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I feel...

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Choreography, Dance & Movement for Theater
Forum Discription: For the dancers and choreographers in community theater
Printed Date: 6/25/24 at 2:20pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 8.05 -

Topic: I feel...
Posted By: dancingbarefoot
Subject: I feel...
Date Posted: 3/01/07 at 11:49pm
I feel I should post here now that I suggested this forum!

I am a frequent choroegrapher for community theatre and a dance teacher with a dance degree. I also work part-time in the office at our local comm. theatre. Anyone else here a choreographer or looking for choreography/movement tips, advice, solutions, resources, or comraderie?

I will be choreographing Once Upon a Mattress starting this month and have done work for other shows such as Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz, Joseph and the ATDC, Babes In Arms, Bye Bye Birdie, The King and I, and more.

Posted By: slicksister
Date Posted: 3/02/07 at 3:03am
You're doing Once Upon A Mattress?!!  Lucky, lucky you.  Someday....

The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Posted By: Verdier
Date Posted: 3/05/07 at 10:37am
Hello!  I, too am a frequent choreographer for community theatre as well as a dance teacher.  In the past couple of years I have also moved into directing, mostly for musicals, as I find it is much easier for me to achieve my overall vision by doing both directing & choreography.  Just finished up "Seussical" last fall, and our group is looking at possibly mounting JC Superstar this fall.  Some other recent shows I've worked on were "Joseph", "Annie", "Little Shop of Horrors", "Brigadoon" and "Stepping Out".  I am very excited about this forum - I hope it will be a great source of information and sharing!

Posted By: Tom_Rylex
Date Posted: 3/13/07 at 12:59am

Good luck with OUAM! That was such a fun show to do in our group, lots of campy moments, and all sorts of creative opportunities for dance. Probably one of my favorites was "Swamps of Home." Our choreographer did not use a lot of dance steps, but the movement made the chorus fit in very well with the 'swamp' theme (kind of a swamp grass look). One of the funniest numbers in the show, I thought.


The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-R. Frost

Posted By: dancingbarefoot
Date Posted: 3/19/07 at 12:50pm
Hi everyone! Some have suggested that I consider directing at some point. With my other duties as a teacher (and soon to be mom!), I've typically dismissed the idea because of time, however, after doing a show not long ago where I felt like I did a lot of directing for the Director anyway, I've thought about it more seriously!

OUAM is a really fun musical. I'm enjoying the variety and humor inherent in the songs. It's fun to choreograph because one can be really creative. I'm a little worried about fitting everything into the director's schedule right now. We are getting a late start (spring break's a pain) and the schedule is limited because of actor conflicts. I'm hoping we have time for the major numbers, let alone some of the smaller ones!

I too am looking forward to this forum! I already had a bit of a rant in the other post because of pay inequality for choreographers. We dancers are always at the bottom of the totem pole! *sigh*

Posted By: Mike Polo
Date Posted: 3/19/07 at 1:31pm
I just gotta ask this...Wink
Why is that everyone working on a show feels that they are at the bottom of the totem pole (with the possible exception of the director)? Actors (we've all heard the complaint that they're treated like cattle), stage crew, lights, sound, house manager, music director, set construction, you name it... we're always complaining that "we don't get no respect!" There's a sociology term paper in this somewhere!
Sorry, couldn't resist...

Mike Polo
Community Theater Green Room">

Posted By: Shatcher
Date Posted: 3/19/07 at 1:56pm
Because we all have our thing and we all think our thing is the most important thing. We think of our thing first and how everyone else thing effects our thing. Because the director needs all of the things to work we all feel we need to get our thing right... Not to add that when you have that many creative folks in one place there is bound to be issues, its what binds us together really, folks with very different skills come together to make art. our differences make us stronger...
not sure that made sense. maybe a little to corn ball but hey you asked!

Posted By: Mike Polo
Date Posted: 3/19/07 at 2:58pm
Awful lot of "things" in that statement, but it makes sense.

Mike Polo
Community Theater Green Room">

Posted By: Nanette
Date Posted: 3/20/07 at 12:18am
Perhaps because those at the top of the totum pole don't take the time to acknowledge those who feel they're at the bottom of the totum pole and say thank you for all your hard work!  (See my other post on this very topic.)

In a world of margarine, be butter!

Posted By: Mike Polo
Date Posted: 3/20/07 at 8:24am
One of the benefits of working with a smaller group is that we all swap off... One show's lead could very easily be the next show's stage manager (happened more than once this season). We're friends first, then theater people. We've all been there and done that (in our place, if you want to direct, you have to be active backstage as well as onstage). We all know that sitting on top of the totem pole can be very uncomfortable if there's a point on top.
I kind of thought I was making a funny when I raised the question, but it looks like this is a bigger issue than I thought. Having worked virtually every job a show can require (and some that were made up on the spot), I learned long ago that every job is important and treat it accordingly.

Mike Polo
Community Theater Green Room">

Posted By: dancingbarefoot
Date Posted: 3/20/07 at 3:37pm
To be honest, the totem pole comment was a joke , as well. But there are issues involved here. It is typcial of CTs that choreography is often an afterthought position and that pay usually reflects that, even though a choreographer may log as many (if not more) hours as a stage director in rehearsal with the cast, research, teaching, and creating the movement/staging that is to be applied. I think that choreography is often seen as just the stringing together of dance steps, which can be done by any high school kid taking dance lessons or local studio teacher, but that is not really the case. I’ve seen lots of CTs that this is what the “choreography” amounts to, and I’ve also worked with stage directors that limit the choreographers to just that because they know little about either choreography or dance. But, choreography can and should be more in a fully realized production. We strive for excellence in amateur acting - why not in movement as well (most amateur thespians aren’t trained actors either)?

Choreography is not the only skill in CT at the bottom, so to speak, but of the three positions in a musical that spend the most time working in and outside of rehearsal (stage dir., musical dir., and choreographer), it seems to be the least valued and appreciated. At least in the half-dozen CTs that I have experience with. And again, pay does reflect that (choreographers across the board typically get paid 1/4 if not less of what both stage and musical directors get).

I’d just like to advocate that a) there is more to choreography than just stringing together a few steps here and there, and b) that there are choreographers out there who are working artists and should be paid fairly. Many choreographers work as dancers, teachers and choreographers for a living. The same can rarely be said for those that work as stage directors in the CT environment.

Posted By: Mike Polo
Date Posted: 3/20/07 at 4:31pm

No, I'm not a trained director, but I've been doing it for 17 years (on the job training, anyone?). I am a trained sound tech, made my living at it for a number of years, but never asked for a dime from a CT. Today, I'm employed as webmaster and computer programmer (yep, trained at that, too). I donate my expertise when asked to my local CT. Why? Because they need me. I've never made any money doing community theater (25 years and counting); it usually costs me money.
I'm sorry you think you should be paid more, but if it's the money that's important to you, why work for community theater in the first place? There ain't no money there. At least ask for more money and if the offer isn't good enough, tell 'em "no".
I think we all know that there is more to choreography than stringing a bunch of steps together, just as there is more to acting than learning your lines and not bumping into the furniture. As to the pay issue, well, nobody makes a living doing community theater.
You know the biggest payoff I ever got out of a community theater? Being asked to direct another show.

Mike Polo
Community Theater Green Room">

Posted By: slicksister
Date Posted: 3/21/07 at 1:59am
Here, here, Mike.  Here, here!

The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Posted By: tristanrobin
Date Posted: 3/21/07 at 8:54am
I must say that our group does NOT consider choreographers at the bottom of the list - they are absolutely treated the same way the directors and the music directors are treated (by the way - and they're paid the same).

I think you're just working with the wrong group.

Posted By: Nanette
Date Posted: 3/21/07 at 9:30am
Originally posted by dancingbarefoot

...of the three positions in a musical that spend the most time working in and outside of rehearsal (stage dir., musical dir., and choreographer), it seems to be the least valued and appreciated...
I'm sorry, but there are countless positions within the theatre that take up time inside and outside rehearsal ... many that take hours more time than the three you listed ... lighting and set design and construction (you're forgetting that they have to research and draw everything up to scale before they can even begin to do their work onstage), and costumers (it's not just about dressing up in pretty clothes ... they have research on styles and colors, drawings, fittings, etc.) just to name a few.  When was the last time you heard an audience member say how wonderful the lights looked or how well the costumes fit?
I, like some (but not all) am trained in this profession.  If I could have made a living off of it where I was living, I wouldn't have returned to school to "make a living". 
A community theatre is just that ... community!  And a community theatre that takes the best interest in producing quality theatre (rather than just dressing up and playing make-believe) is going to succeed.
Okay ... that's off my chest.  Sorry if I stepped on anyone's toes.  I don't mean to.  No one should be overlooked for their efforts is all I'm saying.

In a world of margarine, be butter!

Posted By: red diva
Date Posted: 3/21/07 at 8:03pm
While I agree with you that those positions you cited do indeed take a lot of time if pursued as thoroughly as they should be, I take exception to your statement that they take "hours more time than the three you listed".  As a long-time director (30+ years), I find myself a little hot under the collar that the assumption by many is that the director merely shows up at the auditions, casts the show, then sits back and directs without any prep work (though I have worked with a few that have done just that!).  I did a rough estimate just lately, and found that for every hour of time that I put in at a rehearsal, I have already put in 3 hours of prep, study, script analysis, blocking, character work, light and scenic planning, costume research, period research, and so on.  Though I don't actually design all of the tech areas I mentioned (though I usually create an overall design concept), I feel it's necessary to be prepared in those areas too, so that communication with the actual designers is facilitated, allowing for a unified creative picture.
I agree that no-one should be overlooked for their efforts, but I have often (maybe even usually) found that the director IS overlooked. Think about it many times have YOU (as a member of the cast or crew) ever walked up to a director after his/her  show has opened and said "thank you so much for your time and efforts"?  Yet the director is blasted if he/she neglects to thank every actor and "techie" (a term I use with great affection.  I have been a "techie" many times).  Maybe it's different in your theatres....I hope so.
Luckily, many of us that direct gain all the satisfaction we need from being able to watch the finished product and seeing how much the audiences are enjoying and appreciating the shows.   
Remember, if the show is good, the actors are given credit.  If the show bombs, the director gets the blame!
Have you hugged your director today?

"I've worked long and hard to earn the right to be called Diva!"

Posted By: dancingbarefoot
Date Posted: 3/22/07 at 3:00am
[QUOTE=Mike Polo]
I've never made any money doing community theater (25 yars and counting); it usually costs me money.

This is your choice, and I don't have a problem with donating time and money if you can.

I'm sorry you think you should be paid more,

I don't think I should be paid more, I think choreographers should be paid more fairly compared to other production positions.

At least ask for more money and if the offer isn't good enough, tell 'em "no".

I have no problem with the amount I'm offered at my current theatre - but it is still 1/2 of what both the musical director and stage director get. And if I personally couldn't do something for so little, I'd say no (or ask for more), just like any of the dance jobs that I've been hired to do.

As to the pay issue, well, nobody makes a living doing community theater.

You're right, but lots of theatres have made the dangerous jump to paying those involved. I'm questioning how MOST theatres have chosen to divide their stipends (not just for choreographers- although, other than as a volunteer actor, that's the job I know most intimately)- other jobs like costumers, lighting designers, etc. take away a very small portion of the pie while other positions take the lion's share. No one is making a living, but a few are taking away a lot more than others. I'm not trying to discount what directors do, but is it really worth 5-10 times more than some of these other positions? And if no one is thinking that choreography (for example) is a lesser-than job, why are they paid lesser-than?

If you are in a theatre where there is more balance, congrats, but the theatres I've worked with (including those where I haven't been on the production staff) this inbalance has existed (exception: when the pay for all is $0). And, come to think of it, in my experience the actors have always thanked the director (either with words or a gift) and all other production staff and crew generally go unthanked. Again, just my experience, but I find it hard to believe that my experiences have all been totally unique.

Sorry this has become some sort of debate, but I do think these are things that should be considered if a theatre plans to pay. And I want to stress that I'm happy to do what I do for community theatre. There were times when as a freelance choroegrapher I counted the work I did for CT's part of my income, but I too have donated my expertise when needed and if I could. Community theatres exist because of donation of time, but that's not really the point I've tried to make.

Posted By: dancingbarefoot
Date Posted: 3/22/07 at 3:09am
Originally posted by red diva

I did a rough estimate just lately, and found that for every hour of time that I put in at a rehearsal, I have already put in 3 hours of prep, study, script analysis, blocking, character work, light and scenic planning, costume research, period research, and so on. 

This is what I'm getting at.... I'll bet every one of the production staff does exactly that. But the pay rates that theatres have chosen reflect something different.

Posted By: red diva
Date Posted: 3/22/07 at 10:06am

This is what I'm getting at.... I'll bet every one of the production staff does exactly that. But the pay rates that theatres have chosen reflect something different.[/QUOTE]

First let me say that I am a proponent of no one being paid.  After all, community theatre, in my mind, is a volunteer organization.  No pay would  prevent all the hassles about who gets how much and who is "worth" more than the other.

Unfortunately, with exceptions (some of whom are on this board), much of the tech staff both in our theatre and in other theatres I've worked in do not research their areas for the show they are designing for. Thus you end up with basketballs from 2007 with an NBA franchise logo that are supposed to be from 1952 and costumes for the Victorian period that look like 1960's prom dresses. (No, Marty, I'm not referring to Cathy - she's one of  the good ones!)  No research has been done and there is an unwillingness to find ways to adapt modern props and costumes to the period. The response I usually get from these people when I point out the problems is "well, if the audience notices that, they aren't watching the actors".  I often end up altering or replacing inappropriate items on my own.

It sounds like the theatres you work in are lucky to have dedicated techies, willing to do the research and planning.  Other theatres are not that lucky, and in fact often have trouble finding someone willing to do the tech jobs.  When you have someone that will do the job just because no-one else will volunteer, you sometimes end up with careless and slipshod work.

Again, please note:  I am NOT condemning all tech staff in all theatres!  I've been there and done that in just about every area of tech and appreciate the hard work and time investment.  We have some terrific techies at our theatre.  I'm speaking from my own experience in my own theatre!

"I've worked long and hard to earn the right to be called Diva!"

Posted By: Shatcher
Date Posted: 3/22/07 at 10:55am
Boy people are worked upSmile. I have never been paid to SM a CT show(althought I belive the SM is the one person you want to keep happy as I could mess with your show pretty badly if I wanted to) Don't worry I was kidding. If I add up the hours I spend working on a show( this includes being first to the theatre every night and last to leave, hunting down props finding crew, and holding the production team together) I think it would come out to nearly the same amount of hours I spend at my full time day job.
 However everyone thinks they should be paid more in every job on the planet. It is part of life. I happen to think my day job needs to pay me more! I do CT for the love of my art not the love of $$. If I wanted to make it rich I would have studied something else.
I would think as a dancer you would get something in return for your hard work... new students for your classes or help with dance concerts... not to mention the chance to plug you dance classes to a captive crowd.
We are all over worked and under paid.  And a good number of us in get no adulation from the crowd for a job well done and when there is money to pay folks the Director,Music Director and the choregrapher are on the top of the list. SM most of the time on the bottom. Every group is different.
Just my 2 cents if it even makes sense

Posted By: dancingbarefoot
Date Posted: 3/22/07 at 2:17pm

I never said in my posts that I didn't think I was paid enough (or that I should be paid more) for the choreography I've done, and I do think there are way more returns than just monetary for working in CT.  My comments about the inbalance of pay were misinterpreted as complaining that I personally don't make enough. I work on the admin. side of theatre as well (although in a clerical and box-office capacity, not as a decision-maker) and I become more and more convinced that CTs should not pay production staff at all. As someone who has been paid for my work, I realize this may seem hypocritical but that seems to be the nature of this question of who gets paid, who doesn't, what and how much in CT.

This is probably a different (although related topic) but, there is a grey area that has come up with some positions.  I think Chris (or maybe Mike) mentioned in another forum that they hire musicians or a music director because the skills required are not something that any volunteer can do, which I would imagine is the case for other CTs as well. And I'm submitting that one could apply the same logic to choreographers and possibly other positions. And diva mentioned that there are people in production jobs that by choice don't do (or perhaps don't have the knowledge to do) the "homework" aspects of the job, but I've seen that occur in all production areas (from costumes, to choreography, to directing) - it happens and yes, even when professionals are hired. But when hiring a professional a certain level should be expected (even if they've accepted the job for less than their average pay), so there's an option of not hiring them again. Non-pros (those who don't make a living in the area of production in which they are working) that are paid are in a strange realm of being a volunteer but at the same time not being a volunteer- and emotions, egos, length of time spent as a volunteer come into play.  I don't claim to have answers but the issues are interesting to me.  I do think that leveling the playing field in stipends would help whether the pay is $0, or more.
And every group is different and I'm sorry if I lumped them together, but in my experience (which has included CTs in different parts of the U.S.) there has in every case been a large difference in pay for directors versus choreographers and I do question why.  It's possible that the CTs represented here are different from the theatres I've come in contact with.  But I guess I've seen a similar scale posted in the forums here and (perhaps too quickly) concluded that it's the same in most places. I do apologize if I've come to the wrong conclusion and/or excluded other staff who are also low on the pay scale. And, I apologize that this thread has gotten so off-topic.

Posted By: Kibitzer
Date Posted: 3/23/07 at 9:29am
Having already gone on a long-winded rant in another forum about the subject of paid production positions in community theatre, I'll refrain from redundancy, here.  However, I think I see another major issue associated with paying people:  value becomes measured by money instead of applause.  It's enough of a problem that so many people feel underappreciated as volunteers, layer on top of that the too often justified grumblings of pay inequity and it just reinforces my leanings that at least the production function of community theatre needs to return to its roots as an all-volunteer effort.  And I'll go out on a limb here:  Return to all-volunteer productions even if that means eliminating musicals or cutting back the number of productions because you can't find people to do it for nothing.  I fear for the future of community theatre because I fear the loss of passion for it by some of its most dedicated participants and that loss of passion is represented by exchanging what was once a labor of love for a paycheck.   

"Security is a kind of death." - Tennessee Williams

Posted By: red diva
Date Posted: 3/23/07 at 3:25pm
Bravo, Kibitzer!  Well said.

"I've worked long and hard to earn the right to be called Diva!"

Posted By: dancingbarefoot
Date Posted: 3/25/07 at 6:13pm
Yes, Kibitzer - very well said.

I'd like to see more theatres willing to take the plunge and go back to their all-volunteer roots. I don't think it's unrealistic that theatres could survive with this structure. However, if theatres are not willing to go forward without paying (and many won't be), I still urge the powers that be to take another look at how or why they've created the structure or hierarchy of pay they've chosen.

Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 4/01/07 at 9:15pm
Get over yourselves- all of you.
Eliminating pay won't cure the main problem here- that everyone THINKS he has the most important job or logs the most hours.
Pay enables theaters to attract talented people that do make some significant, unique sacrifice.  How much they pay and to whom is a considered judgment that can reasonably vary show to show.  But there is nothing wrong with pay as a concept.  Don't hate the game; hate the players.

Posted By: lhianeaivee
Date Posted: 12/04/07 at 12:41pm
well actually ive known a lot of choreographer and one of them is walter will his a good dancer too and one of his step is taken from a radio show - ENERGIE 2 well he actually used it in his play then...

Posted By: JoeMc
Date Posted: 12/05/07 at 2:37am
G'donya Kibitzer!
As I have mentioned before our Incorporation Act precludes Associations from paying members, as in order to be covered by member insurance, they must be volunteers. Otherwise they are covered by Public Liability Insurance or as a contractor they carry thier own.
Besides all that woffle, one of the factors to jusify payments. Seems to be the group learns from buying in experiance & talent, to enhance thier productions.
So there must come a time when the members of a group have learnt enough, to do thier own thing from within?
But I gather they never do & just keep on paying.
Surely they must have money to chuck about & waste or work harder to fundraise to be able to afford these payments. Instead of using it on resources to make production jobs easier & in turn may atract more membership, talent & experiance!

[western] Gondawandaland
"Hear the light & see the sound!
{may you always play to a full house!}

Posted By: vickifrank
Date Posted: 12/05/07 at 9:27pm
I've done lots of years where I got 'paid' for set design, construction, painting or directing...but never big never big pay, more or less token pay.  Never regretted a show.  Just was tough to work so hard when I also needed paying work to support my kids.  But the key is that they tried to pay me something, knowing I was worth more than they could pay--all of the technical team was.  I was appreciated--you all are appreciated by your fellow artists.  They just can't afford to pay much more than in 'love'.  Some of my fondest memories, really.  And my kids remember that mom did things....really did unique things.  In short they discovered that mom was an individual...what more can any parent ask?
Eventually I learned that if you want to earn a living in the arts you have to work for an arts business, not as an artist.  I started my own business.  Eighteen years later we are doing ok.  And guess what I like best about it?  Doing business in a way that cares more about people getting the artistic effects that want in a budget they can afford--rather than just working for the dollar.  I know it sounds funny, but I like saving people money while getting kick-ass effects.  I'm old enough now that I know I won't get rich.  I'm old enough to know that satisfaction with something done really well is worth more than money.  When you love something enough, you pay yourself in 'love' by doing it.  After all why would anyone want to do art poorly?  Give it your best and consider that your pay (and be greatful that you get the chance and can afford to take it!).
Now having really burned out my hands on doing big artwork for sets (mostly by myself), I do fine arts (oil painting).  I charge for it--and donate all proceeds to charity.  And again I've got that 'love' feeling.  If someone enjoys my artwork enough to hang it, wow!, right?  I'm not da Vinci, but my art hangs in a cathedral in Phoenix, in a senator's office in Washington, in an important judge's livingroom, and in my daughter's house.  Sure I don't get paid (after donating it, I don't), but my reward is elsewhere--and my charity benefits lots of abused kids.  Who wins? Me, kids, and whoever likes the art.  And my kids learn that its OK to be an individual--even fun.

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