Then the final curtain falls. And everybody says goodbye, and all you have left is a check with your name on it. Like being woken early in the morning and being told there is a 20 dollar bill on the dresser for cab fare. You feel cheap.
Don't get me wrong, money is nice. In fact it's awesome. But in many ways, money makes you feel cheap. That's why it's so taboo to discuss in the performing world. Because what we do can't be measured with something as concrete as a number. What I've given to this project can be summed up more than just my time, that music, those people, they now have a piece of my soul. My heart!
Just like that poor gal who scoops up her clothes off of your apartment floor, last night she thought you shared something special. And maybe you did, but that guy is thinking about how he has to get to work, training, his next project and although he'd love to stay and chat - the day must continue, and the landlord doesn't like tenant's guests to linger. It's by no means personal, but it's hard to deny that feelings are inherently confusing.
Music and money don't mix very well. Money is an idea, a system of trading, a means to an end. But music...music and theatre is nearly inexplicable. It's power over our hearts and minds is uncanny. The right song can crumble a nation. I still have memories working with actors in particular scenes where the air seems like it's been sucked out of the room. Nobody is breathing, you can practically hear the tears dripping of their cheeks. You've broken hearts, maybe even changed peoples perspectives, maybe their lives. How much do you write on the check for something like that? Any number seems absurd. Too low or too high. It's relative, dictated by the moment - the basic cost of you being there, not the quality of the art presented in front of you.
No such thing as a Rich Actor
A lot of what I do is done in hopes of one day becoming an immense financial success. But the pipe dream of becoming a rich performer has died a LONG time ago.
1.) Actors trade time for money and if you've ever read a book about becoming rich you understand that this is a recipe that will leave you poor or below the upper Escalon forever.
2.) Our success relies very heavily on circumstance. And sometimes the things that pay the best aren't necessarily the things that will give us the most artistic fulfillment. If you sing for your supper, eventually you'll find yourself singing things you don't like just to have food on your plate. You start to become bitter, and the thing that brought you endless joy becomes that obnoxious 9-5 you never wanted. Seems silly.
3.) The gifts we have are precious. They can be taken from us in an instant. You must respect this and acknowledge that one day the thing that has provided us financial success could one day vanish completely. In essence, don't put all of your eggs into one basket. Love each and every egg you have, but don't depend on one basket. Scrambled eggs.
In an ideal world I wouldn't receive one red cent from performing. Everything I made I'd probably need to give to Uncle Sam for his cut of the pie anyway. Tax laws are brutal on performers. I'd either wave my fee or find a means of taking that money and escalating the production or the experience for the rest of the cast and crew. Even as something as simple as taking everyone out for a celebratory dinner. I have fond memories of a colleague during Oklahoma! who doubles as a brain surgeon. He bought the entire cast and crew pizza during the long tech rehearsals. A simple gesture that meant a lot to people and was another opportunity to connect.
I've heard that Frank Sinatra would start recording projects days early and they'd just meet for meals or whatever and get to know each other. It would cost extra time and extra money, but in the end they had to do fewer takes, they developed a relationship and trust that made the music pop. I'm not sure if any of that is true, but it's something to think about and a great fuckin' story.
Until next time,
Lift Big, Sing Big, and Look Great Doing It.
The Opera Bro