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There is never enough money…part 2

Earlier this week, I had this conversation on Twitter, regarding The Edmonton Journal establishing a paywall for its online site:

I would love to know how/when exactly this notion of whether or not writing should be paid for AT ALL began. I mentioned it at the recent meetup of we Playwrights Guild of Canada members, and many were gobsmacked this notion even exists.

Perhaps it’s significant that this notion is all over the Internet. For example, this blog, which is very cogent and made me think. And then there’s The Huffington Post (which I’m not linking to).

I’ve genuinely mulled this over. And I simply can’t agree that we should be working for free.

It has always been hard. I know that. My worry now is that society is no longer seeing new writing as having any value. We SAY we value it, but given the choice between two shows, one which you’ll have to give something (ie, money) in return for, or one being offered for free, too many people are taking the free option and expecting that show to be as good as the one which needs to be paid for. When I say it needs to be paid for, I mean professionals put it together — people who’ve trained/practiced/are talented, and so create GOOD work. You don’t get cogent, verified news for free. You can’t; the most intelligent blogger at home in Canada is not a journalist being shot at while deserately trying to find out what’s really going on in Syria. A show on Broadway needs technicians for every show – they can’t, and won’t, work for free, believe me. (Another show at our Edinburgh Fringe venue in 2007 asked their tech if he’d work the first week on spec — he walked out for a paying gig. The show was cancelled. Good on the techie, say I.) I produce my work independently — for various reasons, I’ve had to, and it’s on rare occasions I’ve ever NOT worked on spec. However: it has been a LONG time since I was unable to pay the cast and crew involved in my show when it ended. It’s been years since one of my productions lost money; I will never let it happen again. I consider myself a professional playwright, even though I nowhere near make my living at it–and I feel I have no business calling myself a professional if I don’t treat other artists as professionals too. I fret because, when you have never been produced before, you do need to write something out of the blue and submit it, usually paying a reading fee or a contest fee. But we need to decide where the line is — at what point do you put your foot down and say “no, I’m not letting anyone do my stuff for nothing.” It’s easy to say a PACT production with a contract is one you must get paid for — but what about a Fringe production by a group in another city, who very sweetly appeal to your nature as an artist, saying “you know what it’s like…” Actually, if you consider yourself theatre professionals, and my play’s good enough for you to want to do it somewhere else, to me, that’s the moment I deserve a cheque.

There was a great story about Alex Kapranos, years ago, before Franz Ferdinand, when he was absolutely broke, standing in a record store, holding two LPs he adored, and he knew he could only afford to take home one. That issue has ceased to exist…because someone has now uploaded both of those entire albums online. “No copyright infringement intended”, they all say. If I’m going to use someone’s music in a show — no matter how big a record company it already comes from — I either get permission, or I don’t use it. Because that’s what’s right.

My worry is that, if artists can’t figure out how to consistently make the brave new world work for us, then eventually, the general audience will refuse to pay for anything. The day that happens, there will be no more movies, theatre, music, TV, dance… And if you genuinely think, “I don’t go to any of that anyway! I won’t miss it!” Imagine there now exists only reality TV. You’ll then ask, “Um… What happened to so-and-so who could ACT? And that show he was in?” And the answer will be: “YOU wouldn’t let us make a living at it. We couldn’t starve forever. We gave up.” And if there’s absolutely no living to be made in art anymore…no one will ever replace them.

1 thought on “There is never enough money…part 2

  1. When I have had another company produce my work at a Fringe, the rate for me as playwright was 10% of the house. I didn’t make much for one of the legs of the Fringe tour, but a percentage is fair. Free is not.

    We also probably shouldn’t be papering the houses so much. It amazes me that the people I know most likely to NOT want to pay for their theatre tickets are other artists. I will admit, I will take a comp if offered or earned (for in-kind work), but some demand it or only go when it’s free – despite the fact that they will pay double the ticket value for beer after the show. I’ll also look for good deals because I go to a lot of theatre. However, I will also pay – particularly if I don’t think I have earned the ‘freebie’. If we want the work to be valued we have to also say it has value and that comes from the dollar value we assign to it.

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