Labor Fairness: Unpaid Actor Edition

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151 Responses

  1. Glyph says:

    Remember when I was saying Amanda Palmer needed to find some dough out of that Kickstarted million + bucks, to pay some musicians (which she did)?

    These guys need to find some dough out of these multi-million bucks, to pay some actors.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Glyph says:

      I was fully on the pay your musicians side of the Amanda Palmer debate.

      I don’t even think it needs to be a lot of money. Maybe just for the performances.

      I had another internship at a theatre called Ensemble Studio Theatre and did some impromptu dramaturgical work and stage management work for them on a reading. They surprised me with a small amount of money. It wasn’t much. It might have been under a 100 dollars but it showed that they valued my service enough to find some compensation.

      I never made money on theatre though even when paid. One job paid me 1000 dollars total and this is the most I ever made from one source.Report

    • North in reply to Glyph says:

      I dunno, I was a little manky about the city ponying up the dough untill I thought about it more. If they’re shelling out, say, 8.5 million dollars and the end result is the city getting an 18.5 million dollar theater (that the city presumably won’t have to maintain) that’s a pretty good deal for the city even before you factor in the secondary effects. A hundred percent (though illiquid) return yes?Report

    • Jonathan McLeod in reply to Glyph says:

      I immediately flashed to that conversation, @glyph

      I’m not in love with the idea of public funds going to build the theatre building, while it will be run off the free labour of the BATS et al. But, I’m not sure what the best alternative is. Use some of the grant money to pay some people for a few years before going back to an all-volunteer labour force? But, then, should the government be paying people to work at The Flea? If you can’t resolve these conflicts, should you jsut not build the theatre at all, out of a sense of justice?Report

  2. North says:

    With love, ND, I think you basically addressed your own concern here.

    Firstly, an important caveat that I think you should include in your description: The Flea is a noncommercial and nonprofit organization.

    The Flea is a theater; the industry it works in is the Arts. It is nonprofit.

    People long to work in the arts, hell, people long to be in the arts and not be paid; in fact many people can and will pay to be in the arts. There will pretty much always be a line for people to get into these kinds of positions. Why would you pay them to do so? Goodness knows things in NYC are expensive enough without adding unnecessary expenses.

    The Flea is a mainstream place. Big reviewers and important people in the industry go to see performances there. How many young aspiring actors would desire that kind of exposure? How much would they pay for it if they could (I submit that the amount is very far from zero). Again the incentives all suggests that paying people to perform here would be crazy. They already have actors beating down the door trying to get on stage here for free, why on earth would you pay them? You pay for something you want more of and in this case they already have more actors than they can use.

    Maybe if the owners of the Flea were raking in the bucks in operational profit or something I’d be more sympathetic but they’re not.

    I think you’re on stronger footing with internships at work places. I think things get a bit fuzzy on the subject of the arts.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to North says:

      I go back and forth about whether the arts should be different or not but this is more of a philosophical concern. And I did concede that actors at the Flea are getting opportunities that they would not get otherwise possibly or probably. Artists I know are also split on this issue.

      You are right that the Flea is non-profit and too varying degrees they are non-Commercial. There are also very big non-profits in the theatre world that are very commercial like the Roundabout and Manhattan Theatre Club.

      How do you differentiate between Amanda Palmer asking musicians to work for free and what the Flea is doing? Is she more explicitly for profit? Why was it possible to get enough outrage directed at her and eventually pressure her to pay musicians?

      You bring up good points but how and where we draw the lines in apprenticeship/volunteer work/unpaid internship and not is very hard. There are lots of non-profits but not all non-profits are exactly noble. The Flea is a true non-profit but how about the scandals at places like the Susan Komen foundation that showed most raised money was spent on admin and not cancer research?Report

      • North in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well first off let’s just take a moment to recognize that in mutually agreeing that exposure has value in of itself we just stuck a stake in Freddie’s heart and he’s rolling over in his grave somewhere. Sorry Freddie.

        The Amanda Palmer thing is not something I followed so I went googling for a summary. I think it’s a muddled issue. On one hand this is a now famous artist offering to let musicians play with her on a stage and get to meet her in person etc etc… so on one hand people would say “why would you need to pay for that?!” But on the other hand this is a musician who recently was given a huge cash grant by her fanbase in the form of kickstarter so I can understand the wrath as it feels like she’s asking her fans to give even more. From a PR perspective her reversing course and offering some pay is a no brainer. I don’t think it’s enormously salient to the question at hand though. The Flea isn’t getting its money given to it by its potential actor employees (except via tax money but as I noted above as taxpayers the people of New York are getting a minimum 100% instant return on their collective investment in the flea).

        Amanda is most assuredly for profit. Her merch, her kickstarter and her ticket prices go (likely way above) what she needs to cover her costs so it’s much more understandably risible that she is asking for more free services. Also there’s the question of the value of the experience. People playing at Amanda’s concert and actors acting at The Flea both get the “Holy Crap I was onstage with Amanda!! Holy Crap I acted at the Flea” return but I think it’s highly plausible that actors can have a hope that their experience and exposure on the Flea’s stage will result in greater opportunities, connections and professional development whereas a horn player who blew some fanfares at an Amanda concert has no such expectation.

        As for Susan Komen, what we’re talking about here is F-R-A-U-D of the quasi legal sort. We’re talking about an organization that says “we’re here to battle cancer” but if administered truth serum would say “we’re here to provide swank sinecures for our directors while claiming to battle cancer”. They’re like the right wing political advocacy industry only with pink ribbons and thus are an entire lower dimension of contemptableness from our main subjects.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        I will concede that the operating budget for the Flea and many other NYC theatres is very small and the budgets are often shoe-string.

        There are also very well endowed non-profit theatres like the Roundabout, The Public, and Manhattan Theatre Club that also use unpaid interns.

        The Public Theatre is doing a very popular musical adaptation of Fun Home, the Alison Bechdel graphic novel. They also redid their lobby recently at great expense. My friend went to see a production of Fun Home but said it was canceled because an actor got sick and The Public announced they could not afford an understudy.

        I think part of the issue is something similar as to what is going on with university tuition. One of the most common reasons given for rapidly rising tuition and the slashing of departments is that universities are in an arms race for building amenities that can rival a country club.

        What about a relatively Spartan (without being monastic) university but having lower tuition?

        Why not make do with smaller or older and less shiny spaces but choose to pay actors instead?Report

      • North in reply to NewDealer says:

        To answer your first point, I think the basic issue is that unpaid internships are a rung in theater to an actual career. As such they’re highly desired and sought after. I don’t see what lift there is in paying out some token amount of money on them as a stipend other than encumbering theaters. The actors are beating the doors down for free internships, what benefit is there in paying the winners of the internship game some cash on top of that?

        To your second question/point I am not certain. I agree it’s possible that we’re seeing some kind of gilded age of investing in facilities instead of people. My suspicion with theater (and only theater) is a question of donations. Donors are pretty eager to pay for solid buildings. They’re pretty, they benefit the city, and the donors can get their names on plaques. That’s a pretty easy sell indeed. Contrast that with paying actors. Sure you and I say to the donor that we’ll pay our actors a nice stipend so they’re not living in such dire straits but what the donors hear is something different (this may or may not be a factor of our jaded cynical times). Donors hear that we’ll be creating a fund which we’ll administer as our own private fief to provide payments to our preferred toadies and favorites. What do the donors get out of this deal? What visible sign is there of the donation? Someone around here once noted that charity is self-referencing and I’d submit that with theater and other high arts that tendency is magnified. Big solid buildings trump endowments for paying actors in the minds of donors so the former is much easier to build than the latter.

        As to monastic universities that are spartan and inexpensive, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any will to create new ones nor would I expect there to be a line of existing ones ready to follow such a path. The thing to remember about universities is their astonishingly incestuous entanglement with authorities. Politicians adore big bloated universities, they love sticking their cronies and relatives into nice comfortable little positions in them. Administrators love doing the same things. Voters meanwhile like big flashy campuses; they love large stadiums and pleasant publicly accessible facilities. A Spartan inexpensive university fails to appeal to any constituency, populist or eliteReport

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        I don’t think unpaid internships lead to a career in theatre with any more surety than any other career. They might or they might lead to more unpaid work. The evidence is inconclusive but I will agree that any sort of paid and supporting art career is very hard to get and there are never guarantees.

        And I said non-monastic, I think there is a whole range of options between ultra-luxurious country club and an ascetic monastery.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        There are also plenty of private universities but I suppose you can exchange politicians with alumni/aeReport

      • North in reply to NewDealer says:

        In answering yourself here ND you left me nothing to argue with you about (not that I strongly disagreed to begin with).Report

    • NewDealer in reply to North says:

      In this debate, I see that both sides have a point and I have friends in the art world who support the BATS and those that think the Flea should find funding.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to North says:

      North, there is an old joke about artists dying of exposure. I realize that artists often do a lot of free or lowly paid work to advance their careers but life costs money, so we get the starving artist trope. We seem to live in an age where everbody wants something for free or cheap and nobody is willing to pay for anything anymore.Report

      • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Indeed Lee but at the same time the reality remains that artists are forced to starve or work for free due to the absolutely relentless fact that there’re a thousand clamoring artists right on their heels begging for the chance to do it instead(for free even). We’re in the penultimate buyers market for art right now.Report

      • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The starving artist trope is … mostly a myth.
        More likely you have the farmer, the office worker,
        and twenty other folks that do art on the side.

        At least that’s the way it is from where I sit,
        which I’ll remind you is in Appalachia.Report

  3. J@m3z Aitch says:

    I think you’re leading me–advertently or in–to conclude that the raison d’etre of performing artists is to be exploited.Report

    • Glyph in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      You’re nobody ’til somebody exploits you
      It’s hard times when nobody wants you

    • NewDealer in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      Elaborate please. Are you suggesting that performing artists are willing to be exploited?

      I think the answer is that it is a very hard. It’s complicated.

      Society has always been hypocritical with performing artists and this leads to continued disrespect for this day. Actors at various points have been considered no better and often closely linked to prostitutes. Actors were not able to get proper burial in France until the French Revolution abolished the power of the Church to control burials.

      Yet almost every society has had performing artists of various times and almost everyone loves one or more performing arts. Yet the innate reaction to meeting someone who says that they are an actor or musician is often one of disrespect.

      But yeah, there are a lot of performing artists of all levels who are willing to work for free for the exposure and experience. I’ve noticed musicians go up against this concept more than others. I see a lot of musicians write articles blasting people asking them to work for free.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think perhaps they exist only for the purpose of exploitation; it is all that makes their existence both necessary and possible. Were exploitation to be banned, the very persons themselves might blink out of existence.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        You might be right but then almost everyone will be sad because as I noted we all appreciate performing arts to one degree or form or another.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:

        Isn’t it weird that (as consumers) we’d be sad, but that (as consumers) we’re not really willing to pay them?

        I’m not disagreeing with you; just commenting that it’s weird.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do not most people want something for free? As a lawyer, I’ve had lots of clients that wanted me to help them with their immigration issues for free or services rather than cash. To a lot of people this isn’t a complicated moral or ethical issues. They like x but hate spending money. If they could x for low cost or free, all the better for them. They never think about the broader implications, that if nobody pays for x than x will not be available.Report

      • trumwill in reply to NewDealer says:

        I question the premise that we don’t pay artists. We pay them quite a bit. We just pay some boatloads of money and most we pay very little or nothing. Not unlike athletes.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do people have the same right to legal services that they have to health care? If not, why not?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:


        There’s a difference between wanting something for free, and being unwilling to pay for it if you can’t get it for free (or cheap).

        Like many people, I like our community theater. But even at $25 bucks a tic and mostly unpaid actors I don’t go often (usually when I can get a comp, or if it’s a particularly compelling show), and at the price it would take to pay them I would never go.Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do people have the same right to legal services that they have to health care? If not, why not?

        Not that the question was directed at me but, yes. It is a deficiency on the part of the United States that we don’t have something more systematic than Legal Aid Societies like the Citizens Advice Bureau in the UK. Unfortunately, the US is far too comfortable with the low income going unserved or underserved in critical areas.

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:

        Perhaps we need an Affordable Legal Care Act (ObamaLeCare!) in which every adult is required to have a lawyer on retainer.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        I think it is very weird and I agree. I think long and hard about why this is true. I think part of the issue is that we like the idea of someone doing art simply because they love it and not for any kind of profit or I need to make a living motive. But it is probably a very tricky conundrum.


        Yes and no. Some artists in all artistic fields do make very nice incomes and I’m not even talking about super-stars but just people with fairly regular work and decent middle to upper-middle class incomes. Others get very rich. The vast majority will never make a dime in their fields or be able to make a living from the arts alone. Imagine if you said that to accountants?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        A lot of progressives note that it is horrible that our legal system only provides representation when accused of a crime and even that is vastly underfunded. If you are poor and being sued or need to sue in civil court, you are on your own.

        The exception being those people who are lucky enough to get help pro bono or from a non-profit legal aid and/or have a case lucrative enough for a tort lawyer to handle on contingency.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        @newdealer We’re describing the same reality, but my takeaway from it is that it simply isn’t accurate to talk about how we love art but don’t support artists. The situation is slightly different than that. We’re eagle-eyed on relatively few artists. They build brands. They make millions. Doing a job, actually, not much better than many who are a coffeehouse job away from living on the streets (this is where the comparison to athletes doesn’t hold).

        That suggests to me that it’s not a question of art or artists per se. Rather, it’s a question of how broadly or narrowly we value art and artists. To look at music, how infantesimally little interest we have in music – quality music – that doesn’t hit the top 40. How interested we are in being presented with art, rather than seeking out and finding it and appreciating the art that others don’t.

        But art? We spend millions and millions on art. A lot of that going towards those who select and present the art, but a whole lot of it (particularly in movies) going to the artists themselves. It may be very few artists, but we apparently value them greatly.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:


        If you call that art. /sneer.

        No, just joking. You make a good point.Report

      • Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

        @creon-critic @jm3z-aitch

        TOTALLY off topic, but I finally stumbled on a potential relative comparison of living standards equalized for purchasing lower for people (and poor people) between countries.

        Meyer has been asking the same question as us and was similarly frustrated by the lack of data.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:


        Those are some pretty hard numbers, in my opinion. This is what Gingrich’s “Welfare Reform” has brought us to.

        What if American poor folks are obtaining more money than Swedish poor, but are still worse off?Report

      • roger in reply to NewDealer says:

        Then maybe we need to throw out the bureaucrats screwing up our redistribution and education systems.We spend twice what others spend on education and get worse outcomes.

        Or maybe we need to focus on cultural issues, such as the fact that 82% of poor kids have one parent.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        Oh, I’m all for just giving people something flat – no bureaucrats involved.
        But it’s not bureaucrats leaving kids unfed. It’s laws that gingrich and company put on the books. You know you can only collect SNAP for 2 out of every 5 years in PA?Report

    • @roger
      I understand you were looking for this particular metric and thanks for sharing it with me (thanks @kim as well, you can never have too many informative links in a discussion). I think it is really interesting the author uses the word “well-being” and then goes on to focus on disposable income. It brings to mind more fulsome treatments of well-being like the inequality adjusted human development index, and also the OECD’s works like “Comparative Child Well-Being Across the OECD” (2009)*. Disposable income is one important dimension, as are health outcomes, education outcomes, and the like.

      I think when you tackle such such a broad issue, compare standards of living, we have to look at a number of metrics to get an accurate picture. I’d argue that as a jumping off point, Meyer’s piece provides additional useful data points. When trying to capture something as complex as standards of living there are a lot of additional inputs to take into consideration. Examining a number of these other metrics, the US underperforms (I’d encourage you to skim the OECD’s child well-being treatment, Unicef also offers “Child well-being in rich countries: A comparative overview”**, 2013 – The US ranks in the bottom third. Repeatedly). And certainly for a country as wealthy and productive as the US, it is a deficiency well worth pointing out that we underserve whole communities in so many ways relative to our peers (the American Prospect piece @newdealer links to for instance, really, really appalling for a country that claims to pride itself on equal justice under law – though not as comprehensive as the comparative treatments like those of the OECD and Unicef).

      * here,
      ** UNICEF offers a pdf report and an “interactive infographic”.

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Thanks, Creon

        There are some interesting and unusual metrics in this study. Thanks for sharing.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Creon Critic says:


        As payment for that very interesting article, I offer you this one on the minimum wage and the EITC.Report

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Thanks James,

        Considering that the minimum wage rarely goes to heads of households, the EITC is much more focused. I am surprised the Right hasn’t stressed this more, especially considering they were the ones that originally argued for it.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic says:


        What do you guys think about the targeting issue that article raises? It takes a weird tack that basically says, ‘Everyone agrees that it’s good for families with kids to get benefits, therefore it makes political sense to substantially limit benefits only to families with kids – except maybe it doesn’t.’ At least it makes clear what is rarely acknowledged in discussions about the U.S. social safety net: as constituted as it has been until quite recently (Obamacare, at least before the Supreme Court intervened, does/did a fair bit to change this in the health care domain), it doesn’t do much of consequence for childless workers.

        So what do think? Should the safety net be heavily tilted to help families with children and very limited for childless workers? Should it have no preference to help families? I think there should be special benefits for families, but the safety net should be robust for all legal workers, whether they are supporting children or not.

        Incidentally, I’d be very open to a discussion about an elimination of the minimum wage in exchange for a large expansion of the EITC, both in generosity but also expansion of eligibility to include single, childless workers as a nonnegotiable reuirement for the deal to proceed (as well as ideally adjustments to its structure to make it more automatic, visible, etc.).

        (Obviously, also the expansion would practically have to be a done deal before anything could go ahead, since it would be so easy for it to be yanked back at the last minute; also, some showing of political sustainability for the expansion would have to be accomplished. In short, a huge mobilisation of support on the right for a large EITC expansion would hae to take place before liberals can be fairly asked to buy into the idea that that kind of policy is a preferable to a minimum wage. People who support the idea who have potential sway with right-leaning policy advocates should get cracking!)Report

      • roger in reply to Creon Critic says:


        I think the EITC allows us to aim gains more rationally in several ways. First it excludes teens and such. Second it does not interfere with markets and hiring.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Creon Critic says:

        What Roger said.Report

      • One of the main arguments for EITC is that it doesn’t raise the cost of employing people, so obviously I get the market argument. And as I mention, the basic idea is very adaptable, so I get that as well. But that wasn’t really my question at all. It’s not totally clear to me why we would be very interested in making sure the EITC is unavailable to teens, for example, though I can see why it would make sense for it not to be. But that’s just my question: how, if at all, do we want the safety net tilted to benefit certain workers over others? I say not much, but a little, for those with kids. Do you guys want to answer the question?

        And would you agree that the lion’s share of the political work that would need to be done to make a greatly(GREATLY!)-expanded EITC-in-exchange-for-eliminating-minimum-wages deal viable would need to be done on the side of building sustainable support for the exchange on the right? Regardless of that, would each of you be on board for that deal, where the EITC ends up being a quite robust minimum income for working parents and childless workers alike, including unemployed people in the workforce?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Creon Critic says:

        You mean would I support turning the EITC into a NIT?


      • Or even just a very large expansion of EITC both to size and eligibility. But NIT works too. EITC is just a proper name for a policy, btw – the policy can change (into something you’d categorize as an NIT) while the name stays the same. The name EITC isn’t inherently inapplicable to an NIT (though probably to an NCAA). Keeping the name is probably a political salability option we’d want to keep available if we’re serious about getting it done.Report

      • And… no opinion on the targeting question, then?Report

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        I am simply undecided. I don’t know much about the EITC, other than what passes for common knowledge. I am not sure if we need more or less of it, how well it is managed, and so forth.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Creon Critic says:


        I’m fine with targeting. When my daughter starts working next summer, she won’t be supporting a household, so she’s not an important public policy issue like I–with three kids–am.

        As for childless adults, I don’t care much how we decide. If we want to include the, fine. But I don’t think it’s a critical public policy issue that every single adult be able to be a homeowner.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Be a homeowner? Where does that come in?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Btw. Guys.

        You both have offered up in the past that you’d potentially be on board for some form of GMI/NIT/bigger EITC/whatever. I find that it’s pretty typical of libertarians to suggest they’d be for such a thing in a sort of mumble-mumble-maybe-we-can-talk-about it-next-week-if-I-have-time kind of way (which is the kind of attitude I perceive here from you both as well). I find that the problem with building any momentum behind this idea tends to be generating any degree of enthusiasm for it among non-liberals who mouth a tepid openness for it. That’s why I’m framing the suggestion in the context of an offer of support for doing away with the minimum wage: you get something you want, in exchange for some enthusiasm for something maybe we all even want. In any other context, it would be kind of weird to offer up a concession to gain support for something that the people you’re looking for support from already say they’re somewhat inclined to support.

        So… what do you say? I know it’s a hypothetical, but could you guys get excited about and reasonably energetically advocate for a set of reforms that would pair a robust government-guaranteed minimum income (say, at least $16,000 USD a year for a single person/ $32,000 for a married couple, perhaps with a credit for kids that diminishes with each additional kid) for *everyone* (people with kids, people without; people who want to own homes people who don’t; people who want to get married, people who don’t; people who can find work, people who can’t…) with the elimination of minimum wages? Or am I just wasting my time advancing such a proposition?Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    Here in Colorado, we’ve got a little local theater group that does Shakespeare and other public domain kinda plays. We’ve seen their King Lear and their Othello (though I tend to find excuses to avoid the comedies). The tickets are usually around 10 bucks and they also sell overpriced cookies and wine before/after the show.

    I can’t imagine them making more money than the price of renting the venue, renting the equipment, and the cookies/boxes of wine. Not in a million years.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      What’s the name of the group? Do they consider themselves to be a community theatre or something more professional?

      I’ve always been comped into shows at the Flea but have paid for theatre tickets at other places and they can get very expensive even when there is not a famous name in the production. 25 is a minimum probably, even non-profits can charge close to a hundred or more for their best seats or hottest shows.

      As I noted above, there is a very thin line between community theatre (people who might or might not be trained and doing it for fun) and semi-professional theatre. It is hard to come up with separation criteria except how the company self-describes itself. Sometimes community theatres will spring to do one or two professional productions a year with Equity actors instead of local talent.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do they consider themselves to be a community theatre or something more professional?

        Why does this matter one iota?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        It’s the Star Bar Players and, I got some stuff wrong… tickets are $15 (though students are $6) and they did some Tennessee Williams (who, I presume, is not yet in the public domain).

        With that said, I’m sure they must have a patron or two.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        Here is why I think it matters:

        To me Community Theatre is open about them being hobbyists and memebers of community who do this in their spare time. It is like a bunch of people who play in a lawyers soccer league or something like that.

        Semi-Professional to Professional implies that they want to be taken seriously, get reviewed, go on tours around the United States and possibly the world (some companies do this), take grants from organizations, etc. I think these companies should pay or be in the processing of learning how to pay designers, directors, actors, playwrights, etc. To me being semi-professional or professional means that you have to make those goals.

        Again, I am not saying they have to pay a lot, just learn or get to being able to pay the equity rate for their type/size of theatre.Report

    • Herb in reply to Jaybird says:

      “I can’t imagine them making more money than the price of renting the venue, renting the equipment, and the cookies/boxes of wine. Not in a million years.”

      Hate to say it, but this kind of attitude is what led actors to form unions.

      Non-profit theaters don’t operate to “make money,” but they are still expected to cover the costs: the renting of the venue, the equipment, the electricity to the building, the actors.

      Is there a (non-arbitrary) reason why paying actors is considered optional in the way that paying the utility company is not?Report

      • North in reply to Herb says:

        Because if you don’t pay your workers at the electrical company they stop doing what they do. Why? Because they do what they do for the money.

        If you stop paying an actor many of them would continue to act or if they stopped there’re four more who’d claw each others eyes out for the chance to take the actors spot on the stage. Why? Because they do what the do for the love of the acting.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        Everybody should get paid to what they love doing. It’s a right.

        I love napping.Report

      • Herb in reply to Herb says:

        “Because they do what the do for the love of the acting.”

        Not true. Professional actors do it for the money.

        I thought I asked for “non-arbitrary” reasons, not BS ones.

        In case you were wondering, The Flea considers themselves to be a “professional” theater, that is, not an amateur operation. You guys are assuming facts not in evidence.

        I guess this is where you would pull out the “voluntary” card. And you may have a point.

        But to me, when Bill Murray waives his usual fee to work for scale….then he’s voluntarily agreeing to forgo his pay.

        But when your “professional” theater company decides “Yeah, sorry…no pay” then you’re not really voluntarily agreeing to forgo your pay. You can voluntarily walk out the door, but that’s about it.

        And yes, I know this “right to exit” sates the Libertarian.

        Professional actors, though, found a more effective means of protecting their interests: Organizing into unions.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

        Is there a (non-arbitrary) reason why paying actors is considered optional in the way that paying the utility company is not?

        Because I need my friggin’ electricity. I do not need to see The Pajama Game. Again.

        Okay, maybe I do. But I’m not paying 15 bucks.


      • Herb in reply to Herb says:

        The Pajama Game was last year. This year it’s Arsenic and Old Lace.

        Tickets are still $15 but, hey, if you don’t like it, you can leave at intermission.Report

      • North in reply to Herb says:

        Ah but Herb you asked about paying “actors” not “professional actors” and as you aptly point out there’s a difference. The Flea (to my uninformed eye) appears to be catering to people who count more as the former who’re trying to become the latter.

        To answer your basic question, paying actors is optional because there are (a lot of) actors out there willing (in fact begging) to do it for free. If there was a utility company offering their services for free then paying utility companies for their services would be similarily optional. If there was a food provider out there offering free burgers then paying for burgers would become optional.Report

      • Johanna in reply to Herb says:

        When you have over 500 people auditioning for a show with a cast of 25 fully knowing they will not be paid, what incentive does a theatre who barely makes ends meet rationalize paying for actors when doing so would result in raising the ticket prices. In our community it would only serve to keep people away. Do you have any idea how many non-profit theatres close annually? It isn’t a pretty number. If you have talented people happy and willing to give their talents and time gratis to keep a theatre open and thriving in their community, how is this an issue?
        For me, being on stage is a blast. My time and effort are rewarded by the joy of the audience and the opportunity to spend time with a talented and fun community. While it may be nice to be paid with cold hard cash, there are different ways in which spending time on stage has benefits to actors or they wouldn’t be doing it.
        For the record, I worked for a non-profit theatre and it is pretty obvious the acting community would rather volunteer their time to keep the theatre open and still accessible and affordable to the community than to be paid.Report

      • Herb in reply to Herb says:


        “To answer your basic question, paying actors is optional because there are (a lot of) actors out there willing (in fact begging) to do it for free.”

        Sure, and some of them do it for fun. Many of them do it for free because it’s expected of them. Because they’ve been conditioned to believe that if they do this play for free, then that will open the door for paying work. In other words, they’re being conned into work with a bunch of empty promises.

        Professional actors will tell you all about the jobs they did for free on their way to paying work. And how they don’t book those jobs anymore.

        As for the stuff about “free” utilities, you missed my point. The Flea, or any other enterprise, can’t say to the utility company, “Yeah, I’m a small theater, doing little shows, and it wouldn’t be profitable to pay my light bill, so don’t even waste a stamp sending me the bill. Tell you what, though, you can volunteer to keep the lights on, and maybe…maybe…somewhere down the line, someone else will pay you for it.”

        That would be ridiculous. I guess if there were 500 utility companies lined up around the block, just hoping to get their services, it would be less ridiculous.

        But still ridiculous.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Herb says:

        I think (and I do this all the time, and it’s on me because I don’t make clear what I mean) we should be clear on terms here.

        I think they SHOULD (if they can) pay their actors.

        However, as North points out, it IS optional (they can always get other actors for free). They *can* do it the way they are doing it, and probably will, as long as nobody puts up any fuss.

        I would not support a law requiring the actors to get paid, as long as the actors knew up front that they wouldn’t be paid, and agreed to that (if a paying contract was broken, they need to get paid).

        But still: they SHOULD be paid, if there is money to do so. And I’d be surprised if somewhere in 18 million+ bucks there was no money to pay actors – though all branches of the arts have been known to engage in “creative accounting” to make it appear so.

        A tip to your waitstaff is also “optional”; and barring bad service (or, you have no more money than just what you needed to feed your starving self), you’re a jerk if you don’t do it.

        But by law I don’t believe you can be compelled to tip; and this is as it should be.

        Something can still be the right thing to do, even if there is no technical or legal obligation to do it.Report

      • North in reply to Herb says:

        You seem to be contradicting yourself Herb. Professional actors will talk about all the stuff they did for free on the way to paying work. Now they don’t book those jobs anymore? Of course they don’t; they’re professional paid actors! They’ve made it. I talk about how much work it is kneading bread, now I had a loaf of bread, why would I keep kneading it? I have the bread! You seem to think that doing this work for free is a con when the professional actors sit there asserting that doing free acting is one of the things that directly lead to their getting paying acting work. Where is the emptiness of the promise? Where is the con?

        I disagree with you about the utilities. The Flea can absolutely say “we can’t (or won’t) pay the light bill” and then the utility company will cut off the power. This is different from actors because when the Flea says “we can’t (or won’t) pay a salary to our acting staff” either the actors stay and do it for free or, when they leave, more actors crowd in to take their place for free. As you correctly noted afterward the parallel with utilities is if the moment the utility cut the lights off 500 more offered to hook up and power the theater for free. You asked for a non-arbitrary reason why paying actors is considered optional and there it is. I can understand if you don’t like it but not liking it isn’t an objection and it doesn’t make it ridiculous or irrational. It is, in fact, extremely rational.

        Now, if you could show me that the Flea either A: turns a profit or B: maintains an upper management staff that is very handsomely (and unusually handsomely) paid for what they do then I would agree that the Flea should pay their actors something. In the absence of that, however, I don’t think the theater has even a moral obligation to pay its actors. The payment is the opportunity to act at the Flea and be seen and as long as there’re hundreds of spotlight craving humans seeking every spotlight gig that the acting community has that will remain the status quos.Report

      • Herb in reply to Herb says:

        @north “You seem to think that doing this work for free is a con when the professional actors sit there asserting that doing free acting is one of the things that directly lead to their getting paying acting work. Where is the emptiness of the promise? Where is the con?”

        Um, no. Actually what I was saying is that this con is so pervasive in the entertainment industry that people are expected to endure a period of “starving artistdom” even as they engage in commercial “professional” work until they “make it.”

        As Glyph points out, the entertainment industry is notorious for cheating people with stars in their eyes. Creative accounting, casting couches, the studio system?

        And sorry, but it seems to me that many casting couch conversations follow this general template: “either the actors stay and do it for free or, when they leave, more actors crowd in to take their place for free.”

        “however, I don’t think the theater has even a moral obligation to pay its actors.”

        Well, I disagree with you there. I also don’t think pay should be contingent on profit, nor on how “handsomely” compensated the board is. I think it should be contingent on performance.

        And I don’t see why they must be paid in dreams.

        And no, I’m not calling for a law requiring all actors to be paid. The union can do all the heavy lifting that unscrupulous operators refuse to do. That’s why when the Flea hosts an Equity show….those people are paid.Report

      • Kim in reply to Herb says:

        there are very few jobs that will pay you for napping. (I can suggest some research studies, complete with electrodes.) Drowsing, on the other hand, is something a lot of places will pay for.Report

      • North in reply to Herb says:

        It’s called the arts Herb. It’s been that way pretty much forever has it not? It will likely remain that way until/unless people find a way to create a scarcity of artists or otherwise convince the legions of people longing to be artists that offering to do it for free is against their individual interests. The arts are unique, what can I say? No one is interested in selling their dignity, their soul and their health to become a collateral underwriter or a plumber. Not only are there many people willing to do so to become an artist; there are -so- many of them that the people in power quite literally cannot exploit or mess them over faster than new ones crowd in. It’s like cicadas.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Herb says:

        North, I hear your complain here. My wife is a potter (functional ware, so technically not “art”) but she makes great stuff which people recognize when they actually pick it up and handle it. She used to complain about all the *bad* potters out there who compete against her on the premise that … well … they make bad pottery and people still buy it! So I know what you’re talking about.

        Nevertheless, I think Herb has a point here, which is that using the power of unions to establish a remuneration floor at some point above working for free is justified. It’s no different than any other economic situation where the desire for employment (for whatever reason!) is held in such high regard by job seekers that employers can leverage rates down so far as to be effectively unpayed with the only compensation offered constituting a promise (or expectation) of future reward.

        I’ll leave it to the careful reader to figure out what I am and am not saying here.Report

      • North in reply to Herb says:

        Oh I agree Stillwater, if a union can form and pull it off them I’m all for it or if some mass movement to pay artists takes hold then I’d be delighted. I just don’t think there’s any grounds for public policy being involved. My creeping fear is that the unions that currently exist in the arts exist via institutional inertia more than anything else.Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    What is your experience and what are you thoughts on the role of unions in the various aspects of the performing arts? I have my own opinions (and the vicarious experience through a friend of the family) but I’m curious as what someone with your political views and firsthand executive experience (though a very junior one) thinks.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:

      The Society of Stage Directors and Coreographers seems to act more like a guild than a union. As far as I know anyone can join and they protect your intellectual property, so if someone steals your staging, they will sue on your behalf and I’ve known this to be done. They also run training programs for young directors and workshops and I believe provide a right of first refusal in their contracts. So let’s say I direct a play in SF and a producer loves the play and wants to do a Broadway production. If I had a SSDC contract, I would have to be given the right to direct the Broadway production or paid to step down. The mechanics are more specific but that is roughly what the right of first refusal is.

      Actors are divided into three unions: SAG, AEA (Equity), and AFTRA. Equity covers theatre. I’m not sure on the complete mechanics of it all but you have to earn memebership to all three unions and this happens with a varying degree of difficulty. The easiest way to join equity is to get cast in an equity show but many to most of those are closed auditions. Equity does provide benefits like mainly guaranteed paid productions* based on size of theatre and if a show lasts long enough, health insurance.** Most of my friends are very, very happy when they get their equity cards. At least it indicates that they made it.

      The Flea did at least two equity productions while I was there and sometimes equity actors do complain about less work because it means they need to get permission or sneak to do non-equity shows and they want to act.

      The best union is perhaps unsurprisingly the stagehands union. It is almost impossible to get into the New York chapter of this union unless you know someone or are related to someone.

      *There is such a thing as a show case production which allows for no payment during the rehearsal period and the first 12 productions. I’ve seen a lot of actors do these and then the production ends.

      **A lot of pretty successful actors can still go to the NYU Free Dental Clinic.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        Anybody who has any role in SAG production basically has to join SAG. You get all the benefits. When Disney was making Enchanted, they raided the dance studios of New York for background dancers. A couple of my teachers got parts and SAG membership as a result. This means anytime Enchanted plays on television or somewhere, they get a little bit of money.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        People got their SAG cards by joining the picket line when SAG was on strike a few years ago.Report

    • Scott Fields in reply to Kolohe says:


      I was a member of Actors’ Equity and the American Guild for Musical Artists for 12 years, as a stage manager not an actor/singer, and I’d say the union is absolutely vital to the theater arts in the US. I have no first hand knowledge of the other arts unions, but my impression is that SAG and AFTRA are not nearly as important to their respective forms, since the economics of live theater are vastly different than the economics of film and television. (A play occurs at a single place at a single time, so there are no benefits of mass production. Of course, this is what makes live theater so special, but it is what it is.)

      As has been noted already, there is no shortage of people who will act, or stage manage, without getting paid cash money for it. There are other rewards – it’s not for nothing that “amateur” derives from “lover of” – and those rewards can carry the artist pretty far. But after a time, working two jobs (one job you tolerate so you can afford to do the other job that you really love) wears you down. Union theaters pay well enough that the art can be the only job. This is of immense value to a theater person, because the work is hard enough (mentally, physically, emotionally) without you coming to it following a day of pushing paper or waiting tables to pay the bills.Report

      • Roger in reply to Scott Fields says:


        I fail to follow your argument. You posit that unions are vital to the theater arts. But then support it with an argument that unions are better for the artists themselves (or at least those good enough to be hired above union wages).

        My take on it is that you have reduced the consumer surplus created by the arts. You will get less art, at a higher price of a higher average quality.Report

    • Kim in reply to Kolohe says:

      I know a writer (mostly comedy). From him, I get that many, many rules can be flexed. Mostly if you’re willing to not get credited on-screen (also, not get paid in cash).
      Hollywood’s quite capable of “making up” writers — and then finding people to play them (*cough* some writers don’t do public appearances *cough*).Report

  6. ScarletNumbers says:

    TriBeCa stands for TRIangle BElow CAnal street. #TheMoreYouKnowReport

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    I think my problem here is the same as it was with the intern conversation Ethan started last week.

    I feel like there are all kinds of employment issues that need addressing, and I recognize that there are all kinds of historic wrongs that pro-labor movements have helped improve (and in some cases outright fixed).

    But when we get to a place where we start saying…

    “I get that you two people have a mutual agreement that you both find fulfilling in different ways, but I personally wouldn’t be fulfilled with that kind of agreement… and so even though I don’t do what you do and it doesn’t actually effect me at all, I need very badly to make sure you can’t have such an agreement in the future,”

    … well, then it starts feeling a little manky, and I begin to worry we’re more concerned about making our own mark on the world than helping people.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      How much does this become a race to the bottom though?

      I get what you are saying and it makes sense but it seems to damn everyone in the end.

      Helping people is of course very difficult are we talking about helping them as a group/class (young and potentially easily exploited actors in New York) or helping them as an individual. I think most people who audition for the BATS do want to be professional actors*. They go on audition, they pay lots of money for headshots and other supplemental materials and many might never make it as paid professionals. Sometimes they might benefit individually for doing something like the BATS or some other program/play where they perform for free but in the end the help from this is limited if it continues forever.

      *There is the whole idea of people who are independently wealthy and can afford to be in the arts for little or no money. It is hard to determine how many people fit this description. I’ve known some or who at least had semi-subsidized existences. But I think most of the artists I know are of the work a bunch of odd jobs, wait tables, bartend, babysit, tutor, teach, whatever, random office work and audition/direct/write on the side category.Report

      • RTod in reply to NewDealer says:

        “How much does this become a race to the bottom though?”

        I think that’s the thing, I don’t see how it does. We have had interns as long as we’ve had white caller employment, and we’ve had financially struggling artists for basically ever. This whole notion that if we don’t eliminate them both then soon no one will have a paying job seems suspect.

        As to the question of individual artists, I don’t know that the current system isn’t OK with me.

        One of the things about being an actor (or musician, or painter, etc.) is that the number of people who want to have those jobs is always going to be far greater (by many factors) than the number of jobs. And I think that actually creates a better class of talent, because in order to succeed and be able to do any of those jobs long term requires an enormous amount of commitment to one’s craft. If you want to act at the Flea so badly that you are willing to not only volunteer on stage but also volunteer for office tasks, I think that says something important. And if you have more people willing to do that than you have actual slots at the Flea, I think that says something important as well.

        And I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing; I am very sure that it creates real value. Being 24 and going into an audition for a paid gig at the Seattle Artists Rep and saying you were part of the company at the Flea seems very similar to being 24 and interviewing at a law firm in Salt Lake, then having one of the partners from Baker & McKenzie follow up with a call on your behalf because of your work there as an intern.

        Besides, if we start treating the arts like Walmart or McDonalds, how confident are we that we know where to stop without damaging the arts themselves? If we who don’t live that life tell artists they can’t volunteer, what’s to stop us from demanding they find a paying gig or they can’t perform at all? Then what’s to stop us from demanding that a company can’t replace an actor that isn’t working out because they haven’t been given a certain number of written warnings about poor performance and adequate time to try and correct their mistakes/raise their level of talent? What’s to stop us from demanding that new, fresh, hungry talent be kept out of the company so that more experienced but no longer enthused or dedicated actors are assured of a job in their later years?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:

        “How much does this become a race to the bottom though?”
        I think that’s the thing, I don’t see how it does.

        Sometimes it seems like everything is viewed as a race to the bottom. But just because such races are theoretically possible doesn’t mean they’re actually very common. For example it’s believed that states will race to the bottom in environmental standards or in tax rates to attract businesses, yet we see certain states advancing their environmental standards ahead of national standards, and states that don’t reduce their tax rates to that of nearby states. (And those states with laxer enviro standards or lower taxes may not be racing to any bottom, by their standards, but may have different values.)

        white caller employment,

        Potential jokes abound.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        You’re dealing with a different crop of artists than the ones I know.
        [wouldn’t be surprised if this is a NYC vs Pittsburgh thing]
        Most of THEM are perfectly happy with their day jobs.
        (Granted, they’re in research, doing Kool Stuff).

        Then they go write music (or whatever) on the side.Report

      • j r in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think it’s time to start clarifying the phrase “race to the bottom.” It can describe all sorts of phenomena under the general rubric of labor economics and industrial organization. Moving ahead too fast into a situation where the social and economic norms of employment haven’t caught up to the technological reality can cause a race to the bottom. However, a failure to abandon outdated norms in the face of a changing reality can also cause a race to the bottom.

        It’s not always apparent with which case we are dealing.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    Are the high school musicals/plays undercutting the important musicals and plays being put on by semi-professionals? Would we be better off if the audiences being siphoned away into watching yet another “The Pajama Game” starring 16 year olds who are really only doing it for reasons associated with status and self-esteem were instead going to see grownups who are getting paid for it do Equus?Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Jaybird says:

      Can we at least agree that we don’t want 16 year olds performing equus for free?Report

    • Reformed Republican in reply to Jaybird says:

      The only ones watching high school musicals and plays are the parents of the kids involved. Most of them are not likely to go to theatrical productions otherwise.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      High School musicals and plays don’t undercut the professionals because most people do not think they are as good as professional productions.*

      Community Theatre tends to exist in areas without much professional theatre. Almost every theatre production in NYC is semi-professional or professional by default because of the sheet amount of trained theatre people in the area. This might also be true in other big cities like Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

      San Francisco has those semi-professional troops I talked about above.Report

  9. NewDealer says:

    @jaybird @north @jm3z-aitch @herb and anyone else interested.

    Here is an add for the Flea:

    They are clearly looking for above community level talent.

    I will conclude that Flea probably will not change unless non-equity acting talent learns to unionize and the AEA starts agitating against all non-union theatres.Report

    • North in reply to NewDealer says:

      Agreed ND. A question though: considering the supply of people who wish to become actors would new unions be able to form and be successful? If the AEA began agitating against all non-union theatres would they result in more pay and benefit for actors or would it result in the AEA being weakened and diminished?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to North says:

        Did the United Autoworkers lose power for agitating against all the non-union shops in the 1930s in Detroit?

        No and it wasn’t until much later that the UAW lost power and for very different reasons than going against non-union car manufacturers?

        The diminish power/inadvertent side effects argument seems to be a concern trollish argument to keep existing status quo in place and the “we can’t have nice things.” You have to strive for what is more fair and more moral. It seems like implicitly expecting a certain amount of suffering and losers in society no matter the issue being discussed whether minor or major.Report

      • North in reply to North says:

        I’m sorry ND, I just don’t see actors as even remotely analogous to autoworkers.
        Believe me, I actually am quite sympathetic to private sector unions and have little knowledge (and even less interest) in maintaining the status quos of the acting world. Why does the AEA not declare a crusade against nonunion theaters? Do they not desire to expand the reach of their union? Do they not desire to have more dues paying members? Do they not desire to raise the working wage of actors? Or do they think it wouldn’t work and would be detrimental to the interests of their union and their members? Do they think it wouldn’t work? I suspect that it’s the latter rather than the former; don’t you?
        I just find that actors and artists are not analogous in my mind to other workers. I suppose you can find the odd worker in other industries who love what it is that they do and consider the act of doing it a reward in itself but not in the proportion that you find in the arts. You are invoking suffering, morality and fairness but I simply don’t see the suffering, morality and fairness issue in this. No one is forced to pursue a living in the arts. If I talked to a bright eyed teenager and he says “finding an outlet for my creative urges and my need to entertain people” I would not advise him to pursue a career in actuarial accounting. If I talked to a bright eyed teenager and he says “making a good secure living is my primary goal” I would not advise him to enter the arts. It is not like the difficulty of getting your hands on lucre when you’re an artist is some conspiratorial secret. The artists go into this with their eyes wide open. Where is the con? Where is the coercion? Where is the immorality? Where is the unfairness?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to North says:

        I just find that actors and artists are not analogous in my mind to other workers.

        This. There are not people out there so eager to be autoworkers that they will do so for free in their spare time.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to North says:

        @jm3z-aitch @north

        I will have to concur because there are just people who want to be artists including they just want to act and are willing to do so on their spare time and sacrifice all other concerns and desires for a career in art.

        I have a friend who is a playwright and she tells me that she wishes she found something like economics enjoyable instead of eye-stabbingly dull.

        So there are people who will do great sacrifices for the sake of art or being able to do what they love. I was clearly not one of those people. My choice open hearing career advice of “intern intern intern” and “volunteer volunteer volunteer” or “self-produce self-produce self-produce” and maybe a career will happen was to opt out and go to law school.

        Yet there is a part of me that thinks like Glyph on this matter.Report

      • North in reply to North says:

        Oh agreed ND, I’m pretty aligned with Glyph on this as well. If the Flea is producing a profit for someone or if someone is cushing it up with some sweetheart sinecures from this then there’s a huge moral thrust that agitates in favor of paying the artists something.

        In the absence of that, however, I think things are more neutralish.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to North says:


        There are just people who want to be artists including they just want to act and are willing to do so on their spare time and sacrifice all other concerns and desires for a career in art.

        That $9 million might be better spent on mental health care for those folks (says the would-be fiction author who’s never managed to publish anything).Report

      • North in reply to North says:

        You know prof, there’s a spot here at the league that’s just aching for some fiction exerps… …Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to North says:

        They’ve started doing that, haven’t they? I’ve been considering one. Maybe after I finish grading (which, the way I’m procrastinating, should be sometime next summer).Report

    • Kolohe in reply to NewDealer says:

      To me, the point of unions is to not just get people jobs, or even ensure that members get a ‘living wage’ or whatever.

      It’s to ensure that the returns on the (greatly simplified) capital+labor equation are equitably split. (and not even a guarantee of that equity, but at least a voice in the process and leverage to make it happen).

      So it’s one thing to advocate for unionization at Disney or Comcast Universal. These are much more akin to the GMs of the world. It’s also much like how major league sports are unionized.

      But nobody expects pickup games in the park to be unionized. Even such notable ones as the ones that go on in Rucker park, which draw both not inconsiderable crowds and not inconsiderable money.

      (now, you know who really needs a union, because the money between capital, labor, and esp management is in no way equitably split? NCAA Football and (Men’s) Basketball team members)Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:

        I see pick up games like community theatre. It is a hobby. No one expects the New York Times to review the Westchester Community Players production of Witness for the Prosecution.

        The Flea can and does expect coverage in the New York Times. They hold themselves out as art professionals and want a higher level of talent than the Westchester Players.Report

      • Roger in reply to Kolohe says:


        An interesting article on the issue of bargaining power…

        A classical liberal would argue that the way to ensure bargaining power is competition. There is absolutely no shortage of wanna be actors or producers or even of opportunities for bottoms up self employment.Report

  10. dhex says:

    “Nearly 9 million dollars will come from the New York City and State Governments.”

    that’s kind of obscene in principle, but a drop in the ny obscenity bucket in practice (pro sports comes to mind quite forcefully).

    on the other hand, this is a classic steal from the poor for the hobbies of the wealthy and educated – at least pro sports are kinda quotidian. ain’t nothin’ quotidian about the theatre.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to dhex says:

      Prove your statement please. You like to make NPR white person accusations but that is easy without proof.

      I know plenty of theatre artists and theatre lovers who come from very modest to outright poor circumstances.Report

      • dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

        wanna bet what the avg hhi for non-broadway theater attendees in nyc is? even with all the students skewing things downward.

        the very fact the topic for this post exists pulls “it’s a wildly and widely popular form of art in nyc” out of the running.Report

    • North in reply to dhex says:

      Dhex, I disagree. From a green eyeshade view of accounting NYC is getting a pretty good return on its 9 million bucks.
      The public invests 9 million bucks and gets an 18.5 million dollar theater out of the deal? That’s a pretty good return on investment. Add in that the city doesn’t have to maintain it and the thing promotes and grows the city’s vibrant theater scene and that makes it a runaway great investment.
      If all of NYC’s spending had that kind of return the city would actually be the shining paradise that NYC inhabitants act like it is.Report

      • dhex in reply to North says:

        i’m not sure splitting the cost of a theatre in and of itself counts as a return on investment, but rather just the investment part. the return would be (in part) additional tourist dollars and local effects from those dollars (eating and shopping in the area), to the point where the initial investment is recouped.

        now, i don’t know if that will happen – given the generally incredibly poor investment pro sports stadiums actually end up being for municipalities which give away the store to keep teams in town, i am – justifiably, i think – rather skeptical that a theatre which doesn’t even pay its actors and works on a volunteer model to keep front of house ops running is going to really end up balancing that particular investment.

        now, one might argue that it is intrinsic to the nature of nyc that these kinds of things be supported even if individually they do not produce a return. i can see that as an argument, but it’s not particularly compelling without some kind of proof that five or ten years out the 9 million that the city and state pumped in comes back out.

        independently of all this i’m sure the lobbying process that resulted in this particular loan (is it a loan? i used up all my free times ducats this month) was quite interesting. the sausage making process is *always* interesting.Report

      • j r in reply to North says:

        Dhex is right. From an accounting point of view, you would measure return as the sum of the net present value of all associated capital outflows and the net present value of all expected capital inflows. This is very hard to do with a public works project.Report

      • North in reply to North says:

        From what little I read it was a grant.
        Still the stadium point is well made since I must concede that I despise stadium deals. That said at least with the theater deal there’s little indication of the theater backers making a fortune off of the arrangement.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to North says:

        I will just point out as Dhex does 9 million is chump change compared to what gets spent on sports stadiums. Now there might be a good argument that the 9 million should not be spent either but if sports stadiums are going to get it, then I am glad theatre can also get public money.

        And I don’t think I will ever live in a world where American governments do not spend money on sports stadiums. Individual municipalities might refuse from time to time but some other muncipality will gladly pick up the bill.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to North says:

        I don’t think I will ever live in a world where American governments do not spend money on sports stadiums.

        Maybe we need a constitutional amendment to ensure they don’t?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

        Or you could move back to San Francisco. AT&T was built with private money, and the 49ers are moving to Santa Clara next year because The City wouldn’t build them anything.Report

      • dhex in reply to North says:


        “Now there might be a good argument that the 9 million should not be spent either but if sports stadiums are going to get it, then I am glad theatre can also get public money.”

        the obvious good argument is “it’s throwing municipal money down the toilet for the sake of private industries and offers no tax benefits or demonstrable return on investment for taxpayers or cities, and is basically a handout to wealthy and connected parties from various politicos.”

        that said, don’t you feel a tiny bit selfish for saying “i like that my hobbies and interests are going to get taxpayer money”?

        i mean, i loves me some music but (presuming i still lived in nyc) if st. vitus was going to lobby for money from the city i would vote against it if given the chance. sure, i would like to see a home for extreme metal but forcing other people to pay for it is an (admittedly minor league) obscenity. either work as a non-profit or work as a business, but the welfare queen act (ha ha get it? act?) is hella lame, as the kids said about ten to twelve years ago.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to North says:


        That’s the one thing liberals are good for.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to dhex says:

      Have you seen the prices for sports tickets? You need to be rich or at least well-off to go to games live frequently. People might like sports more than theatre but very few can afford to see games lives regularly. Its just as bad.Report

      • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

        What? $10-15 a pop? That’s the price of a movie, and people see them all the time…
        (Baseball in Pittsburgh, at the (arguably) best stadium in MLB)Report

      • dhex in reply to LeeEsq says:

        bleacher seats at the new yankee stadium are 12-15 bucks per. not the best seats in the house, but seats nonetheless.

        that said, as impressive as the stadium is from a marketing/interior design/event design pov (and it is dang impressive) the concessions are still laughably expensive and expansive. (steaks for sale?!)Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Major-league baseball is pretty affordable compared to major-league theater. Minor-league baseball is more or less the same price as a movie.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The NFL is the only league that’s uniformly unaffordable. Some teams or schools in the other leagues, though they tend to be the exception (except maybe college football, depending on what you’re looking at).

        But you don’t have to go to the stadium to see the game. You do have to go to the theater to see the play and the operahouse to see the opera. (Don’t you?)Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Minor-league baseball is more or less the same price as a movie.

        Yeah, one of the down sides of getting major-league baseball in Denver was that we lost the local AAA team. Free parking, inexpensive good seats always available, much more reasonably-priced concessions. Given that the step down in hitting from the bigs isn’t as large as the step down in pitching, plus more frequent base-running blunders, the games were almost always entertaining.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to LeeEsq says:


        To be fair, your local AAA team played in a stadium that held 76,723.

        The current highest capacity in the PCL is Salt Lake at 15,411.Report

  11. NewDealer says:


    that said, don’t you feel a tiny bit selfish for saying “i like that my hobbies and interests are going to get taxpayer money”?

    No. Why should I? I’m not a conservative or libertarian and think that government should spent money on the arts and humanities and promoting them. There is more value in funding the Met and MOMA and keeping them available for low or free admission prices than there is in building a stadium for a billionaire in a big business industry. I have never been opposed to the NEA or NEH and never heard a reason why I should be.Report

    • dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

      “There is more value in funding the Met and MOMA and keeping them available for low or free admission prices than there is in building a stadium for a billionaire in a big business industry.”

      this is gonna be one of those you say tomato i say tomatoe things – they’re both handouts to entertainment concerns; one just has a gloss of “higher class” or “noble purpose” to it than the other. “the arts” or what have you as being more noble than “the sports” in one sense; or “the arts” being an elite concern while “the sports” are a more popular pursuit.

      moma is quite the ding still at 25 bucks while the met is still a “suggested donation” joint. moma also has quite the endowment, though it’s dwarfed by the met which has two billion iirc. (the met is a great space for events if you act early and don’t book on the weekends, btw – they’ve got that part of the business locked down.)

      neither of those is a handout to a small theater, though, which is at least somewhat different in that it’s scope is incredibly small, though the pricetag does seem rather totes crazotes as it were for something that i think we can comfortably assume will not be much of a tourist draw. at least compared to movie: the musical! on broadway or what have you, and even compared to a mets game (as hard as that is for anyone to believe).

      none of which have proven to be a good “investment” in most municipalities, of course.Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to dhex says:

        The Met and Moma as entertainment concerns? Well that’s one way to look at them. You could also call them educational institutions, or important vehicles for public historical preservation. I mean, wouldn’t it be a great loss to the public if lots more art was simply locked away in private collections? Sports and stadiums have greater difficulty claiming those mantles.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        “I mean, wouldn’t it be a great loss to the public if lots more art was simply locked away in private collections?”

        maybe? probably not? if the public cared that much, these wouldn’t have to be endowment-driven/subsidy-laden concerns. to argue that people are losing out on something they don’t care about in the first place is a hard hill to climb, and often seems to come back to some variation on false consciousness.

        my own biases may simply be fueling my blasé-ity, of course; i find great value in art, but less so in Art. both are forms of entertainment – frivolities, really, if often enriching and enjoyable ones – but they trade in different kinds of cultural capital. i love rothko and pig destroyer, but i can’t see propping either up using the funds of those who like neither as being a particularly moral act, even though people would argue quite stridently that one enriches the soul and the other either enriches it far less or debases it entirely.

        those people would be wrong – dead wrong – but dems da vicissitudes of cultural values.

        i have a very hard time with the “eat your cultural vegetables” argument because i can always find vegetables that the speaker doesn’t care to eat. there is always a level 5 vegan lurking in the shadows…watching…waiting…more hardcore than thou…Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to dhex says:

        Ok so now I just have more questions… I’m not sure I understood your differentiation between capital ‘A’ Art and art. Capital ‘A’ Art being the hobbies and interests of the wealthy and educated and lowercase ‘a’ art being artistic endeavor broadly defined – is that the distinction?

        Would you call a curator or an archaeologist an entertainer, akin to a major league professional athlete?

        Suppose the Vatican shut its museums and stopped public access to say, the Sistine Chapel. Wouldn’t that be an offense against both Art and art? Would you define that as a loss? (I went for the Sistine Chapel but I could’ve chosen les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Guernica, Starry Night, any number of works.)

        I guess my point would be there is sense in which government can be a steward and promote the accessibility of the arts writ large. So a multiplicity of forms of art can receive government support in keeping with these aims, without necessarily denigrating any particular line of artistic contributions. I think the sort of left-side of the spectrum, pro- NEH, NEA, Smithsonian perspective that I hold, views a kind of artistic commons that is enriched by government involvement. There can be frivolous art, and I don’t mind that getting government support too. But there’re really serious historical (and cultural) preservation dimensions that descriptions like enriching and enjoyable frivolity, entertainment concern, or selfish government support for my hobby doesn’t capture (in my estimation anyway).Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:


        yeah, i basically reject the notion in my heart of hearts that what’s going on is much more than a cultural battle in which some winners are basically “art” and others are “entertainment”. they’re both frivolities. which, i mean, i see nothing wrong with “entertainment”, which may be some of the crux here. entertainment is a terrible thing! it prevents the higher faculties from something something something, etc. whatevs! that’s some silly nonsense perpetuated by people who fail to realize the foibles of their own juggalo gatherings.

        anyway, what you call an “artistic commons” i basically reject as making anything close to sense as far as any real notion of “commons” can be understood – it’s a commons as chosen by a handful of people employed by wealthy art collectors, benefactors, and trusts, as well as whatever government forces they can purchase. e.g.

        “This little Flea is going to help make big dreams come true for a lot of young artists,” said Scott Stringer, Manhattan’s borough president. “The cultural life of the city will really be defined by how many young people get an opportunity to come here from all over the world, just because they want to sing and dance and express themselves.”

        “The cultural life of the city will really be defined…” are you high, scott stringer? anyone who thinks they could boil down the cultural life of an entire city to one theatre that the vast majority of the residents of said city will never actually attend…is that arrogance? is it insanity? is it insane arrogance? thankfully he’s going to be comptroller next year.

        my being a jerk to scott stringer aside, there’s a line that we all seem (or at least mostly) to at least somewhat agree about, where you start off on the left hand side of a “timeline of cultural value” with museums and opera houses to the far left. we then travel a bit and start transitioning into off-off broadway theater spaces, skip past a few art galleries…and then somewhere between art gallery and rock club (depending on the city; broadway probably fits somewhere before rock club but after a space like the stone or tonic when it still existed) we make a curious value transition. somehow we go from being “culturally important enough for tax breaks and/or public support” to “not being culturally important enough and/or a potential public menace” (depending on the kind of music and the socio-economic, racial, and class makeup of the crowds drawn). why?

        my answer to the why is that it rests on the cultural capital and resources of the people involved in the pursuit; though as far too many pro league team owners have shown us, you can get around that provided you have enough money and can lie your butt off about “thousands of jobs created” without cracking up during press conferences. which means tough luck to a lot of clubs and music venues who don’t do the sort of stuff valued by downtown people with enough of the hella scrilla to get scott stringer’s weedtastic attention.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to dhex says:

        “I mean, wouldn’t it be a great loss to the public if lots more art was simply locked away in private collections?”

        Private doesn’t have to mean locked away. The Getty is one of the word’s great museums, is private, and is open to the public. Admission fee is $15 per car.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to dhex says:

        this is gonna be one of those you say tomato i say tomatoe things – they’re both handouts to entertainment concerns; one just has a gloss of “higher class” or “noble purpose” to it than the other.

        One distinction might be that the supply curves for the two are probably different. Cut public funding for art museums and I suspect a lot of them would dry up and go away. Cut public funding for football stadiums and I suspect that we wouldn’t get all that much less football. Football is plenty profitable on its own. The just feed from the public money trough because we let them.

        We’d probably get fewer new stadiums built, but that’s probably not a bad thing. I mean, I’m pretty sure that Candlestick Park is still standing. I’ll worry more about public funding for the arts when it becomes common for art museums to abondon perfectly good buildings and go shopping for cities that will build them nicer ones.Report

      • j r in reply to dhex says:

        The real problem with valuing art and artistic endowments doesn’t have to do with how to discern supply and demand; that’s easy enough. You can figure out how much museum admission the public demands and their willingness to pay and that will give you a clearing price for the arts. That doesn’t change whether it’s a private firm, a non-profit or the government running the institution. All that changes is the level of public subsidy.

        The real problem arises because the investment is being made now and the benefits are being recouped in perpetuity, which makes it really difficult to figure out what the discount rate is. Basically, you are asking people to make an investment in their own legacy. And generally, the people most concerned with their legacy are people who have more than they will ever be able to spend. This is why the rich are so often patrons of the arts.

        The relevant question to ask is ought the government be acting like a rich person? The answer to that question will go a long way towards revealing one’s political ideology.Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to dhex says:

        An artistic commons. Yes, suffers from precisely the impairments you describe. And yet, we do have a common cultural heritage that passes from generation to generation. Paintings, sculptures, and artifacts are part of that heritage and will deteriorate if not attended to. To what extent do future generations have a right to things like the Elgin Marbles?

        Wow, you’re really hard on Scott Stringer. I see him as a local politician saying nice things at a ribbon cutting essentially. So yes, he exaggerates the positives.

        “culturally important enough for tax breaks and/or public support” to “not being culturally important enough and/or a potential public menace”

        So I’m not a fan of various moral panics over changes in the arts; once upon a time waltzing was controversial. The public menace side I kind of discount though I know the kind of sentiment you’re referring to.

        I wouldn’t apologize for some institutions getting money and others not (though I’d point out the non-profit, 501c3 process is pretty open. A wide range of institutions can access the tax-deductible donations route). Of course you’re right that the public fisc / allocating process is going to be subject to all of the same interest group, to and fro of our political system. And all of the United States’ “socio-economic, racial, and class makeup”hangups are likely to be reproduced in funding for the arts. But I don’t hold those imperfections in the decision making process against state support for the arts.Report

    • Dhex said:

      that said, don’t you feel a tiny bit selfish for saying “i like that my hobbies and interests are going to get taxpayer money?

      @newdealer said:

      No. Why should I?

      I’m not sure why you should, but in my mind there’s always a little bit of “if I’m getting something good, then maybe someone, somehow, even if only minimally is getting the shaft.” I know that’s zero-sum thinking, but I can’t help thinking it when, for example, one of my colleagues discusses how much more we ought to spend on higher education or academic libraries. And yes, maybe we should spend more, but what if that comes at the expense of better health care or food for the less affluent? I’m not so sure.

      I’m imposing a false dichotomy, of course, but I do feel there is at least a little special pleading mixed in with all the good things that subsidized art (and higher ed, and academic libraries) bring to the public. My own inclination is to find it very strange that someone wouldn’t see it similarly.

      However, different strokes, etc. I’m not really trying to admonish anybody, but just to suggest that dhex’s question is something I ask myself a lot and wonder why others don’t ask it also.Report

      • a little special pleading mixed in

        If the pro government subsidies to the arts side also believed in cuts to food stamps, Medicare, unemployment benefits and so forth then special pleading would have a case. But in general I think the pro-arts subsidies side is also in favor of broader government involvement, including subsidies, in the domains you mention.

        Also “my hobbies and interests are going to get taxpayer money” draws the circle too narrowly. Support for the arts means supporting institutions that pro-arts subsidy side are unlikely to go to, for instance because of geography. I like that regional theater exists, but I’m unlikely to attend a theater in Oklahoma because I’m in New York. I don’t want exclusively New York theater supported, and I suppose if I said “only taxpayer subsidies to NY theaters”, then I’d be selfish.

        I don’t see how supporting widespread accessibility of the arts is selfish.Report

      • @creon-critic

        For me, the operative word in dhex’s “don’t you feel a tiny bit selfish” was “tiny bit.” I agree, support for the arts is not essentially selfish, and one can make a decent argument that the public benefits from it, and one can also point out, as you do, that the pro-arts funding crowd is mostly pro-more spending on food stamps, etc. (although I wonder if they would happily give up their arts funding for even more spending on food stamps, etc…..but as I noted above, that’s a zero sum, falsely dichotomous way of thinking and probably fallacious.) But I still see a little bit of selfishness, a little bit of a sense that other people owe the artists money by virtue of the artists being artists.

        I should say something that wasn’t clear from my original comment. I think we’re all selfish at least a little bit. That chit we ask for from the state that someone else has to subsidize is an imposition on them and a subsidy for ourselves. Society might benefit from subsidized artists, but the artists benefit the most, or at least the most directly.

        Look, I’m a public employee. My salary is paid from a combination of taxpayer dollars and student tuition (and perhaps some private funding through alumni and grant disbursing institutions). The tuition, in turn, is at least partially subsidized by taxpayers in the form of subsidized rent and credit/loans on easy terms. I think I render at least an adequate service for my pay and I think what I do can be reasonably defended as something that has to be done, even though, like the arts, its usefulness is not one that is obvious to people not directly serviced by archives. Still, I do think there’s at least a little selfishness involved in my very real interest that the government keep funding my job. I don’t think the profession I’m in could survive in a competitive market because it seems the type of thing that only philanthropists and/or government can maintain. So even though I perform the service for which I’m paid, I’m also aware my job would likely not exist save for the subsidies.

        And frankly, I consider asking money of the government when it’s not a question of payment for services rendered is special pleading (and in some cases, like mine, even payment for services rendered, or at least the position that allows me to perform those services, can also be special pleading). That doesn’t make it bad, but it makes something that’s not full-stop, indisputably good, either.Report

      • “in the form of subsidized rent ”

        Err….I mean subsidized interest.Report

      • dhex in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        “I don’t see how supporting widespread accessibility of the arts is selfish.”

        the selfish part is that it’s only some arts, generally of the npr white people variety of “approved artistic expressions”. i don’t think juggalo-based orgs get nea grants. maybe they should? (to be honest i’m not sure what the juggalo non-prof space looks like these days)

        that said, the specific topic wasn’t museums per se but a local theatre group, which is more like underwriting a music venue – a very expensive one at that. i am definitely a bit rough on stringer above but that line about the “cultural life of the city” being reflected in this very, very narrow expression of cultural life is kinda annoying.

        plus i’m pretty sure a major movie star has other ways to raise nine million rather than sticking it to taxpayers, especially seeing as they got donor matches on the other half.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        @dhex et al.

        I remember a few years ago when the NY Public Library spent $10K or $100K on some super special book that had a marble cover and all sorts of bells and whistles. I remember thinking, “That is absolutely insane. Let’s limit ourselves to $1K books until every New Yorker is fed.”Report

      • dhex in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        i think that was a loaner (the one from some special italian quarry, iirc? if the wife were here i’d ask her.) – the real kicker for the nypl system is the structural changes they’re going through with this renovation and the changing nature of public libraries in america. it’s an “interesting” time to work in publicly-funded libraries, no doubt – even with a (literally) billion dollar endowment the nypl is facing pretty severe issues.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Could have been… I don’t remember the details, just the absurdity of it. Especially since I doubt that book is available for me to checkout. How do I benefit from that expenditure?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        How do I benefit from that expenditure?

        Don’t be so shortsighted. We may need that Codex when Gozer the Traveller returns. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the Traveller came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKettrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Sloar! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day, I can tell you!Report

      • I should qualify what I said, or at least repeat the qualifier in my original comments, that even though I do see a “tiny bit” of selfishness in a lot of attempts to fund the arts (a whole lot of other funding efforts), I realize that if my thinking were twisted just a bit, and carried to its logical conclusion, then the only just expenditure would be helping the sick in Madagascar whatever country Jason said awhile ago needed the most help.

        Not that that’d be a bad thing in itself, but funding does involve making priorities and even when it’s done for the general good, some people benefit more than others.Report

  12. NewDealer says:


    Creon brings up good points. It is also important to note that under American law, museums are quasi-public organizations that hold art in trust for the public. This is why it is so controversial when museums choose to sell from their collection and why the sale of art work from the Detroit Institute of Art to cover Detroit’s bankruptcy.Report