Thursday, January 20, 2011

Your Vote Needed for Pepsi to Refresh Shakespeare

[ Spotted first on, I don't think they'll mind the added publicity ]

These guys are in the running for $10,000 to bring Shakespeare to those who can’t physically attend the theatre.They need your votes to win. Please vote for them once per day Jan 4 - Feb 28. And if you REALLY want to help, please repost this. In your blog. Facebook. Wherever!

How To Vote

1) go to

2) go to the bottom of the window and click "Join Refresh Everything"

3) Fill in the sign up info (name, age, valid email address, password, retyped password, prove you're not a robot, click 'done')

4) Hit "vote for this idea"

5) Repeat each day

What is this, exactly? Looks like one of those "we'll sponsor your idea to change the world" programs that's becoming more and more popular. The site is a massive list of ideas, all vying for grants of different amounts of money. I love how, on the profile page, the user with the idea has to break down exactly how they'll use the money, why their idea benefits the community, and so on. In other words, some actual thought has to go into this proposal.

This particular group (I know nothing about them personally, and they did not ask me to post this) has gone with the idea of bringing Shakespeare performances to hospitals and senior centers. How can we not love it? Go vote! Especially if you're in Canada, as this is a Canadian operation and may more directly benefit your local community. I'm just supporting it because it's right in line with that "Shakespeare for everyone" thing we always talk about.

I am not thrilled, nothing personal, that they've marked off half the money to pay the actors. Not that I'm against paying actors, I just think that this will turn some people off - it comes across like "we got to get paid, son" is the most important idea. If they were pitching VC for a startup idea and asking for a million dollars, you don't start by saying "Yeah and the three founders will each pay themselves a salary of $250k." On the contrary you say "I'll work for the minimum possible - put every possible dollar into helping the idea succeed."

Anyway. Fingers crossed that they get up into the running - as of this post they're at position #32, and only the top 3 get some money, so they need a boost. Don't know how much of a boost we can give them, but it can't hurt!


David Blixt said...

Duane - if you want professional actors, they have to be paid. Especially for a traveling troupe, that's the biggest on-going expense.

I hate to say it, but we run into this all the time. People look at the budgets for actor pay and flip. "$5,000 for the actors? Absurd!"

But let's say it's a company of 10 actors - with lots of doubling, it can be done. Let's say they're paid weekly, instead of per show. Let's say the tour runs two weeks - hardly ambitious, but you can get in maybe 16 performances if you're really booking.

That's $250 a week for each actor. You'd make more working full-time at a convenience store or a fast food restaurant.

What if the tour runs 4 weeks? $125/week. A panhandler makes more.

There are theatres that instead pay per show - for tours, I know the MSF does, as well as ACP and many others. Now that ranges from anywhere between $15 and $100 per show (I only know one company that pays $100/show. The average is $50). Imagine that you're driving out an hour for an hour of prep for a two hour show and an hour's drive back. That's five hours of your day. You got $50 for that 5 hours, so $10/hour, right. Not bad. But that presupposes that theatre is a regular gig, which it's not. Touring all depends on the booking. You might only have one show that week. So that job earned you $50 that week.

I can't tell you how often I run into this "Why are you paying the actors? Don't they do it for love?" I want to ask, do you love your job enough to do it for no money?

And what is the most important part of a theatrical show? Most often people will say, the costumes, or the music, or the set. But the show doesn't happen without people to speak the words, and in the case of Shakespeare, you need people who can speak the words well.

There was one teacher booking a show, and she was astonished that we pay our actors. "We had a professional company in here last year," she told us, "and they didn't pay their actors!"

"Then they weren't professionals," we told her.

Duane said...

I don't deny anyone their livelihood, David. I'm just saying that, in this particular instance, it gives the wrong impression. If you set up a traveling troupe and say "Hey, we'll come to your place of business and do a show for $500", then the business gets to decide whether they want to pay that. Plain old economics at work.

This is a little different. Here you've got people going to a third party and saying "Please give us money so that we can pay our own fee so that we can do this for these people." It's only fair for the people giving out the money to say "Well, how much are you really into seeing this project succeed? Do you care about this particular project at all, or are you just looking for a paycheck?"

Whether you are a professional or not, you can choose at any time whether you accept a paycheck. This group could choose, for the purpose of this grant money, to volunteer their services. I'm not saying I expect to get something for free - I'm saying, if your paycheck stands between you and your cause, what's more important to you?

To win this particular challenge, people have to vote on whether this company will spend the money in the way that is most beneficial to the community. My position is that announcing you're going to keep 50% of it for yourself is not going to endear you to the people making the decision.

JM said...

Too bad that the idea of paying actors to do a job might turn someone off. 'Twas ever thus.

As a sometime producer, the first thought for me re: the expense of bringing theatre to anyone has been what can I afford to pay my actors. Most of the time I've managed to break even, sometimes losing money doing so. But in most cases, financial matters re: actors occupy the last place in the list of expenditure concerns, especially in programs such as the one in question.

Having said that, let me play devil's advocate for a moment. I question the idea that young, learning on the job, "emerging artists" (they look to be high school age, first year college at best) need to get paid, yet the eight professionals who will be 'advising' them seem to be willing to donate their time to the effort. (That's what the proposal seems to me to be stating).
And it seems the first question those who would have any qualms about this will be, "These kids need to get paid?".

Another question might occur to those with doubts about actors getting paid to do anything: How good are these performances from actors who are "learning how", yet getting paid to do them? Which leads to: How successful are they at truly promoting Shakespeare?
And, what is the end result offered to those intended beneficiaries?

I may get slammed for my opinion. When judging my comments, please be advised that I have, at various times, volunteered my talents in hospitals and created, organized, and conducted a "bring Shakespeare to the people" program and public seminars in a senior center that went on for months without getting paid anything, and will do so again. Also, that I intend to vote for the program, regardless of my questions about it.

David Blixt said...

Are they keeping 50% for themselves? I thought it went to actor pay. If there are three guys in charge, and they choose to act in it as well, then they can donate their fees back. But if they want to attract talent to fill out the rest of the roles, do they have to find actors who are also willing to donate their time, even if it's not their cause? Or will those actors expect to get paid for their time?

Now, JM, using student labour is a whole other kettle of fish. If this is a learning opportunity for students, then no, no pay. If you're hiring them DESPITE the fact that they're students, then yes, pay them. There are talented students who deserve to get paid if its outside the school setting. But if this is meant to be a learning experience for the actors, then by all means, don't pay them - so long as they have competent teachers, and they're not being used as cheap labour. Too many theatres bring in acting interns as unpaid grunts to sweep and mop and stand on-stage with one line, all in the name of "education" when in fact they're not learning, they're indentured servants.

I suppose my dander is up because there's this belief that actors shouldn't get paid. And every time someone wants to trim "fat" out of a budget, actor pay is ALWAYS the first to go. Actors provide a service, they are the talent, the show doesn't happen without them. I find the fact that they're up-front about where the money is going a refreshing change. Half SHOULD go to the actors - they're the ones doing the work. There are also directors, designers, stage managers, and - most importantly for this kind of gig - the people doing the booking. Should they forgo their pay? Can they afford to? Even people who believe in a dream need to eat. And if potential donors have a problem with that, it's because of the misperception about pay in the arts in general.


Duane said...

Just for clarity's sake, the line item in question reads thusly:

$ 5,000 honorarium for actors (500.00 x10 actors)

It does also call out different money for "administrators". Likewise, marketing and travel costs are broken out separately. So it does suggest that 10 actors are getting paid $500 each, if this event happens.

David Blixt said...

And based on their outline, it looks like one show a week for two months. They're not being paid for rehearsals, just a flat rate. So that's $500 for however many rehearsal hours and 8-10 shows.

Doesn't look like they're full shows, but scenes, which means less rehearsal and performance time. And it certainly looks like they're populating with kids (although as I get older I have a harder time distinguishing the ages of the young). So they're being pretty fair with the dough, as far as I can tell. They're providing a service, and at the same time paying students. Seems pretty charitable to me.

JM said...

David Blixt said..."Even people who believe in a dream need to eat. And if potential donors have a problem with that, it's because of the misperception about pay in the arts in general."

Hear! Hear!
Unfortunately, David, the reasons I have to question the potential results and logistical decision-making aspects of this program tend to be reasons which can sometimes help to foster and/or perpetuate the gross misperceptions of which you speak.

David Blixt said...

JM - I agree. I know of too many crappy programs run in a half-assed way that turn people off to the whole idea of paying for art. But then, I know what I'm looking for. And I also know the damage that can be done by performing Shakespeare badly for outreach audiences.

The problem is that this is another instance of "anybody can do that" mentality. Oddly, there is more respect for musicians - that's an obvious talent, and you wouldn't hear people objecting to paying an opera singer or a violinist in this scenario. But ANYBODY can act, right? Aunt Em has a barn...

And the trouble is, there are so many groups that do this work badly, they dilute the resources for the ones that actually do it well, while at the same time lowering audience expectations for both Shakespeare and performance. So the general public doesn't value it, and resists paying for it.

JM said...

David, You have crystallized my thoughts. I could not have said it better.