Welcome to McElrath Cabaret–We hope you enjoy our cabaret blog!
There has been a disturbing trend in recent decades. Well, there’s been a lot of them…but one that disturbs me the most is the complete and increasing contempt for honest labor in American society (and sadly, in many other places in the world). Yes, our so-called “leaders” in industry and politics give it lots of nice lip service – but talk is cheap. And “cheap” is what they would like to make all labor.
If they had their way, they would probably have us repeal the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Those whose labor is in the performing arts (and it is labor – make no mistake) are those whose efforts are often the most belittled of all. “Oh, that’s not work – that’s art.” How many times have you heard that?
Among my own Celtic ancestors, the bard – the singer of songs, the teller of stories – was one of the most important figures in society. A bard was often second only to the king – and could call a king to judgment. Bards were more feared than warriors. The reason: a warrior might kill you outright, and that would be an end to it, but a bard could create a nasty and satirical song about you that would be sung for centuries, haunting your descendants for generations. (The old nursery rhyme Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, which may refer to Queen Mary I of England, is a possible example of a “bardic curse.” Centuries later, Cole Porter pulled no punches when making fun of prominent figures of his day, such as Hamilton Fish and the Rockefellers.)
It’s no coincidence that in repressive societies, it is artists who are targeted first. (Consider what happened to lyricist “Yip” Harburg in the 1950s.) The fact that oppressors fear artists is a tribute to their power.
Okay, I digress somewhat. But not too far. The reason I bring all of this up is that too many performers today fail to realize their true worth. In a society in which money is the measure of all things, performers are often all-too-willing to perform for free – or worse, actually pay for the privilege of performing at some venue.
My tip to you today: don’t do it. If the owner of a venue doesn’t have enough respect for your craft to compensate you in a fair and equitable manner, s/he doesn’t deserve your time and energy.
This said, compensation does not have to be monetary. It could be for an exchange of goods or services. It could be a set in exchange for a meal. When I lived in Bellingham, Washington many years ago, there was a cafe in which there was a piano – and anyone willing to come in and play for an hour would be fed a very nice breakfast or lunch. (I don’t remember the name of the place – only that it was on lower Holly Street – and I couldn’t tell you if it’s even in business anymore.) It could be for anything you might want or need that the other party is willing to provide to you in exchange for your performance.
The point is – get something that acknowledges your worth as an artist.
There are also times when it may, in fact, be appropriate to donate your performance for the sake of a worthy cause. Sometimes, fund raisers take the form of an auction. You might offer your performance as one of the things to be auctioned. Even if you choose to volunteer your time and artistic energy in this manner, however, you should at least look into taking a tax write off for it (you will definitely want to consult with a professional accountant or tax attorney before doing this).
Until we all start to say “NO!” to free gigs and begin to aggressively assert the value of our art and labor, it will only continue to be denigrated and cheapened by those too ignorant and selfish to appreciate it.
Draw that line in the sand today.
Here’s some good advice from Mr. Lorenz Hart, performed by Christine Ebersole, Rebecca Luker and Debbie Shapiro Gravitte:
What sort of goods and services would you be willing to exchange your time and talents as a cabaret performer? What do you think you are worth?
Hope these Tuesday cabaret tips help–let us know what other topics you’d like to see us cover here, and we’ll do our best to work through them!
We appreciate your support!
Till next time,
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time