Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unpaid Labor

Email received from a theater company:
Subject line: Come sing with us!
[omitted: a couple of notes about their upcoming season] What makes this jaw-dropping piece particularly special is that the playwright asks us to to welcome a completely different choir for each performance!!! What an amazing challenge and opportunity! In this spirit of community, we are reaching out to you - our loyal supporters - for recommendations and thoughts.
Here are the main points we have been sharing with the choirs:
  • The shows are Wed-Sat nights and Sun matinees from May 2nd to June 1st.
  • Each performance will feature a chorus of volunteer 12-20 singers. If your choir is larger, it might be featured in more than one performance.
  • The choir will sing about 20 minutes of music featuring simple harmonies. Our music director believes it will take 4-5 hours to learn. The score is available upon request. There will also be one 2 hour rehearsal onstage before your performance led by our music director. Sheet music and accompaniment will be provided for the performance.
  • We will be promoting your choir on our website, lobby, and emails. Each singer will also be given a 1/2 off ticket price code to pass on to friends and family.
If you or someone you know is in a choir, we hope you might consider joining the dozens we already have booked on this special project. We really think it will be a memorable experience for everyone involved. If you are interested in joining us, would like to see the music, or have any additional questions please email me at [email address omitted]
My reply:
My first thought is this: does [theater company] pay its actors?
I am confident that the answer is yes.
You are here asking for 12-20 singers per performance, and it looks as though there are 20-25 performances. So you're asking for something between 240 to 500 singers to put in 4 to 5 hours each to learn the music, or approximately 960 to 2500 aggregate hours, depending on how fast the singers learn and how many singers there are.
Then they've got to attend a rehearsal and appear in the show, more hours. For this, you are offering a discount code, in hopes of selling tickets to people who want to see their friend or relative perform.
Would you ask actors to put in this much unpaid labor? If not, perhaps you should be hiring a professional chorus for this show. If it's too much money for you to do that, it's the wrong show for [theater company] to perform.
I have not yet renewed my subscription or made my donation for this year. This makes me rethink whether I should continue to support [theater company]. 


Cameron Kelsall said...

I'm 99.9% sure I know which play this refers to. If so: when my city presented it, the company used one choir, and they were compensated. I much prefer that to the gimmick of a new choir at every performance, especially if they're unpaid. Grrr.

That said, I reviewed said play (assuming it's the same one), and it's really not much.

Joshua Kosman said...


Graham said...

It's our era's insult to artists--they're supposed to do it for "exposure."

Bryan said...

Seems like chutzpah on the playwright's part - "wouldn't it be edgy and clever if there were a different choir each night!"

Cameron Kelsall said...

There's nothing wrong with having a different choir every night. The matter at hand is they deserve to be paid for their time.

Bryan said...

Now that the show is upon us, I discover which company it is.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, indeed.

Another friend - who might even see this comment - mad the point in email that amateur groups generally do not get paid and volunteered to do this, so it is not the same as situations where pros are asked to work without pay. I consequently renewed my subscription.

It's still an immense amount of work, and it is not clear to me how the volunteer choruses will benefit. Exposure, maybe, but their names are not in lights on the theater marquee.

Bryan said...

For fun, I'm sure. But a small stipend would have been good.