I was at my internship when my boss at the Lee Pelton Theatre where I work as the Front of House (FoH) Manager texted me, “I have some not-the-best news to share with you.” 15 minutes later, I found out the shows had been canceled for the rest of the season. Undoubtedly, the students in the Theatre Department are the most heavily impacted by this decision, but those employed by the theatre are taking a loss as well.
This is going to have a heavy impact on me financially. Given that there are four shows a year, two in the spring and two in the fall, as well as the solo performance that takes place in the fall, I stand to lose just under half of my expected income from this job. Although I am a manager, I make just over minimum wage at $11 an hour. If I worked a minimum of four hours per performance, which can vary and go longer (or more rarely, shorter) I would make around $880 before taxes for 20 performances this spring.
“In total, I am losing about $1,045 from the shows being canceled. As I made approximately $5,000 last year, this equates to just over one fifth of my annual income.”
These are not the only hours I work. I also have to clean, go to various meetings and attend work-related events and dress rehearsals, totaling around 15 hours for spring semester, which equates to $165 before taxes. In total, I am losing about $1,045 from the shows being canceled. As I made approximately $5,000 last year, this equates to just over one fifth of my annual income.
Luckily, my boss has kindly offered to give me as many hours as he can afford to assign me. These are things like tidying the storage closet and preparing transition notes for my successor. However, this is highly unlikely to exceed more than 15 hours, nowhere close to the nearly 100 hours that I would normally would have been allotted.
This is money that I count on to pay my rent, for food and my phone and credit card bills. While this may not be money that I receive on a consistent schedule, it is money that I need in order to subsist. Because of this loss, I am going to have to pick up another job or take more hours at one of my other jobs.
This brings up another issue: there are a limited number of paid positions on campus, and off-campus jobs are not always willing to work with a student’s schedule. The varied hours of classes, extracurricular activities and other commitments make the regular work schedule that part-time jobs demand difficult to work with.
Even though working while going to school is a reality for many, it takes away part of the college experience to spend a majority of my free time working. For me, upping my hours at my other job means going from working three nights a week to four or five. This leaves little time for homework, going to the gym or just having fun. This makes me less of a student and more of a part-time worker who is also going to school. Willamette offers a very specific type of student experience that necessitates participation to be involved, and changing hours takes away from the opportunity to do that.
Canceling the shows goes beyond personally affecting me and this will have consequences in the future as well. I am the only person at the school who works as the FoH manager. House Manager, as well as other subsections of theatre operations, such as the Box Office, have a very small staff and require this last semester to train our replacements.
Students overseeing and training other students in the work environment is key to how Willamette runs student-operated organizations. For my job, and for the jobs of many others, the only time that training can be most holistically done is while the productions are actually occurring, because that is the time when the real challenges happen. A handbook cannot compare to in-person guidance in how to properly perform a job.
Regardless of how future years of the theatre are conceived and operated, what’s going on right now has a large impact on the students at this school, and a large fiscal impact on those working for the Theatre Department.