Summer is coming, which is significant in the Van Sandt household. Sure, it means that it’s time to clean the grill and dig out our sandals, (or in my case, hide Kyle’s, because they’re dorky looking,) but for us, it also means deciding what we’re doing with our summer. Like many in the theatre biz, Kyle’s contract is only nine months long, and will pick back up in the fall, leaving the summer wide open. Last year, we spent our summer months in Wichita, Kansas, and this year we have many options to explore, along with many variables to consider. The biggest one, of course, being money.
Kyle and I have a saying, when talking about income: “Whatever you do, don’t divide.” By this, we mean don’t divide your weekly income by the number of hours you put into your job. Trust me, you don’t want to know what it works out to be. It just gets depressing. Theatre jobs, especially those of the summer variety, are notoriously low paying and require incredibly long hours. And when you realize what a hour of your time is apparently worth, it’s down-heartening.
It was during Kyle’s first summer stock job as Head Electrician that he first made the mistake of doing his math. By his estimate, he figured he was making about $3.75 an hour. My first salary job, Electrician for a different summer job, was estimated to pay about $2.50 an hour. Kyle figures that his last job as a public school teacher paid about $7 an hour.
Can you believe that? $7 an hour. My husband has a BFA from a credible university and he’s running the technical department at his theatre, and he’s pulling less than minimum wage. That means that there is an entire army of snot-nosed, pimple-faced teenagers slapping cat-meat into tortillas at Taco Bell who are making more money per hour than Kyle. Sad.
And here’s the thing: I don’t think this phenomenon applies to just our industry either. I think there’s millions of us out there who slave away at our passions, putting in far more hours than required and receiving far less than we are worth. Writers, teachers of every variety, anyone in criminal justice; pretty much anyone who is paid salary and is passionate about what they do. Unless you’re one of those people who has figured out how to get paid retarded amounts of money for sitting on their ass and playing with imaginary money, there’s a really good chance that an hour of your time is being grossly under-priced.
It’s kind-of one of the beautiful things about being paid hourly. Yeah, despite being a department head, my position is paid hourly. (I like to think that it’s because our salaries have to be charged to the rental events. Please don’t tell me otherwise. Thank you.) But the glorious thing about it is that I never feel like my time is being wasted; even when I’m at work until 1am on a Saturday loading out the Disco Biscuits, I know that I’m being reimbursed for my time. (In fact, if I’m at work until 1am, there’s a really good chance that I’m making time-and-a-half.) I don’t mind staying an extra hour late at work, because I know I’ll be compensated for my time. And let me tell you, knowing that you’re being paid $20 for that hour of work puts a bigger spring in your step than the contact high you got from standing backstage at the Disco Biscuits concert.
Of course, being paid hourly has its downsides. If I get sick, I don’t get a sick day, or a personal day; I just don’t get to work that day, which means I don’t get paid. And those two weeks over Christmas when there weren’t any gigs in our space? Mm-hmm, I didn’t get paid. Pretty much if my ass isn’t in that space plugging something in, I’m not getting paid.
I guess what I’m getting at is that we’re all pretty much getting fucked over. Those of us who are paid hourly don’t get things like paid vacation or sick days, and go broke during the holidays. Those of you who are paid salary aren’t paid what you should be for the hours you put in. And all of us, every one of us, is completely under-appreciated.
But then, I s’pose it beats the hell out of paying $1,000 a credit hour to go to class, doesn’t it?