Taking on Low Pay/No Pay
Recently, an advert appeared in many puppetry publications, including our newsletter, for puppeteers as part of a Royal Opera House production of “El Gato con Botas”. The advert said, “Pedro Ribeiro, the director, is looking for four UK based puppeteers to do a preliminary workshop and experimentation at The Royal Opera House rehearsal studio, for some of the scenes before the Portuguese puppeteers from the Red Cloud Teatro de Marionetas arrive in the first week of October.” The Royal Opera House sought puppeteers for 3 days of work, the work was to be unpaid, and the advert stated that little or no experience was necessary.
Francis Wright contacted Equity about the advert. Following the intervention of Equity, the puppeteers who participated over the 3 days have been offered a fee for their work. Francis writes, “there is an unfortunate increase in performers being expected to do something for nothing, both on stage and screen, and we are often not quick enough to query adverts asking us to work without payment. The Equity/ROH matter was quickly resolved, but only after the question was asked.”
The issue of “Low Pay/No Pay” is complex. It can be difficult to decide whether or not to apply for work which offers no fee as most of these types of engagement offer something else instead - “exposure” or publicity being the the most common benefit. “Exposure” is difficult to quantify as it depends on who the puppeteer is being “exposed” to. Also, as Francis points out, “Puppeteers are, essentially, anonymous. One may remember the puppetry but not the puppeteer – do you remember the names of the puppeteers who manipulated the feet of the horses in “War Horse”?”
Puppetry is a skill – and skills have value, and should be rewarded accordingly. Not everyone who walks in off the street can perform successfully with a puppet. As Francis points out, it is important that puppeteers acknowledge the value of the skills and expertise in their art – and dont sell themselves short. “When a puppeteer sees an advert for work which is unpaid, he/she should ask why are they not paying a fee? - is it because they cannot afford to pay a fee (in which case I am performing an act of charity, and does their project mean enough to me to warrant it ?) – or is it because they are trying it on ? Or is it that, although they may not be able to pay a fee, they can offer something which may be of real and measurable value to me (such as the opportunity to develop my skills as a puppeteer/performer, access to tools/workshop space, etc) ?”
Francis also points out that although it is worth considering engagements which offer no fee, we need to be careful as a community that we do not aid and abet the insidious rise of low pay or no pay. “If too many of us show that we are willing to work for nothing, we will continue to be asked to do so, and we render future negotiation virtually impossible. In working for free, although we may know that our skills have value, we are helping to spread the idea that they do not. Beware - and if in doubt, always contact Equity.”
Find more about the campaign by Equity about Low Pay/No Pay here.