Tuesday, March 27, 2012

40 Hour Work Week

I was reading Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week today, and thought it offered many good points that we should occassionally take the time to consider in theatre.

I have often felt that theatre doesn't value production employee's time. I work in a union shop and here it is accepted that it is better to just buy the needed materials than try to "save money" by recycling, reclaiming, or otherwise spending time on saving materials - the cost of labor is higher than the cost of materials so it isn't worth the cost. It is wasteful, but it is economical. In many theatre's I have worked it, time is free - even when overtime is paid, and it isn't just saleries - it comes from another budget, and few people actually estimate the labor needs for a show - just the show budgets. Since labor costs aren't considered, things are done to save production budgets at the cost of the people doing the work. Sometimes it's as subtle as dilluting products which shouldn't be dilluted to actually taking apart scenery and reusing scrap wood.

If a theatre actually has enough people in production to work normal weeks, accomplish what they need to in the show and recycle / save materials - that's great. But in my experience 40 hour weeks in theatre arn't always common, and it isn't also just loadin / strikes or tech week that mandate extra hours. And it isn't just scrimping on materials that eats up time - last minute changes, bad work processes, general inefficiencies as well as building shows that are ambitious in scope all contribute to the problem. Theatre is a double whammy - most people in the business are very dedicated and passionate (a common factor in many non-profits all of which are often lumped into one large catagory that assumes they underpay / over work their employees) and often young and willing to put in the hours. As they older they might get a more reasonable schedule - but sometimes it actually worse (a TD puts in more hours than a carpenter), or they get out of the industry. Plus, in theatre jobs, an employee may be hundreds of miles away from friends and family - totally invested in the current theatre. Not only working long hours beside their coworkers- but then hanging out with them afterwards. They may not have kids or a family life to occupy their time & are likely not to have an active home life that needs tending. And of course, if you have a problem with the hours or work, there are plenty of young replacements waiting to take your job.

I thought the article was particluarly interesting for tracing the history of how we got to where we aer today and the article is definately worth a read.

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