Contributed by Erez Ziv
I fell into theater by mistake in 1998, while on my way to a masters degree in medieval Jewish philosophy and theology and driving a horse and carriage in central park to pay the bills. I am very happy to have helped to firmly establish Horse Trade's reputation in the downtown theater scene and to create a well respected, self sufficient organization that has created and continues to create a home for some the New York City's most innovative, talented and hard working theater artists. Today Horse Trade is a thriving theater company operating 3 spaces in the East Village, and touring shows nationally and internationally. I still drive a horse and carriage a couple of days a week to help pay the bills.
There are many good reasons to work in theater, and only one excellent reason not to. Clearly theater has not in the past, and does not in the present have the capacity to provide most of its practitioners with a decent regular income; and the future does not look much brighter. So why are there so many people coming to New York City to build their theater careers and why are so many staying to toil in an industry that, for most, requires a second and even third job? I would imagine that no one actually realized on their way here how hard the work will be and how little financial reward is to be achieved. I know that if I had known 13 years ago what I would be getting paid for running such a busy company today I would have certainly gone another route, it would have been impossible to describe the rewards in vivid enough detail to override the sticker shock.
Why not work in theater is a pretty easy question to answer, why work in theater is another story. I suppose we have all had to slightly redefine for ourselves the reason for which we work, for any kind of answer to make sense. We don’t, for the most part, see our Labor as the relationship between employee and employer they way economists regard the term Labor in our economic system, but rather as a triangular relationship between a production team the product we produce and our intended audience. Money is a means we need in order to accomplish our tasks, and sometimes it is a measure of our success but unlike with our day jobs, it is not the goal.
Many of the people in our community get very little financial compensation for our many hours of hard work, even spending our hard earned money on creating work. But until we each get to a point in our career where we are actually making a living doing what we love, and please keep in mind that this is not an entitlement it is a hard fought luxury, here are some things to remember that will help you keep you head up and your feet firmly stepping.
Theater is one of the ancient Arts that helped Man walk out of the cave and look both backwards and forwards, to get a more complete vision of the world around; it is a necessary part of our collective existence. Without the Arts our world would hardly be worth living in. Theater practitioners in NYC specifically are members of the second biggest financial generator in the city, and this city generates a great deal of money so good on ya. While we in the indie theater world do not interact much with the Broadway world which is the primary generator of this precious income, we routinely provide not only Broadway, but Television, Films, Off Broadway and other performing arts with the work they will be doing, the talent they will be using , and the direction they will be taking in the future. our work is a long term investment, but do remember, that by the time great work makes it into the commercial markets, and of course some never does, it has already had a great deal of effect on the next generation of artists, and this is only possible if there is a thriving community to work and grow in.
Erez Ziv is the co-founder and managing director of the Horse Trade Theatre Group.