The Consequences of Free Labor

I’m going to be slightly hyperbolic in this post because this is something that’s been bothering me for a while.

In April, I saw a play called “The Mysteries” at the Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan. It was a 5.5-hour adaptation of “The Bible.” Afterwards, I left feeling a mixture of rapture and guilt. It was a magnificent, ambitious piece of work that is rarely seen in the theater these days. And at the same time, I also felt immensely guilty afterwards. I felt drained and yet, if I was feeling like I’ve been marathon-watching “Lord of the Rings,” the cast probably felt like they were marathon-ing “Harry Potter.”

Not only did they perform for 5.5 hours for my enjoyment, they were also playing gracious hosts: serving me dinner, posing for Facebook photos and making conversation with me during intermission. It was well beyond your typical actors’ duties at a theater. The Bats (the Flea’s resident acting ensemble which perform in all of the shows at the theater) acted for 5.5 hours and then entertained the audience before, after and during intermission. Add that to getting ready for the show, cleaning up after the audience leaves, the actors in “The Mysteries” probably put in close to 7+ hours a night, 4 times a week. That’s almost a full workday.

And they don’t get paid for any of that time. Continue reading