Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company

Breaking the Romantic Starving Artist Misconception Starts with You

We have a guest post this week! Please welcome Mel Bondar of brokeGIRLrich

Everything about the arts seems dramatic and romantic – especially to middle school and high school students (and let’s face it, do they really need more life drama?). Personally, I was in high school when *Rent* hit the boards in New York City and instantly fell in love with the idea of this crazy, bohemian lifestyle.

From the get go, I remember everyone telling me how difficult a life in the arts is (and they were right) and how I was going to struggle endlessly and be poor (they were wrong). The idea that I would always be poor if I wanted to do what I loved for a living really colored how I looked at how I should be compensated after I finished school.

Creating art is also a business

I really wish some teachers along the way had emphasized that creating art is also a business and we should view it that way. The kids who were great at math and steered towards engineering or accounting viewed it that way. Even in the humanities, the kids who were great at English and steered towards teaching or copywriting viewed it that way.

Teaching the business side of performance starting at a young age is definitely an under-explored aspect of the arts. Kids are used to doing bake sales or car washes to raise money for plays or band trips, but they rarely, if ever, see how the money is applied.

Furthermore, most of the time these activities come prepackaged – if you’re going to participate in the play, you will participate in the bake sale. It seems that a far better exercise would be to teach the class how to make a budget for their production and then have the group decide how they are going to raise that money.

Artists need to make a living too

Money becomes almost a dirty word in the arts, when really, the cost of creating performances should have a dollar sign on them. They should also be exposed to aspects like ticket sales to better understand that theater is a business.

So many job offers for these kids who go on to work in the arts pay stipends that are so far below the living wage it’s a joke. It would be one thing to be offered that kind of money for a job that only requires a few hours a week of commitment, but many of these require a full 40+ work week, making it incredibly difficult to develop another source of income.

The way to begin to break these common place stipend offers is to start rejecting them, and the only way that will happen is for the performers to realize that as much as what they are creating is art, they are also doing business. This doesn’t cheapen the art in any way; in fact, overall it will raise the caliber of productions.

If we raise a generation that sees art as business, everyone will benefit. Most kids who are interested in theater while they are in school don’t go on to careers in the arts, but they *do* become life long supporters. If we teach them early on that the arts are a business, they’ll be supportive of the costs that go into producing performances, allowing the kids who do go on to work in the arts to earn a living wage.

We created a worksheet your students can use to estimate the cost of a production. You can let them run wild with any show of their choosing or pick last year’s school play and compare the numbers they got with the actual costs of the show.

Download the budget guide: How Much Does Your Show Cost?
Download For Free

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