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Whatever You Do, Don’t Divide

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?

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • san March 25, 2010, 11:14 am

    Seriously, I don’t get some of the work policies in this country.
    I do have a full-time benefited job (sorry!) and still complain about the little time off that one gets.

    In Germany (my home country) you get about 5-6 weeks of paid (!) vacation, plus some industries still pay a 13th-month salary called “Christmas pay”. Not to mention the overtime rates.

  • Carrie Mae March 26, 2010, 6:54 am

    And the absolute worst is working commission only.

  • Ben/Kate March 26, 2010, 4:07 pm

    TOTALLY. With the exception of my dear sweet rock star, it’s stupid how much he gets paid for such a small amount of work. I on the other hand, bust my cute little ass six days a week for an hourly wage and still don’t really manage to make all my ends meet.
    (However, I’ve started considering making a move to Germany…)

  • gem March 26, 2010, 4:28 pm

    Word. I work 25 plus hours unpaid as a student teacher. Then I pay upwards of 1g/class to attend classes, which I loathe and find useless, four times a week. Tell me about it, tell me about it…

  • Steve B. March 29, 2010, 5:18 pm

    Theater Sucks.

    Theater is also a career, one that if you find yourself loving the work, you’ll do it for very inadequate financial gain. Thus it sucks ’cause you love doing it.

    I was on a bike ride with my buddy Neal a few years back. Neal’s an IATSE (stagehands union) Local 1 Broadway propman, so at the very top of the pecking order as far as this type of work goes. I’ve known Neal for 25 years, since when we worked together at Brooklyn College and before he went on to bigger and better. He says to me “Stevie, I want to send jason (his son – 17 yrs. old at the time) to work for you at Brooklyn, you can teach him the ropes”.

    I stopped at the next light and asked him “Do you remember how hard you worked when you were starting out ?. Do you remember what it was like before you were Local One ?. How hard it was to get a card ?, even how stupid your hours are now ?. When was the last time you saw your kids at their Sunday soccer game ?.


    Jason is now in college getting his BA.


  • The Bee March 29, 2010, 6:36 pm

    My job screws me from both sides. I’m technically a salary emlpoyee so they don’t have to pay me over time but fuck me if I’m 15 minutes late b/c of the traffic on my 1 hour comute! They’ll steal my vacation time before I even have time to realize it.

    I just wish I lived in Europe – my husbands says he used to get 3 months (yes – MONTHS, not weeks) of vacation every years. PLUS the gov’t gave him a couple THOUSAND dollars to enjoy that vacation each year. WTF?!?!

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