This week, something horrible and something wonderful happened in our industry.
Horribly, a request from an American company was sent to Australian agents and dance schools seeking dancers for a new Kylie Minogue video clip stating that, due to budget constraints, these dancers would not be paid.
There have been many reports in the media about this issue over the last 48 hours – including a segment on Channel 10’s The Project, and articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, ArtsHub, The Daily Mail and more. I urge you to read as much as you can from the major news outlets and while you’re at it, search the hash tag #paythedancers for a look at the commentary on social media too.
Wonderfully, many dancers took a stand and refused to work a 10 hour day on the film set for nothing, refused the exploitation of their skills (thinly veiled as ‘exposure’) and many took to social media to voice their concerns. Facebook and Twitter were ablaze with comments from dancers and artists expressing their distress, disgust and outrage at the treatment of the dancers in this situation. A frenzy ensued and soon the issue was trending. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the union which represents performers, musicians, crew and journalists) stepped in to ensure all dancers on set were paid and – on the social media front – artists across the country continued to denounce companies who have similarly exploited dancers on previous occasions.
I, for one, am deeply disappointed but not surprised that this issue plagues our arts industry in Australia. It’s not an uncommon tale, to hear of large companies (often representing big ‘stars’) offering ‘exposure’ as remuneration enough for young, eager performers. Expecting young professional artists to work for free – when other staff are paid – repeatedly and without question is an insult to the craft, to the industry and to those who fought hard for our rights at work. And, it’s illegal.
It’s all too common an occurrence and it has to stop. It has to stop right now.
An open letter to young artists
Dancers, artists all,
I want you to know that you are wonderful. You have trained, you have honed your art and your craft. You have worked toward a goal and you have done so with grace, enthusiasm and passion. Every day you put your heart and soul into your work, put your bodies on the line in a way that many in this world can’t even begin to comprehend. You are strong, talented and amazing.
I know that, while you are taught the ins and outs of your craft in your training institutions, you are rarely taught what you are worth. I know that also, in reality, those outside our industry rarely know what you are worth. I want you to know that I know your worth, your peers and colleagues know your worth, and that many people have fought to protect it.
I know that people ask you what your ‘real job’ is, and I know that while you may work in a bar, a cafe, a retail store on occasion, your real job is your craft. It drives you, it demands your attention. You love what you do and you are passionate, brilliant people.
It is because of all these things that you must never, ever let yourself be taken advantage of.
You are lucky enough love your work, but it does not mean you should work for love and love alone. Love does not pay the bills, wages do. Be responsible for your work. Read about your rights, your award wages and what you are entitled to. Know your worth and never be afraid to stand up for yourself.
If you choose to donate your time to a project, do so for the right reason and always with open eyes. If someone else is making money from a project, and isn’t valuing your worth, then reconsider.
Listen to your peers, learn from those whose work ethic you respect and never, ever, ever undervalue yourself. If you do, others may take the opportunity to do the same – and that is never ok. Not for you, not for your peers and not for the industry you love so dearly.
With so much love and respect,
An open letter to everyone else:
Dear Everyone Else,
and help us stop this culture of exploitation in our country.