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Un-paid gigs…Are they worth it?

For some reason, un-paid job experiences are very common in the arts industry. From theatre to juggling to writing, if you are an artist and have been working for at least a year in any of these industries, you are no stranger to this.

We are going to avoid the question of “why these jobs are out there.” (It goes without saying that we all know some are justified and embedded in our industry culture, and others are just cheap clients who know they can take advantage of an artist’s love for the arts.) The point is: they are out there. So the big question becomes, is it really worth it to do jobs for free? Do these experiences benefit your career?

To answer this question, I talked to six different artists who have successfully broken into their respective arts industries and happened to utilize these free experiences in the beginning of their career.

The main question was simple: “Do you feel these experiences (un-paid) were necessary in your growth as an artist?” Answer: Most of us will be excited to find out that every single artist agreed to the un-paid experiences being worth it!

So, if these artists say the experiences are worth it, then our next question is: “What are the benefits of these experiences?”

Well, here is what the artists had to say:

  • Networking – A great way to get in contact with good directors and choreographers is to work for free. This immediately adds to your resume and if you are truly talented, that director or choreographer will remember you for the paid experiences!
  • Friendship – The arts is a tough career. We can all agree to this. Sometimes the most talented of artists can struggle their whole life just to make ends meet. In these un-paid experiences you may be able to connect to the abundance of amazing people out there that are just like you!
  • Experience – Participating in these experiences is great way to add things to your resume. It kind of sounds like “the chicken and the egg” conundrum if you don’t go through these experiences! If you need experience to get jobs…how do you get “experience” if no one will hire you because of “lack of experience” in the first place? This is kind of solved if you are able to perform for free.
  • Knowledge – This was so beautifully put, I am not going to paraphrase. Here was the complete response from Sharon Rose, co-owner of Sacred Mysteries Productions and Sacred Mysteries Distribution: “Every performing experience adds to one’s real knowledge of oneself, the medium, the audience. Performing for others brings feedback, especially live performance in which dancers in particular, who have a strong kinesthetic awareness, can receive a direct visceral response to their presence and their work.”
  • Personal & Spiritual Take-Aways – When you are working for free, experiences seem to be more adventurous. There are no rules. When you are on a journey with no rules, unique things happen and people surprise you and come through in amazing ways. One artist experienced the time of her life and ultimate hospitality when a town turned her un-paid experience into a glimpse of stardom!
  • Training – When it comes down to it, you are receiving real industry training for free. Somebody trusts your work enough to give you the chance to perform and continue to develop your craft. Don’t ever forget this and always continue to learn.
  • Defines Passion – It’s hard to get distracted and unfocused when you are getting paid to do something. But, when you take the pay away, you have to have pure passion to continue your journey. These experiences allow you to really hone in on what you want in your career and what you really love about the arts.

There you have it: Unpaid experiences in the arts community are worth it and the benefits are numerous! The next time you are faced with a decision to participate in a job for free, whether it is in the middle of your career or at the very beginning, make sure to fully evaluate and remember the possible benefits!

By Zachary K Miller

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I would like to thank the following people for sharing their insights and life experiences for this article, without them, this would not be possible!

Christopher Gooley | @gooleychris
Arundhati Singha | @arundhatisworld
Joanna Pilatowicz | www.ifnotdance.com
Sharron Rose | www.sharronrose.com
Melissa Lineburg | www.moveiusdance.org
Lauren Ashley | www.urbanartsexposure.com
Bobby Blakely | www.gforceshow.com
Ben Schiffer | www.djbenno.com

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