Dear Fellow Actors: Never join a theater company that asks you to pay dues. You will get screwed. It is usually an elaborate scam that may seem beneficial to your career at first, but you will end up losing money and performing in a “show” made up of monologues from your high school monologue book. My personal bible, “How To Be A Working Actor,” warned me about this, but I was so desperate to be on stage again that I ignored it.
I joined XXXXX Theatre Company with the hopes of actually performing in a legitimate New York City theater company. It struck me as odd that I was paying for the privilege to perform, something no legitimate theater company would ever do, but the lure of performing was so strong that I gave some unheard of “director” my money and ended up ultimately paying the price.
The company members paid monthly dues to attend weekly “workshops” led by the director. At the end of the term, they put on a final performance that would highlight what they learned in the workshops. Sadly, the workshops just ended up with us playing zip, zap, zop and various other basic theater improv games, while the final show consisted of a bunch of monologues pulled from a monologue book that every actor owned in high school. The production level of the show consisted of bringing in our own props, playing music on an ipod, and using one lighting cue for the whole show.
It may have crossed a few of our minds that this was a crummy scam created by a hack of a director, but it was also clear that some of these hopeful actors actually had some talent. We all devoted ourselves to the program and tried to make the best of it, despite our growing doubts. A few other members and I tried to take the company further by suggesting we perform original material written by our own playwrights. The director agreed that we could put together a reading series and start planning for a one-act play festival, all written and performed by members of the company. But once everything got underway, our director decided to take off for Puerto Rico for a month. She abandoned the company right as we were starting to plan the big show. But we bravely took over, planning our own rehearsals, working out the set design, lighting, sound, and costumes, as well as organizing actors, playwrights and directors. We did it all. Our “director,” made a half-hearted attempt to help from Puerto Rico by making the programs for the show, in which she billed herself as the Producer.
Our show was successful. We had a full house every night. We were left with a sense of hope for the future of the company. We thought we could shake things up, and gave everyone a position of leadership. We wanted to move forward and become a legitimate theater company. We met with the artistic directors of other theater companies in NYC. We took steps to become incorporated and learned about becoming eligible for nonprofit status. Most importantly, we wanted to be a real company where members no longer had to pay dues. Needless to say, the head of our company had no interest in any of this. She was also bitterly angry at those who had taken leadership positions in her absence. It was clear that nothing was going to change. It was her company after all, and she liked things they way they were, with desperate actors paying her monthly dues to have a place to perform.
Her company stills exists. Old members have all left, of course, but now she has 30 new eager actors paying her money to be in a show. But they will figure it out and walk away eventually. They always do. Their hearts will be disappointed and their pockets will be empty. I recommend that they keep a copy of “How To Be A Working Actor” by their bedside and memorize the part about theater company scams. Heed the warning signs. Take my advice. Don’t follow my example.