Asked to work for free – Ethical?

As a freelance technician/ Designer I rely on clients for my income. Now this is important during the busy part of the year in Adelaide. We have a multitude of shows. So everybody is looking for crew, designers etc., to work their shows. But it seems that some folks have decided that maybe they can replace these folk with students, volunteers. This includes some well know producers/companies. I understand trying to keep the costs of a production to the minimum. This makes it difficult for those that charge money to make a living. Bills need to be paid and food bought. The quality of service is often related to the price charged. You get what you paid for.

What can be also rather annoying is as a freelance paid professional you are asked for a quote to design/operate their and they client then states that they are looking for a student/volunteer and do I know one. This happened a couple of years ago. Was not happy about this. IT still seems to happen still, not just where I work but at other venues. The other classic you might get asked to operate for nothing as they forgot to include it their budget, they did not realise that is was not included in venue hire etc. They obviously did not read the terms and conditions or have a vague understanding of what is involved in putting a show together. To forget to budget really is rather a sad state of affairs and you wonder what other skills are they missing. It often starts with the statement “we only need the lights come up at the beginning and go down at the end, you sure you cannot pop in to help for an hour……………….each night for 2 weeks” Or they expect a staff member who is onsite to do the job -an usher, bar person, venue manager.

Some companies need to understand that to get the level of expertise you need you have to pay a reasonable fee. The professional will have the knowledge and expertise to solve problems on the spot – will the student/Volunteer necessarily have that knowledge, will they have the commitment if the are not seeing any money at the end.

Some say it will look good on your resume, you will gain new skills (which you wont if you are not being training at the same time), this does not put food on the table or pay the bills. If you are presenting a professional piece of theatre, with professional talent you need to pay for professional technicians etc to make the dream come alive for the audience.

Not all fringe type productions are like this, this is a small minority. But this attitude is not good and those people that step up to these roles do not realise that the maybe damaging the industry. If you undersell yourself, everybody then starts to expect a low or free rate. We seen this happen in the production equipment hire industry, let it not happen in the freelance tech industry. There are even those that have other day jobs in the “real” world that seem happy to undercut or do it for nothing – stop it. Charge a decent fee.

Also a big thank you to the productions that seem very happy to pay reasonable fees and don’t complain. We appreciate you, you often make our lives easier. To the others there is training available in budgeting and production.


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