Tag Archives: ethics

Pay-To-Play, Theater Edition: Companies Who Make Playwrights Pay

Imagine you’re a doctor. You’ve put time, money and effort into your training, and have come to be regarded as a professional in your field. Now, there’s a job for a local hospital where you’d like to work. The job carries a $50 “application fee,” and once the hospital in question has decided they want you practicing under their auspices, you’re going to have to pay $5000 in order to see or treat any patients. You can expect about $100 per patient seen as a “kickback” for the chance to treat them, as a way of “honoring” your “investment” with the hospital.

Are you going to take the job? Are you even going to apply?

More importantly, as a patient, are you going to believe that the hospital involved is really interested in providing you with the best medical care available?

Now imagine the hospital is a theater company, and you’re a playwright.

The number of theater companies who think it’s okay to charge both reading and acceptance fees to playwrights seems to be on the rise. And that’s not okay. Playwrights aren’t going to cut into your body (not physically, at least) and they’re not going to save you from an acute life-or-death situation (though they might write something that sticks with you for years to come), but they’re still artists(often trained and practiced) who have put time, effort and ability into their work. And they have no business subsidizing theater companies.

The other day on Facebook, a friend pointed out an “opportunity” for writers who wanted to work with one of NYC’s downtown theater company. After paying a $15 application/reading fee, anyone who was accepted could also look forward to being charged a $175 “acceptance fee” to see their work performed.

Excuse me?

Dear budding playwrights and other writers: the name for a company that poduces or publishes you in exchange for money is “vanity publisher.”

IScreenshot_2014-04-29-10-26-44 realize that reading plays takes time, and producing them takes money, but as a company, if you’re not making enough off your ticket sales and from producer investments to profit from a play without charging the people who wrote them (who are notorious, industry-wide, for NOT GETTING PAID FOR THEIR WORK) to put them on — and you’re not okay with that — then do you really have any business running a theater festival?

Open a theater school. Run a summer camp. Set yourself up as a dramaturg-for-hire. Open your company to development-for-hire.

Just don’t pretend you’re interested in producing theater that opens opportunities or artistic space for those who can’t afford to subsidize you.

When I co-produced ANY OBJECTIONS? for Glasgay 2012, my fellow producer and I put out a global call for short plays dealing with marriage equality. We were particularly interested in getting plays from Asia, Africa and other regions that were under-represented in the world of Western theater, because those were the perspectives we felt it might be most important to show our primarily English-speaking audience. Our only barrier to entry? The plays had to be in English – we simply didn’t have the time or money required to make a translator available.

Did we charge a reading fee? No. Did we charge an “acceptance fee”? No. Did we make any money off anybody but the patrons who came to the performance? No, we did not. And did everybody involved get some kind of paid?

You bet your underwear they did.

The actors got paid, the director got paid, and every single participating writer (with the exception of one who chose to remain anonymous and who, I believe, we were unable to contact with follow-up information, despite our best efforts) got a check as payment for their participation in the event.

Paying For The Right To Work

While the language of the Playbill notice differs slightly from the language used on the company’s website, let’s note that this is posted in a major theatrical publication under the title of “Editorial/Job Opportunity,” and the last time I saw a job you had to pay to take it was because they were selling you a kit of “E-Z ASSEMBLE-AT-HOME JEWELRY, MAKE $5000/MONTH” or a list of real estate leads. Let’s also note that this is a production festival for female playwrights, a group that’s historically under-represented in theater productions worldwide – which, to my mind, makes it even more unethical to charge them for the privilege of having their work produced.

Screenshot_2014-04-29-10-30-27The company who placed the ad cited above offers a $1-per-ticket return (they call it a “kickback) after a $175 “acceptance fee” – which comes after a $15 “reading fee,” mind – so that the playwright can hope to recoup some of her investment. That means a playwright has to see three sold out shows and one half-full house before she’s broken even. Does the company give any information on their average audience size for the festival, past production attendance or marketing reach? No? What? You mean the festival’s only in it’s first year, so there’s no data on how much reach it has or what ticket prices should be? (Note: While I’ve emailed the company regarding questions about past audience size, marketing reach and more, they requested more information Tuesday and have not responded to subsequent emails.)

If we playwrights are investing, shouldn’t we be doing so in an informed manner? And shouldn’t the company we’re investing in encourage that?

With this kind of barrier to entry, the company is already excluding any playwright who doesn’t have nearly $200 in her budget from even competing. Is this approach really going to net them the most talented, most engaging entrants? Is it going to open up the possibility of performance in a meaningful way? As an audience member, do you think that this company is more interested in producing an evening of theater that excites and challenges you, or in finding a way to wring as much money as possible from an evening of performances?

I get it, making theater takes money. I also understand that not everyone has a deep-pocketed producer on board to help offset their costs. I’ve produced theater under those circumstances, too. You know what we did? Anybody who put money in got their money back first, and any profits were split evenly between all members of the company.

Know what else? Every single one of those productions was profitable.

Artists Get Taken Advantage Of All The Time – Don’t Be One Of Them

Many years ago, a co-worker told me about a friend who had started a photography festival and was now living off the entry fees. Each photographer who sent an entry was charged $150 for the privilege, and in addition to making enough to pay for a considerable cash prize, the person who had started the contest was now making a full-time living off the fees.

So excuse me if I’m a little skeptical of companies that set up on this kind of model. As a producer, either you believe in the work you’re putting on stage or you don’t. If you do, then you assume the financial risk, pay your artists (or take them on in an equal, transparent profit-share), and hope for the best.

If you don’t believe in the work, and you don’t think you’re going to make a profit, and you have a problem with that, then don’t produce the play in the first place.

That said, the only way this practice is going to stop is if writers stop responding to these calls for work. So writers, if you value your work and your time, don’t buy into the hype. Submit to the hundreds of opportunities that don’t ask for your financial investment. You’ve already put your time, training and effort into your art. Don’t feel like you have to pay someone else to make it for you.

Charging artists to produce their work in order to make yourself a buck isn’t about making quality theater. It’s about running the production equivalent of a vanity press.

Presenting that as a great opportunity for new playwrights is not okay.

 

*To note: this is not the only company charging for acceptance (although Manhattan Rep frames their Spring One Act as a production fee, not one aimed at playwrights, and doesn’t charge for entry) nor are they charging the most.

Butchery, Part I: I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This…

2012-01-03 19.11.59

A few weeks ago, I went to Boston and had a lesson in how to butcher a pig. Not exactly what you’d expect from this city girl, right?

But we’ll begin at the beginning, and it started because of pernil.

A friend shared some of her mother-in-law’s with me the week after a major holiday, several years ago. It was melt-in-your-mouth awesome. A while after that, I ran into a recipe on reddit, and a few months after that I made my own low-sodium version with pork shoulder from that great foodie mecca of Western New York, Wegman’s.

Flash forward to mid-January, 2013. Walking through a nearby grocery store, I spotted pork shoulder for the first time in a Manhattan supermarket. (Trader Joe’s doesn’t seem to carry this particular cut of meat.) Unlike the pork shoulder at Wegman’s, though, this was the real deal: bone in, skin on – the shoulder of a pig. Six pounds of pig shoulder.

2013-01-13 16.32.25Thinking back to the pernil, I got excited, and paid eight bucks for a lump of meat the size of my head. Headed home, tried to fit the thing in the crock pot – ready to try making BBQ’d pulled pork, this time…and it wouldn’t fit.

I had to cut it in half, first.

I’ve never cut through pig skin before, and it says something about me that this may have been the first time I’ve ever had such a, erm, close relationship with a piece of meat that wasn’t poultry. By the time I got half the pork shoulder severed and the other half back in the fridge, I was starting to wonder whether I’d ever be able to eat bacon again.

But I kept going. The pork stewed in the crock pot for a couple hours. I took occasional pictures. My roommate and I made uneasy jokes about pig skin, humans, eating meat, and the zombie apocalypse.

When the cooking was over, the trouble started.

If you’ve ever cooked extremely fatty meat in a crock pot, you’ll understand when I say I probably shouldn’t have added the BBQ sauce to the mix before cooking the meat. Because I didn’t, the result was a watery mixture of sauce, meat and fatty oils – from both components. That was okay. I got out a couple of forks and started shredding the meat. (Also a bad idea; in retrospect, I should have drained the sauce off first.)

2013-01-13 17.01.53Things were basically cool, up until the moment the fork dragged up a piece of half-melted pig skin, strung together with a couple inches of meat. And maybe a tendon. Or something.

My stomach rolled.

But I kept thinking about the original reddit pernil recipe, specifically the part where he talks about honoring the animal that gave its life so you could eat, and I kept going. Picking out chunks of half-liquified pig skin, trying to scrape the shredded pork off the skin and back into the sauce. I tasted some.

I had not picked a good BBQ sauce. Also, there was still WAY too much fat in the sauce.

2013-01-18 00.32.48I managed to eat a spoonful before I realized this – unlike my famous steak tartar incident by the seine (remind me to blog about that, some time) – was not a culinary battle I could win.

With three pounds of frozen pork shoulder in the freezer, this was going to be a problem.

Luckily, a work friend was talking about making pork tacos the next day, and happy to take the rest of the pork shoulder off my hands. Guilt somewhat alleviated.

But now I had an ethical quandry on my hands, of the low-grade variety prone to plaguing the dietarily privileged: how could I justify eating a meat I couldn’t even prepare myself? It sounds nuts, I know. But it tickled at the back of my head for days following the pork shoulder incident. I’d spent time, recently, talking to hunters. My cousin and his wife (cousin-in-law) ran a free range organic farm back before they got married, and mine is the kind of family where, while we’re all omnivores, we have been known to trade emails asking “Is it ethical to eat meat?”

So when a friend posted on Twitter about a Boston restaurant and the pig-butchery-lesson they were giving away as a contest prize…I entered.

And won.

Which was when I realized: in March, I’d be butchering a pig.

And I had no idea if I was ready for it.

To Be Continued…

Hey Amanda, Can I Get My Dollar Back?

Dolla Dolla Bills, Y’all

I contributed to Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign because even though I don’t adore her music (I like a lot of singles, and have friends who see her in multiple cities, and was fortunate enough to see her show in NYC last year), I have a lot of respect and admiration for her as a hard-working performance artist who wanted to change the system. I wanted to play a small part in that change.

Today, I found out she’s allegedly refraining from paying fan musicians who have been invited to join her on stage during this tour. There is some controversy around whether this is a “controlled fan invasion” or “unpaid work.” @tomcollins76 quoted her to me on Twitter as saying, “If you really want to play music with me on stage, go for it…I just can’t pay you, it’s your choice.”

Will Ms. Palmer be playing for for free on these occasions? Or donating all ticket proceeds to charity? Or finding another way to put money in the pockets of performers invited to appear on her stage?

I didn’t support Amanda Palmer to support Amanda Palmer; I haven’t even downloaded my free digital copy of the album yet. I supported Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter because I believe the entertainment industry models have got to change. This – asking people to do what they love for free (plus beer and hugs) – is not a change in the industry model.

Thanks to Ozzy/@karohemd for use of the image.

Musicians – even if they’re fans, even if beer and hugs make them happy – should not be exploited by other professionals for no money.

Especially not by a musician who sold herself as being out to change the face of the music industry.

By not paying musicians who are appearing on stage at a professional, ticketed gig (and I’m not referring to GTO here, as they are getting paid – this is about the fans who are joining her on stage for free), Palmer is recycling the same old model. It wouldn’t stand in SAG, it wouldn’t stand in the Director’s Guild, and maybe it shouldn’t be what the revolutionary darling of the social music industry – and with over a million bucks fronted by backers, this is absolutely an industry, even if just the early days of one – encourages.

It’s definitely not what I signed up to support. The Kickstarter parties (pictured left, and thanks to both Ms. Palmer and @karohemd for getting it to me) were private fundraisers. These are, from what I understand, public concerts.

So while I think the video for WANT IT BACK was incredible work from a visionary artist, and I admire this small-businesswoman-gone-largescale for her chutzpah, I won’t be supporting further fundraising campains by Palmer. And this makes me a lot more cynical about supporting other Kickstarter campaigns by “known” artists looking to “change the system.”

It doesn’t matter if you want it back/You’ve given it away, you’ve given it away,” Palmer sings in WANT IT BACK, and when I heard her song I aligned the sentiment with the intimacy an artist reveals when they create for an audience; the metaphor of a crowd-sourced piece of work and the artist who created it.

Not so much, anymore.

 

Edit: Two pieces I highly recommend:

http://www.amandapalmer.net/blog/why-i-am-not-afraid-to-take-your-money-by-amanda/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lJQjihCp1E (Amanda speaks near Harvard Square)

 

 

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When you give away my money, don’t put that back on me. #HSBC #fraud #banking #howisthisonme

I woke up this morning (12/18/2010) and checked my bank balance, and found something curious and worrying – two checks had been cashed the night before, both for significant sums of money…but only one was signed by me. The other featured unfamiliar handwriting – and my roommate’s signature (of her own name)!

I woke up my roommate and showed her the check images, and she checked her own bank balance – which was unchanged – and we realized that she must have grabbed one of my checks by mistake. Both had been drawn on my account – though filled out in totally separate handwriting and with completely different signatures for different names – AND HSBC CASHED BOTH THE CHECKS!

Now, my roommate and I have already sorted out the financial side of this – but my attempts to get some kind of explanation from HSBC about how this could have happened have so far been met with total refusal to accept responsibility for what happened.

After spending 45 minutes on the phone with HSBC Customer Suckfest this morning (perhaps three minutes of which was actually spent on the line with an agent), I was flat-out told there was nothing the people on the phone could do to help me. (Although it took threatening to march into a local branch waving printouts of the two checks and complaining very loudly to get them to admit that much.) They implied that in order to get any kind of explanation, I’m going to have to file fraud charges against my roommate. Which I’m not going to do – obviously – although I think they’ve missed out on a serious point here regardless. She signed her own name – that’s not fraud, fraud is her signing my name. She’s not an authorized signatory on my account – so surely, HSBC, it shouldn’t matter whether she’s signed it, or Barack Obama, or Angelina Jolie signs their name on my check – NONE OF THEM ARE AUTHORIZED TO BE TAKING MONEY OUT OF MY ACCOUNT.

Am I wrong?

And here’s the thing, HSBC. You and I have a business relationship. We’ve entered into a contract that provides that you will protect certain aspects of my life. There is absolutely no excuse for providing funds and deducting them from my account based on the signature of someone who we both agree I did not authorize to withdraw funds from my account. Your Customer Service rep tried to say that this was something to do with the funds being deposited into a Citibank account – are you kidding me? Do you really think it matters if the request is coming from outside an HSBC branch? In fact, shouldn’t that make you even more cautious, in your own interest? Because guess what – now that money is outside of HSBC’s accounts, and I have a hard copy record of a check signed by someone in their own name on an account that we agreed should only be withdrawn from by me. You broke our contract.

Am I wrong?

So don’t tell me I have to file fraud paperwork, and don’t try to make this my responsibility or my roommate’s. Somebody on your payroll looked at that check, saw that the name printed on it, the name on the account, did not match the name – let alone the handwriting – that had been signed on the bottom corner, and said, “Yes, pay this out.”

I think I’m entitled to know who that was and how it happened, and I think you owe me some kind of explanation of how you’ll make sure this never happens – to anyone – again.

Am I wrong?