An Open Letter to the "Launchpad of the American Theater"
Updated: Jul 3, 2021
Dear Eugene O’Neill Theater Center: Launchpad of the American Theater,
I’m writing regarding a recent posting you made on Playbill.com for a Producing Apprentice. I'm posting this publicly, in hopes it will raise awareness of the systemic inequalities perpetuated by the theater industry, and also to urge you to rectify a situation you may have missed.
Your tagline is accurate: Launchpad of the American Theater. Your institute is responsible for supporting and producing some of our country’s greatest works of theater. Additionally, you have a remarkably thorough EDI Statement page inspired by the calls over the last year to make theater a better industry by focusing on building inclusive communities and work environments.
However, in spite of the bold work you claim to be committed to, it appears you’re equally committed to perpetuating a cycle of labor abuse and gatekeeping with your apprenticeship programs and that little has actually been learned from the exposure of systemic oppression throughout 2020.
For a salary of $150 a week, plus housing and “experience”, you are expecting someone to work 8-12 hrs a day, 5-6 days a week. While you don’t require them to have a car, it’s considered a plus to their application if they do. Additionally, you have a note that your apprenticeships are a part of an “On Call” team, a vague point that suggests hours longer and more extensive than you state earlier in the job posting.
This is so far below a living wage, it could almost be read as satire. In spite of your statement on EDI, you’ve made an entry-level position untenable for anyone whose socioeconomic status requires them to earn a substantial salary to survive. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are saddled with more debt than any other generation in the history of America. To accept a job with these expectations and salary would be fiscally irresponsible for anyone except people whose family or other benefactors could support their lifestyle.
Unfortunately, this is the norm in far too many places. Job postings like this are gate keeping an entire industry by only being feasible for upper-middle and upper-class individuals. Our industry is in the midst of a reckoning for its lack of diversity and years of systemic abuse. Positions like this perpetuate a cycle in which only the already rich have access, and those at an economic disadvantage are forced down another career path.
As the Launchpad of the American Theatre, your organization has the power to set the tone for the future of the industry. You have an opportunity to change the narrative around unpaid and low-paid apprenticeships, to offer a living wage and open the gates to the industry so that people from all socio-economic backgrounds can begin their career in theater. The changes you institute now have the potential to shape the future of our industry for the better.
The undersigned members of the theater community