It seemed like a lot of the people I talked to at the conference was interested in getting out of the traditional theatre. The reasons all were very similar, and not surprisingly. They centered on time and money. Student loans are costly, and after all the education (and theatre / entertainment technology is an over-educated field) you need a certain level of job to be able to pay back loans. Every theatre wants an MFA applicant – but no-one wants to pay the necessary salary, particularly for a recent grad. The jobs out there that do pay well enough to live on tend to have people in the position that aren’t going anywhere soon – but, I think in about 10 years there are going to be a wealth of great positions opening up – from all of these people retiring. Theatre used to be a place where you paid your dues, worked for practically nothing and worked your way up. Sure some went to school, and thus tended to enter in a higher position. But then more and more went to school, then you had to get an MFA to distinguish yourself. Soon, the MFA will be only the starting point. And by that point you’ve invested way too much money to take a low paying job. Thus people are looking at commercial scene shops, selling products, cruise ships, and academia so they can pay their loans. The few positions in LORT theatres that pay well they can’t get because they don’t have enough practical experience. They have paid some dues, but not in the places they historically needed to pay dues. So it’s an odd situation.
One of the things it means is that theatre is going to have to pay better to retain the best individuals in the theatre. This is something that I have already seen to a certain extent. And, truthfully, I have been able to make a decent living in theatre. Even in some of the smaller places I have worked, because often perks such as subsidized housing leave money in my pocket that wouldn’t have been otherwise. But, on the flip side, is the fact that there will always be people who are motivated by the art, who believe that the lack of pay is okay, and that are willing to make the sacrifice to pay their dues. So when you have 1 person who won’t work for x amount of money, you still have someone else who will –albeit, probably less qualified. But that also goes back to the point that every TD doesn’t have to have an MFA.
One of the things I wonder is what happens in the long run. The commercial theatre will support a lesser qualified individual in some places (selling gaff tape perhaps), and highly skilled people (creating new technology), but not the amount of people that come out. However, in 10 years, when some of the more sought out positions may open up due to people retiring (you do have to watch, the great positions open up at odd times) who will fill them – people entrenched in the current theatre scene or people who come out of the commercial scene. I could see where the people in commercial theatre may come back to enter into some of these positions – and I think it would be interesting to see what happens. Because when / if that happens, theatres will change to reflect a more commercial environment. Yet, the real problem is – how does this effect art. I have seen great art where loads of money was spent and salaries where high, and I have seen crap at the same spending level. The same can be said in the reverse. Though, this is probably a topic for a different entry!