The business is slow right now and there is a lot of fear out there. As workers we’ve been inculcated with fear about our jobs, our future and our status in life since the Reagan administration. The middle class life we knew has moved further and further out of our reach. Rightly or wrongly we measure our self worth by the kind of work we do and when there isn’t any work, we’re diminished.
One of the odd things about this business is working on the bounce. There is a sizable population of our business who work as per-diems or daily hires. Technicians who by design or circumstance live a life determined by the ebb and flow of work calls, holidays, special events, swinging into a show track, one-offs or hotel jobs. Split shifts, back to back to back calls, clockers and short notice calls are all part of the career. Depending on what is going on in you home life will determine how quickly you take any call that comes along. A stagehand with kids and a mortgage isn’t going to get much sleep.
How one copes with financial insecurity often determines the part of this business one goes into. Stagehands sometimes get a basic, full-time job and never venture out of the venue into the rest of the jurisdiction. Others don’t have the skills or the contacts that allow them to get these jobs offered to them in the first place. Still others seem to have the job skills but lack the social skills to stay in one place for very long. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The hardest part is managing cash flow. After enough time in the business you learn that a steady job often means you can keep a smaller cushion since money is coming in on a steady basis. When your bouncing around, however, you keep a larger cushion because the checks arrive when they arrive. When doing a hotel job you know not to count on the check at the end of the call, the end of the week or even at the end of the month. Corporate jobs often tend to be slow since the payroll has to get invoiced, passed through the production company that hired you, then sent to the client, processed through their invoicing system and checks are then cut. Weeks can pass and sometimes enough time passes that a check comes in the mail that you had forgotten about. Sometimes you end up being fly-by-night operations creditors but the Local is pretty good about that sort of stuff. I’ve gotten ripped off a lot more often without a contract than with one.
It’s a balancing act keeping the bills paid, the calls filled and having a real life. Most of the time when things get out of balance it’s the real life that goes first. There’s no time for family issues or relationships or relaxation. You can’t really relax because every show closes, every job comes to an end and you have to find the next one. More work, a little sleep, another call across town and a quick meal. You get home to change clothes and grab some shuteye. And repeat.
I see fear in people’s eyes now. The cushion is getting smaller or perhaps has disappeared. The calls are fewer and after watching the news or reading their annuity statements, the prospects look grim. However fear is an emotion and not a fact. There is an ebb and flow to show business and to life and we need to keep that in mind. Watch out for people that are trying to play on your emotions, be they politicians, financers or commentators. The wealthy lose a bunch of paper money and it's a depression. Working folks lose their homes and it's a housing bubble. The multinationals that control the levers of power are jockeying for position with these bailouts and playing chicken with the financial system.
I have no idea where it will end up. I do know that we have more survival skills, street smarts. We had to have them in order to get by in the New World Order. Don’t buy what they’re selling. We’ll be alright if we stick together.