Your labour is important to us


Posted by in September's Magazine

As this hits your street, the intense, orgiastic slither of blood, sweat, toil and tears (some perspectives veer towards the cynical) that is the invasion force of creative mosquitos has departed. However, I’ve always thought living in a city with the world’s biggest arts festival is fantastic. Despite a reduction in parking spaces, people whining about bar prices (£5.50 a pint) or hot dogs (£6.00) thanks Pleasance. (Tip: Bring your own bottle – management told me, via psychic messaging, honest)..    

It’s also a chance for me to supplement my usual income with a bit of extra cash as a non-pro theatre technician. You name it; lighting, sound, stage tech, I don’t know how to do any of them but I do talk the talk and finesse and finagle semi-competence into my fifth year of extracting a share of the two grand average loss most fringe returners and virgins make over the course of a four week run –but hey, it’s about the art isn’t it? 

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I’m freelance on a fixed fee, but venue/company cohorts make expenses but no salary i.e. work *FOR FREE*, twelve to eighteen hours a day six or seven days a week. This year I worked three shows and venues for £850 and a cool late notice £20 gig running sound for a Belgian drag act and three burlesque lovelies stripping down in a gay bar. Each night on arrival I was ready for a snooze then, thirty minutes later, I was knee deep in glitter and tassels – it’s a tough job!

I’m certainly no expert with professional kit, more of a generalist hand-for-hire, a chancer who can enhance/destroy a show with the click of a blackout or muting of a fader. A pile of tech woes adding to the embarrassment of bright young theatre graduates who hadn’t realised that career failure is ‘very much an option’. Dreams turning to dust when what seemed funny, moving, clever for friends and family in May is met with stony silence in August. It’s tough to cater to a tired audience overwhelmed by choice, ticket pricing and the toxic joint aroma of nerves and fatigue. This is not for the thin-skinned, I witnessed the pain daily and it hurts by proxy – thank fuck I’m not on stage.

I adopt a fixed Oh well, there’s always tomorrow expression, a hug perhaps, and sneak out of the fire exit pocketing a cheque for skills I don’t have, drawn against an overdraft and credit card they can’t afford, scurrying to a quiet space to read Paul Morley on Joy Division then look blankly into the distance before the next job fortified by cheap Lidl beer. As Depeche Mode would have it, I Enjoy the Silence more than anything at this time of year and seek out quiet spaces where I can find them.

Smartphone zombification seems to increase exponentially as incomers use them to: navigate around the city; use the big four’s (The Assembly, The Gilded Balloon, The Pleasance, The Underbelly) individual apps; read/write reviews and buy tickets. At what point do we disconnect? Sex? A show? A kiss?

Is our ability to suspend disbelief, undermined by a constant need for distraction? Invariably at the end of a show appeals pile up to review, promote, tweet. Or, for free shows, form an instant judgement about an act while they empty your pocket of the obligatory £2-£5 – the charge for non-compliance being a surly look from the act in question and a cry of, “only thirty pence!” (Sorry Simon Munnery iPOD@ The Banshee Labyrinth in 2010, it was a thin time.) Nowadays I leave five minutes early.

Reflection creates memory and demand to promote on behalf of the show builds an audience while the show is running, but only pro-reviewers get paid to comment. All free Festival papers take advertising while using unpaid writing staff. (Disclaimer: The Leither occasionally chucks me the odd free advert for my day to day business, no funds are exchanged, I write for writing’s sake.)

So what defines professional practice when ‘prestige work trumps any suggestion of payment’ for those seeking experience? I dunno, but in my case it would be increasing the annual per-show rate by about £2.50 a show – when I remember to ask, I forgot this year, too busy crawling through the swamp of confusion and incompetence. Actually, I wasn’t really being serious in the opening paragraphs, although I was pretty crap in the early days, I now actually do give a shit.

From 2012s one person show on an iPod to Three Sisters sinking as their sound system sabotaged sensitive middle-class character portraits of modern woman to a 200 seater, sixteen channel mixer, full LED rig ruined by a noisy gym next door that rumbled throughout a tearful speech, heart-breaking work by the actor, despite the circumstances. It tears me as I type this and likely will tomorrow.

What does it all mean? Don’t ask me, I never read the manuals or, if I can help it, the scripts. I want more money, but need no more heart. If you’re daft enough you too can get involved.

One response to “Your labour is important to us”

  1. Shawn Wilson says:

    Excellent information about labour importance for a institution.

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