-to-play, as if they were out bowling recreationally, instead of working hard on perfecting their professional skills.
As the daughter of two people who met on stage, I’ve noticed theater people appear to be more eager than many other performing pros to assume that one will volunteer for unpaid rehearsals, free rewrites, event promotion, set-building, etc. – Just For The Joy Of It. This delusion persists their entire lives, apparently!? One of the reasons I found it so onerous to work at The Gaslight Theater was the presumption that my time was worthless and therefore I need not be compensated for it. That idea may have been okay when I was in school, but it didn’t pass muster when I was in my 50s!
As I see it, the stage is set for such gross exploitation at the outset of one’s creative life, when we’re so eager, we’ll do anything to scratch that itch! (It also doesn’t help that the world refers to what we do as playing music, as if it isn’t actually work!) Granted, there are so many more of us who get bitten by the creative bug than opportunities exist to do our thing, let alone get paid for it; it can become a desperate scene.
Last week an article ran in The Hollywood Reporter recounting the tale of an actor who suffered terrible abuse at the hands of a powerhouse film director. My heart was touched by the catch-22 in which he found himself; an ordeal that’s been echoed in my own life experiences all too often, though not as frequently now as in my younger years. Yes, there are still many Things We Do For Love – but increasingly, just as we learn to drive defensively, we may need to lo♥e defensively!