Here’s how Elsa Hiltner sees that future. All theaters will terminate unpaid internships. Those with annual budgets greater than $1 million will meet minimum wage rates, and eventually living wage rates, for all workers. The categories of compensation or actual salary of each worker will be clearly defined and shared. The highest salary in an organization will exceed the lowest by no more than five times. Schedules will be set “to the extent possible” to fit a 40-hour work week.
Those are among the criteria for certification by equal pay standards, a new program developed by Heltner, who has worked in theater productions for 15 years, and her colleagues at the Chicago-based advocacy organization On Our Team. Two small companies in that town. Cooperatdedicated to social justice, and second storyDedicated to “real stories by real people for real change” – they are the first to meet all requirements. On June 29, they obtained, among other things, the right to use (but only for the rest of 2022) a handsome badge decorated with laurel laurel in their marketing materials. Six more theaters across the country are working towards certification in 2023.
They are small companies. It seems unlikely that New York nonprofits with art directors would apply a million dollars or more per year — and with pay differentials that could approach 50 times. However, as with LEED certification, Fair Trade labels, or organic food labels, the hope is that the badge will eventually help theater consumers choose work that aligns with their values. While waiting for that to happen, Heltner says, theaters may benefit from happier, more earnest staff — and from the positive response they see from funders and donors to organizations that are “already doing their job.”
But it is also the case that financiers and donors generally prefer to contribute to theaters that make a lot of the stage. This is one of the problems you face PlayCo, New York City Company Apply a new compensation model this year.
As PlayCo’s founding producer Kate Lowwald described to me, and Robert Bradshaw, its managing director, the plan is designed not only to address the usual inequalities by raising everyone to at least a living wage but also to correct the wage imbalance among employees (who may be full-time ) and artists (who usually work for a month or two).
It does this, in part, by placing each job in a clearly defined, equal pay category: a stage manager is compensated at the same rate as Loewald and Bradshaw, a co-manager of staff at the same rate as a freelance stylist. Since all categories are “transparent”, everyone knows what everyone is making, which in almost all cases is more than before. (The exception is Loewald, who took a cut.) Based on an estimate of 250 hours of work, managers who were previously paying $3,500 will now receive $7,100.
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