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RSS icon Comments on 10 Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves


Thing #1: Become something other than theater.

Nobody cares about theater! They are dieing because nobody gives 2 shits about theater. Sorry, dood.

Posted by Non | October 9, 2008 11:43 AM

Must be sweeps week at The Stranger.

Posted by unwelcomed | October 9, 2008 11:45 AM

I can't believe people are freaking out of the advice to build bars (which seems liek a no brainer) but not the one to provide child care. That's the one that seems to involve the most work and/or cash with the least return to me.

Posted by genevieve | October 9, 2008 11:50 AM

Monkey waiters at intermission would help.

Posted by kinaidos | October 9, 2008 11:52 AM

But you guys delete comments.

Posted by so why bother | October 9, 2008 11:59 AM

Attention Readership:

If you disagree with a Slog writer, either in whole or in part, you are "Losing Your Shit".

Please make a note of that.

Posted by natopotato | October 9, 2008 12:28 PM

Yes, between this article and the "We don't need authentic, we need imaginative and good" freak-out in the movie review section, I think something has finally driven Brendan off the deep end. He's mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore!

Posted by David | October 9, 2008 12:42 PM

The only place I ever "lose my shit" is when sitting on the john; calling Brendan out for some bone-headed thinking on his part, doesn't qualify.


Nobody is "freaking out" about installing bars in fringe theatres - precisely for the reason that it's pretty much a non-issue, because, well, just about every fringe company with their own venue ALREADY has one (whether legal under WSLC regs or no).

The "provide child-care" idea isn't really all that bad on its face, but it does, as you suggest, present a whole plethora of operational, financial, liability, and logistics issues that make it cost-prohibitive.

As to some of the other of Brendan's "suggestions", well, I think those of us who have already commented have more than aptly demonstrated why they're not in the least bit workable, and I'll just leave it at that.

Posted by COMTE | October 9, 2008 12:56 PM

Yes, they are workable Comteóbut not unless things change. And things need to change.

All of those suggestions are available to every company with enough energy and bodies. And if companies cannot attract energy and bodies, it's their own damn fault.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | October 9, 2008 1:13 PM


It's not necessarily boneheaded thinking; I agree with perhaps half of the issues he raises.

It is, however, boneheaded *writing*. He's addressing complex problems in a very stubbornly idealistic and willfully naive way. There are no particularly practical or constructive suggestions in it, but I doubt that there were meant to be any.

This is simply a quarterly screed to fill his writing quota; it is the cracking of the whip above the heads of an already-exhausted team of horses.

Posted by natopotato | October 9, 2008 1:13 PM

I like brendan the union slayer. Livable wage is a pretty hilarious concept for actors too, and while I can see that actors are humans too, they also aren't much different from any other profession that lives and dies on the generosity of the public. If you demand a living wage from a revenue source in flux, you have to ask "what is being cut to provide for it?"

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 1:15 PM

you don't need energy and bodies for on-site child care, brendan honey. you need MONEY. lots of MONEY. liability insurance is prohibitively expensive, not to mention the licensing, background checks, wocka wocka wocka. do yer homework next time, cutie pie.

Posted by scary tyler moore | October 9, 2008 1:17 PM

"That being said, I have only the HIGHEST RESPECT for talented performers who decide, for whatever reason, to remain non-union, and Seattle is truly blessed with a veritable cornucopia of them. But, that is also a CHOICE they've made; to forgo professional status, along with the occasional living-wage check, in order to work at that level, and I say more power to them. But, please, it's the height of disengenuiousness to suggest that union actors seeking living-wages are somehow the impediment to small fringe theatres being able to produce great work. If that were truly the case, well, the fringe wouldn't exist at all, then would it?"

So actors don't have a choice to become or continue being actors, but they do have a choice to be union or non union?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 1:24 PM

and whats a living wage? 35k a year?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 1:26 PM

@ 12. That piece of advice is more for the bigger theaters, who have to spend money on education programs anyway.

You're right. Wouldn't work so well for smaller theaters.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | October 9, 2008 1:31 PM

@12, Set up an LLC. Lease it space in your theater and have it hire your extra staff to watch kids. Fuck the insurance, just hope your LLC stands if anything happens. Risky sure, but so.

Posted by Giffy | October 9, 2008 1:53 PM

Well, Brendan it would have been nice if you'd, you know, made that clarification - in the article.

And some larger theatres DO in fact provide these kinds of services - if you ever actually went out to Issaquah, for example, you'd no doubt be familiar with Village's very nice, completely sound-proofed "family viewing rooms" at the back of the house.

Oh, and let us not forget ENTIRE THEATRES devoted exclusively to plays for teh childrenz. Besides, most parents go out for the evening - TO GET AWAY FROM THEIR KIDS, not to have them tagging along, not to mention the fact that, just creating a physical space for say 50 or 60 kids per night would entail spending huge amounts of $$ that could, you know, be better spent on things like actors and such.


WFT, dude - are you back on that tired old soapbox - again? Not sure what "point" you're trying to make this time, because you, um, don't really state one, but IF it's to imply some sort of "vocation versus avocation" dichotomy, well, obviously you don't spend much time around artists of any stripe, or else you'd pretty much already know the answer to whatever presumably rhetorical question you're apparently attempting to pose.

So, hey yeah, whatever.

Posted by COMTE | October 9, 2008 1:55 PM

If I hung out with artists I'd probably get get cast out rather quickly for shitting on their dreams and being a cynic.

But here is the point comte, why should people voluntarily choosing to pursue a career in local theater acting be entitled to a supposed living wage, when it's painfully obvious to anyone outside of art community that anyone with such lofty dreams is delusional. Artists are almost always poor by the nature of their work and revenue source, and rich artists almost universally suck because they have nothing to work for.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 2:30 PM

And I plainly don't see how successful an actor's union can be when they offer a totally elastic good.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 2:32 PM

Man, when I lived in New Orleans I used to LOVE getting daiquiris at the movie theater, boy do I miss that - they really should open bars in theaters.

Oh wait, you mean like PLAYS and a stage and stuff? Whatever.

Posted by Colton | October 9, 2008 3:10 PM

Right, because really, when it comes down to it, why should ANYONE pursue a career doing ANYTHING whatsoever - just because someone else doesn't particularly value what they do?

Let me ask you this, B.A.: Do you believe YOU deserve to earn a living wage doing whatever it is you do? Do you believe the time and training you've put into learning how to do whatever it is you do qualifies you as being deserving of earning a living wage? Do you believe you deserve that living wage regardless of whether anyone else OUTSIDE OF YOUR PROFESSION believes you do or not?

If you can answer "yes" to any of the above questions, then you should already know the answer to the ones you pose for others.

Posted by COMTE | October 9, 2008 3:11 PM

No, I dont believe I deserve it, I believe I've earned it and the fact I remain employed in my position backs up the that belief of earning it. Do actors earn a living wage? we can objectively answer this question once we nail down living wage. But do they deserve one? Thats entirely subjective and dependent on how much other people value your work. Theaters don't generate money through counterfeit or investments do they?

Maybe thats where our row comes from; you keep saying deserve. I think people usually earn the wages they work for as valued by what they produce(according to the employer, customer, etc etc. depends on how your pay is structured) and if they feel undervalued they can pursue remedies to alter that. The idea that actors deserve a living wage without asking where the money to pay those wages come from and the influence actors have on revenue generation is a flawed idea.

You know the theater industry better than me, so I am keenly interested in your take on a few questions;

1. what is a living wage quantitatively and qualitatively?
2. what do profit margins look like when every actor is paid a living wage and how much do wages factor in to the expenses of a production?
3. what impact would there be on the amount of productions put out if everyone paid by the theater was paid living wages?

The arts seem beautiful in a hidden regard; the financial success and livelihood of an artist is a reflection of how well they connect to other people with their art. it is the ultimate market, the best meritocracy in the world.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 3:32 PM

And you don't think someone with four years of undergrad, and possibly 2 - 4 years post-grad, who's studied and trained for their chosen profession DOESN'T also believe they've "earned" the right to a living wage?

A living wage is - a living wage, what the average person needs to earn in order to pay for basic necessities, and with a tiny surplus left over for emergencies or unanticipated expenses. Currently, in King County that translates to about $25,000 per annum for a single adult.

In professional, unionized theatre salaries for all participants, including actors, designers, production and admin staff, comprise approximately 30 - 40% of the total production cost; ticket sales, whether by subscription or single-purchase generally cover about 50% of the total production cost.

Except for Broadway, there is no "for-profit" business model for theatre; theatre, just like other most other cultural activities (e.g. symphonies, ballets, opera companies, museums, etc., etc.) operates almost exclusively on a not-for-profit model, so the idea of a a "profit-margin" has no relevance per se. However, the idea is that, any income in excess of expenses goes back into the institution to pay for additional programming, acquisitions, infrastructure, etc.

Again, in the professional non-profit world everybody IS paid a living-wage. However, performers, the people who actually act in the shows patrons come to see are essentially itinerant contract workers. So, while they earn a living wage WHILE THEY'RE WORKING, they don't have the security of a permanent, full-time position, and must continually seek a new job just at the moment they've secured their present job.

And even the MOST SUCCESSFUL, MOST POPULAR theatrical performers in this city, the ones you see in all the shows at The Rep, or ACT, or Intiman, the ones who ALWAYS GET GLOWING REVIEWS (because they're really GOOD at what they do) CAN'T EARN A LIVING-WAGE for an entire year - for the simple fact that it's literally impossible to get 50 weeks worth of jobs lined up in this town. For one thing, the companies' schedules overlap too much to make that possible; for another, not every show is going to have a role for them, regardless of their experience or ability.

And unlike fine artists or musicians for example, who can essentially perform their work solo, and create a tangable product that can be sold or reproduced and sold, performing artists work in a collaborative environment that is designed to create an ephemeral product; you can't just bottle the theatrical experience and sell it at the local Target, because then it would be something else entirely.

And theatre by its very nature is an incredibly labor-intensive line of work. Even solo-performers like monologuist Mike Daisey rely on entire cadres of other skilled theatrical workers: administrators, publicists, designers, technicians, front-of-house staff et al in order to be able to mount a successful production. If the patrons of artistic performance were expected to pay for 100% of what it actually costs, ticket prices would be so astronomically high (again, see the typical Broadway production), that NOBODY, aside from a small handful of the most well-off would be able to afford it.

Which pretty much belies the whole point of contemporary culture: that it be accessible to the citizens who reside within that cultural environment, and not just the few elites who can afford to pay through the nose.

It's exactly the same thing we see in professional sports: if fans had to actually fork out the TRUE cost for going to a game, most would never be able to do so. It's only because of the largesse of wealthy owners, who in turn are subsidized by corporate sponsors, television and radio broadcast revenue, and lucrative marketing spin-offs, that sports ticket prices are in fact as low as they are.

But, does that mean A-Rod is REALLY worth $25.7 mm per year? Or that Peyton Manning is worth $14 mm? The Yankees have the highest player payroll in professional sports, but that doesn't guarantee Steinbrenner a new World Series ring every year, and yet, if we were to accept your view of things, he should be firing every one of his players, because they fail to produce the product for which they have been engaged, namely to win championships.

Yet, most people won't bat an eye at these kinds of truly outrageous salaries, although they'll kvetch endlessly about actors, who theoretically at least provide at least a marginally equivalent cultural commodity, for DARING to demand the right to earn $12 an hour.

And don't try to pull in the "the free market is the best arbiter of success" argument, because, as recent events have clearly shown, NOBODY believes in the "free market", especially those who have been its most ardent proponents.

Posted by COMTE | October 9, 2008 4:59 PM

COMTE, before you tear the free market down by making equatist arguments consider, and I know this might be a tough pill to swallow, people actually DO value sports culturally more than theater and that is tangible in the fact that people will still fill seats at $60 a pop, which you claimed is a wealthy owner subsidized cost, for a team that won't break 500.

And really, do people that major in theater in college not know the inherent risk of being poor and underworked and holding down other jobs when the undertake that option in school? You're essentially saying that people are entitled based on title and background experience and degrees, not on what they do or the realities of how they affect income generated. You make actors seem naive or stupid.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 5:25 PM

and the free market is great at showing what people value. preference is what drives markets.

to follow up why should part time contract workers get a non pro rata annualized living wage above any other part time worker? are you advocating a system where union members are entitled to 25k independent of hours worked or plays acted in? do people who act more make more money? im all for people getting 12 an hour for hours worked but it sounds like you want 25k for what could be 240 hours of work. where is the cutoff.

it seems like the either theatre needs to make more money or there needs to be less actors fighting for money. maybe a bit of both.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 6:05 PM

and the free market is great at showing what people value. preference is what drives markets.

to follow up why should part time contract workers get a non pro rata annualized living wage above any other part time worker? are you advocating a system where union members are entitled to 25k independent of hours worked or plays acted in? do people who act more make more money? im all for people getting 12 an hour for hours worked but it sounds like you want 25k for what could be 240 hours of work. where is the cutoff.

it seems like the either theatre needs to make more money or there needs to be less actors fighting for money. maybe a bit of both.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 6:13 PM

Well, they're artists, and they live predominantly in the right-side of their brains for a good portion of their waking lives. So yeah, naive might be a stronger word than I'd personally choose to characterize them, but it's reasonably apt.

Not to mention the fact that developing sound business skills isn't exactly something TAUGHT to artists in our academic system, because culturally somewhere down the line it was decided such left-brain knowledge was either irrelevant, or, more more pertinently, an actual impediment to the artistic process. I'm not arguing that's a good thing (as someone who does taxes for artists, I can attest to how problematic it can be), but it is a reality. Artists simply do not THINK like accountants of software engineers; if they DID, they wouldn't BE artists.

And I will admit, there probably are far too many liberal arts degrees handed out as U.S. colleges, like shiny beads at Mardi Gras, because universities aren't stupid; they'll hand them out just as long as their are students willing to pay the tuition.

And the "sports are more valued than arts/culture" is simply a myth: there are enough studies now that have been conducted in the past decade or so, by groups like Americans for The Arts, and Theatre Communications Group, just to name a couple, that clearly show arts and cultural activities generate far more revenue on both an absolute, as well as a per-capita basis than do professional sports.

Theatre may comprise only a modest segment of that larger cultural financial pie, but it should also be noted that "value" can be expressed in other than simply monetary terms. That's the biggest fault in your argument; you're looking at the picture with only dollar signs in your eyes, and nothing else.

Money ISN"T everything.

Posted by COMTE | October 9, 2008 6:18 PM

id be interested in those studies. if im wrong then that's okay but I disagree with the premise that sports are inexpensive in consumer cost for ass in seat experience. and its also troubling
that despite generating more revenue they still don't turn enough of a profit to sustain themselves.

and the problem is money is everything when the problem you're faced with involves money. it seems to be the problem with theatres right now. once the finances are settled money isn't what its all about.

what can theater do in modifying itself and looking towards other forms of entertainment for guidence?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 9, 2008 6:46 PM
Posted by COMTE | October 9, 2008 11:06 PM

And as for the dubious "economic benefits" of pro sports, well there's this:

Posted by COMTE | October 9, 2008 11:07 PM

There aren't economic benefits of sports and I never claimed there were.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 10, 2008 9:30 AM

I never said YOU claimed there were, I was simply pointing this out to show how much MORE economic benefit there is in arts/cultural activities than in sporting activities.

Posted by COMTE | October 10, 2008 4:34 PM

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