Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Musical Paradox

I think I'm one step closer to understanding why there's never enough time to work music, and why I'm broke all the time.

Theater is a strange beast. Even at the regional level, a lot of people aren't making a living at it. They have day jobs. The difference is how it breaks down.

Actors (aside from a few Equity) get paid a stipend, or not at all. The schedule of rehearsals is organized around their need to get from their 9-to-5. What exactly they do during Tech Week, I'm not sure -- other than get no sleep, or use up some sick days.

Designers are in a worse cramp because their time commitment is over a shorter period, but has longer hours. Tech Week for a designer is not 6 pm till midnight, it can be 9 AM till 2 AM. The tendency seems to be for Lighting Designers to have part-time jobs in the business (often they are a part-time Master Electrician at some other theater; another frequent option is working for a rental company.) Flex-time is almost mandatory to make it possible to invest in the morning focus sessions, the daytime production meetings, and the all-night cue-setting sessions.

Set designers need to spend more time in drawing and in consulting with the shop as they build -- set design goes over a longer period. So more often set designers (and costume designers) are theater full-time. But because no show pays a living wage by itself, they are inevitably working more than one show at a time. What saves them is set design operates a lot more like a consultancy than does, say, lighting or Music Direction; the Set Designer doesn't have to be in the room for the entirety of tech.

A similar division exists in the labor; lighting techs (and running crews) work relatively limited evening shifts which are completely compatible with jobs, school, or even other designs. Techs are flexible parts; you don't need the same tech focusing a show that had been there last thursday hanging the show. Carpentry, on the other hand, takes place in the day and takes all day; set building tends to be freelancers who stick with a production over the 3-6 week build then move on to the next show (I did this for about ten years).

Musicians, then, become the odd bird. You would think that their calls (even shorter than actor's calls) would permit day jobs. But few musicians spend their working hours away from music. Most are doing music elsewhere -- often as not, teaching classes. This gives them the flex time they need to accommodate show calls: but it also puts them in a mindset where sub'ing is customary.

Since all the income a musician makes is by "service" (aka a set fee to sit down for a fixed number of hours and play) -- teaching classes, especially one-on-one, works out similarly -- they are very much not disposed towards arbitrarily adding hours. Quite the reverse; their financial viability depends on them being able to run from gig to gig and stuff as many into the available slots as they can.

And where does that leave me? Somehow, I seem to be caught with the worst of both worlds when it comes to hours. That comes from wearing two hats; as designer I need to be free to follow any arbitrary extensions to the schedule during tech, and as a performer I need to be there every evening -- and my call starts earlier and runs later than that of the actors, meaning it overlaps the traditional 9-to-5. The only work options that seem possible are flextime partime -- and it is best (because of the incredible impact on my load-in schedule caused by the arbitrary changes of others) that this part-time work have little in the way of set deadlines or mandatory friday meetings.

And this is still not the best economy to be looking for THAT understanding a job!

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