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On Ninnies, Artists, and Makin’ it Rain: Final Thoughts on Working Cheap

No idea what this post is referring to? Start here! “Workin’ Cheap: How Short-Sighted Ninnies Are Killing Our Profession”

WELL, Dear Danglers – my little bloggie caused something of a stir last week! Having read some interesting comments and participated in some great discussions, I have a final thought (or four) on the issue. Is it somehow “un-artistic” to hope to pay your bills with your aerial work? Should you charge professional prices when you’re just starting out? Should you drop your prices if you’re working in a small market? GOOD QUESTIONS. Let’s discuss!

What Heartened Me

First, let me define exactly who this post was aimed at: aerialists getting into events (corporate, private, promotions, etc.) and cirque-style shows like those produced by Cirque Productions, Poet Theatricals, my company ImaginAerial, and dozens of other event companies. Small touring shows, self-produced runs, and small artistic ventures are in a different category entirely (remember: the first question to ask is, “Who is making money off me?” If the answer is nobody, well, that’s a silk of a different color!).

I got oodles of positive feedback from the established aerial community who’s been dealing with this issue for a while now. I’m not arrogant or crazy, and that $600 starting price wasn’t pulled out of thin air – that’s the general minimum we’ve been charging (and making) in events for upwards of a decade. I was also supremely heartened by the response from young aerialists who now have an idea of what the going market price is in events. When/if they’re ready to go pro in this area, they have a ballpark figure to work from. This very issue is why unions have been formed for other artistic genres (Actors Equity, SAG/AFTRA, etc) – there’s always someone willing to work cheap, but a true professional knows the value of their work.

(Note: for a touring show, you reduce your rate in the sense that you don’t just multiply the number of shows x your base rate. The more shows you do per week (within reason), the better deal you give. Too much to go into in this post – another time!)

What Surprised Me

What surprised me the most was the idea that asking for a living wage for your work somehow makes you “in it for the money”. Let’s be honest – did any of us get into this seeing gigantic dollar signs? Of course not. BUT, in order to be consistently working artists, we have to approach our work as we would any business. When you add up the cost of rehearsal space, equipment, costumes, music composition, business cards, insurance, website, travel, photographers (the list goes on and on – I’m stopping so as not to depress myself), you realize that you have to charge appropriately or fold. It really is just that simple.

We are certainly not the only industry in the throes of this problem – it’s an epidemic among freelancers in everything from graphic design to copy writing. These links make the point nicely:

F-You, Pay Me! (this one’s got some strong language – if that offends you, don’t click!)

Should I Work for Free?

There’s also a large question about what makes a professional a professional, versus a hobby trapezista, amateur, or green aerialist. Folks – if you’re awesome enough to work professionally and have all your ducks in a row (great costume, composed music, understanding of basic rigging, meticulously choreographed kick-booty 6-8 minute act, business cards, website, promo reel, proper photos, performers insurance, etc), then you are ready to run with the big dogs. And charge accordingly. (This deserves – and will get – it’s own post down the road!)

 In Closing

Good art and entertainment are valuable, and worth being paid for. The florist gets paid, the caterer gets paid, the lighting designer gets paid, the event planner gets paid, the stage manager gets paid – the talent should get paid too. You may have to scale up or down a bit depending on your regional market, but it’s up to you to make sure you’re engaging in healthy business practices by not undercutting an entire industry in your eagerness to work.

You may notice that I have left comments closed on this post. It’s not because I don’t want to have discussions, but I AM going on vacation for a whole week, and I frankly don’t want to spend the entire time moderating comments. Besides, as we’ve discovered, the internet is a poor forum for a robust discussion of ideas. So, I challenge you to talk about this issue in person with your peers, your class mates, and anyone else you care to hash it out with. It’s a discussion worth having! Here’s to artists getting paid for their work, audiences being dazzled, amazing art being created, and businesses thriving and growing in a sustainable and responsible way. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a mojito with my name on it! Love and pull-ups, Laura


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