By Kia Rogers
Freelance was not new to me, but the landscape of NYC, navigating theatre jobs was and is still challenging.
As a female designer, I do feel like I have to dress the part, carry myself in a way appropriate to each situation. For instance, when negotiating for fees, I always ask myself “what would my male colleague ask for?” Yes, this is the world we live in. Not, “what am I worth, what amazing talent do I bring to the table....” Would I like this to change? Absolutely. How do I think it will change? By us talking about it, sharing fee information and fee regulation. Don’t feel shame! Talking about money is difficult since we live in a society that often perpetuates secrets and the fear of knowledge. How many of you have taken a freelance job (or any job) and been told not to discuss what you are being paid? Reasons I have been given over the years to keep my salary private:
#1 - Not everyone is getting the same amount, we don’t want them to feel bad
#2 - You are the only one on “contract”
#3 - Actors Equity only allows us to pay folks “this amount” but we’ll just give you two checks to make up the difference.
Dirty Little Secrets
I gave myself this rule: Don’t work on a show that doesn’t pay everyone equally. How do I know about the fees? I ask, politely, but I ask. I understand that there are productions out there that want to produce, and do so on a shoe-string budget. Produce! Love your work, your company, this is your art. I say this with all heart, I don’t want to come across as wagging my finger at anyone, just know that I am not the designer for you. A while back, I stopped taking gigs that paid under what I could afford to take on. (Here is the golden nugget I want to share with all freelancers) Yes. I said “afford to take on”, my monthly budget is ~$2800, that includes rent, utilities, phone and internet, groceries, health insurance (thanks Obama!), Metrocard and basic living expenses. This is my choice, to live by myself, pay all the bills, by myself. Simple math folks, I don’t have a trust fund, my jobs don’t pay into a retirement fund, or my health insurance. Getting paid with 1099s means as freelance, I have to save from every check or risk owing thousands at the end of the year. I look for work to clear about $800 a week, which keeps me in the black. Do I get $800 a week from designing? Sometimes, but not on the showcase code, and rarely with Off-Off Broadway shows. How do I survive? I pick and choose the jobs based on many considerations:
#1 - Do I love working with these artists?
#2 - Do I love this script?
#3 - Is there life for this project/with this company/with these artists after this production?
#4 - Do I want to develop a relationship with these new artists?
#5 - Does the budget allow for equal pay for everyone involved?
#6 - Do I have the monetary cushion to take this on?
#7 - How much time is needed for this project?
It’s freelance, I make all the choices, do I make bad choices? Ha! I don’t like to say “bad choices”, a choice always leads to growth, so no, I never make “bad choices”! I love my life, my choices and this theatre community.
There were many folks along the way who shaped my theatre passion, pointed me in the right direction, and I am so grateful to all of them. I took the lessons they taught me, and made them my own.
Special thanks to Flux Theatre Ensemble and Rising Phoenix Rep, where I am supported artistically, valued as a creative partner/member and always striving for equality. Thanks to New York Innovative Theatre Awards for supporting this blog, asking me to share, and always bringing down the house with their awards parties!!!...you folks have made a vibrant, loving, hard-working and amazing community I am proud to support and be a part of.
Kia Rogers - Lighting Designer - Off Broadway: Angeles/Almas at BAM Fisher, Made In Heaven at The SoHo Playhouse, Passage through Light and Shadows at Theatre at St. Clement’s, Pressing Empty at Danspace, Sistas The Musical at St. Luke’s. Regional: Thieves by Charlotte Miller in LA. Selkie by Sarah Shaefer in San Francisco. International credits: Associate Lighting Designer for Slutforart/98.6 in Gothenburg, Sweden with Muna Tseng. Tours: The God Box Project with Mary Lou Quinlan, Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca and Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana. Awards: Outstanding Lighting Design for Jane The Plain with the New York Innovative Theatre Awards 2014. Kia has been a creative partner with Flux Theatre Ensemble based in New York City since 2010 - http://www.krogersld.com/.