Actually Getting Paid for Designing Small Shows – A Primer


Oh, there is a subject right now that is so near and dear to my heart that must be discussed.

I know there are a lot of people out there that work small theatre gigs as designers, and I know also that there are a lot of people reading JimOnLight who work as crew, staff, or management for small venues that produce plays. Often this is a fun, rewarding experience as a designer, where you get to try out new stuff, use a very inadequate light plot in ways it’s never been used before (in your mind, anyway) and really do some Bohemian theatre work. You know, what a lot of us were trained to do: Theatre!

Unfortunately, there is one aspect of working in small theatres that will either be easy or very, very difficult for some reason — getting paid for your work. You’d think that this is something that would be cut and dry, no? Nope, in fact it is not cut, dried, rolled, or smoked. You either get really lucky and you work with a company that has its financials together, or you work with a company that is a bigger disaster than Chernobyl.


I just want to say that I’m not surprised by anything you’re about to read, I’m just a little shocked that in today’s age of having top be transparent financially, this kind of shit still goes on.  Again, not at all surprised, but it surely makes for good fodder.

I’ll keep the names to a minimum here, but I just had the displeasure of working on a tiny production a few months ago for a very small theatre company here in Oklahoma City, I still enjoy the occasional guerrilla Theatre piece as a designer. They’re managed by a small board of people who are more interested in picking the season’s plays than they are fundraising. The reason this little story is important is that none of the production staff have been paid, and they’ve opened, closed, and counted the ticket money on their season. The very scary thing was that I have an email from their board chairwoman that ostansibly says they hired us without having any money to pay us with in the first place. It would have been really swell to pay off a few bills of my own with that money — but it’s par for the course really, I did someone a favor, and no good deed goes unpunished, you know?

So let me reiterate:
We were all hired and promised fees, and the company had no money or ability for making good on that promise.

I picked up this little show as a favor to a friend, for a nil fee, which I was glad to accept.  Frankly, I’m fortunate that my rent wasn’t depending on that fee, because the other designers on the show certainly do, did, and still haven’t been paid. Unfortunately, in this business, this is the modus operandi of a good percentage of the smaller organizations that produce “plays.” The real bummer about that is that is drags down the entire system of Entertainment that we all are trained to support and design, and when you’re first starting out in this business, not getting a check for your work for months, or not at all, is a major financial killer to the young bank account.  There’s a company called Diamond Mine Productions that still owes me $2500 from 2004.  Thanks for screwing a just-graduated grad student out of four months rent, a-holes.

There are some things to watch out for that you typically learn after you’ve been promised that a company is reputable, and you usually learn them because they’re f***king you over a barrel and you learn it the hard way. But also, sometimes everything looks like it checks out, and them BAM — you get sideswiped by a Douchebag theatre company. Here’s a few things to watch out for and evaluate on the fly once you are offered a design gig somewhere, I hope these end up saving you grief.  The real bitch about this is that sometimes you just don’t have the option to pick and choose your companies as a freelance designer. However, stick with it, you will have that option in your career at some point.


Some things to consider:

* Make sure that you have a signed contract in hand that is clear in its requirements of you. Steer clear of working without a contract. Always. Most contracts you will see will have a variety of preparedness, ranging from having it stated that you have some programming days built in to the schedule, or it could be as simply written that you’re expected to have a finished design by opening night. Are there production meetings? Are you compensated for that time? Are you expected to send renderings of anything beforehand to someone, perhaps the director? Is the opening and closing dates of the gig on the contract? What if they extend the run, are you getting more money? I’ve seen and not signed contracts that tried to make me provide the rig, operator, and console — and I’ve had a few Union contracts, which are pretty freaking sweet because they’re written in your favor, the designer. You’re going to see that your mileage may vary, but please keep your head about you before you sign that paper.

* Make sure that if you have any “internal objections” that you solve them before you sign anything.  Nothing is worse than trying to unscrew yourself once you’ve obliged, and nothing hurts worse than having to do something because you were too big a wuss to voice your needs.

* ASK PEOPLE about that company and its practices.  This is the best way to find out information about a gig before saying you’re along for the ride.  You will be surprised at the amount of information you can gather by asking “a friend of a friend.”

* Do a little research on the company offering you a gig — how many shows in their season? How many seasons have they done? Do you know any other designers from past shows you might be able to query about the company’s preparedness for production? Have there been any legal judgments against that company, either in the city they’re in or in other cities? Do they have a reputation for cagey decisions or payment?

* Research the company’s infrastructure and if there is a managing board in place. Are these people community people, industry people, or people who want to be involved in “making plays” but are out of their league? Do some name searching on board members and managers before you take a gig — the Shelby, NC stage collapse from a few years ago for example, that promoter had been convicted of wire fraud and extortion. Know the people you’re doing business with, as a designer you are your own business.

* Ask for half your design fee up front. There is nothing wrong with this practice, and frankly I believe it shows not only the company’s dedication to the production, but to you as the designer as well. Having half your fee up front is a guaranteed way for a company to show you that they want to be serious about the production they just hired you to design. You’re going to hear “no” to this sometimes, which is what it is, but you need to make the call on whether or not you sign that contract.

* Find out about things like budget, reimbursements, and the like — never buy anything on your own dime for a show that you don’t already have written permission to get, so that you actually get reimbursed.  You would be blown away by the amount of times I have heard a story about someone buying something for a show, being told it is not reimbursable, and then seeing that something used in the show.  Screw that!  If the company wants it, make them buy it!  If that thing they want you to purchase and be reimbursed for is so urgent for the show, make them pony up for it.  What you’ll find is that often times getting reimbursed is harder than getting paid!

* Don’t be afraid to send somebody’s ass to collections, or get an attorney and sue in small claims court.  Make sure to include your time lost, your fees, and anything else you can get reimbursed for, having to had spent your time chasing down payment you were promised.  But make sure that you also have proof that you did the show and that you were the designer of record, preferably on contract.  Yes, there are people out there who will literally ask you to “confirm your services” before they pay you.  I have first hand knowledge of this kind of bulls**t.

Folks, it comes down to this very simple thing:
You’re a resource — and if you allow it, a company will exploit you as hard and for as long as they can, that’s the nature of capitalism.
You have to decide just how much you are willing to take.
Believe me, if you don’t spell it out in a contract, you’re either not getting something you want, or you’ll be taken to task to do things that aren’t spelled out in your contract.
Please believe me, this will happen.  It’s your responsibility to take care of you.


At the Drive In Bodyslams a Sharpy at Splendour 2016

This last week has been kinda crazy with the artists doing stuff to production that we’d all prefer they not do — like Marilyn Manson getting all jiggy at FOH with his crew.

Here’s another great example of something that could have been a lot easier to do than destroy a piece of gear — here’s Cedric Bixler of At the Drive In about to bodyslam a Sharpy to the ground at the Splendour in the Grass Festival 2016.  Apparently it was shining in his eyes and he couldn’t be bothered to either A) notify stage management that the light was a problem, B) reach down and unplug it, or C) do something other than bounce that motherf**ker to the deck like a hero.  Way to go, At the Drive In!  We professionals are so impressed at your display of professionalism.  That kind of crap is not exactly what I would call a friend maker for the crew.

The Sharpy is fine from what I hear — a few hours chilling in Catering and some Klonopin for anxiety and it was back on the case for the second act.

Way to go, hero! You tell that burdensome light who's the rockstar!

Way to go, hero! You tell that burdensome light who’s the rockstar!

Some links for you to check out the noisy sounds of At the Drive In:

At the Drive In on Facebook:

Splendour in the Grass Festival Facebook:

Splendour in the Grass website:



Marilyn Manson Acting Like A Douchebag to His Staff?

I’m sure by now everyone has seen some flavor or cut of this video…  this is the one where Marilyn Manson is out at front-of-house slapping around faders and punching flat screen monitors.  You’ve seen this, I assume?

If you’ve seen Marilyn Manson live before, you know his shows are kind of intense.  I mean, intense is a pretty tame word for it really, he’s quite the performer.  This little video here though, what do you think of that?  He comes to FOH, throws what looks to be the mains up hot on the A1 (a few times actually), busts his ass on some kind of chair, then punches out an LCD monitor.

I suppose a few conclusions could be drawn about this — one of two of these things happened:

  1. Either Marilyn Manson is a talented performer, and every bit of this was choreographed or discussed, planned, and executed a la Brad Schiller and the Metallica days of the ‘ghost-in-the-show,” OR…
  2. Marilyn Manson was acting like a douchebag and he totally disrespected his FOH crew pretty hard in front of everybody.

Really, this could go either way, right?  Either way it went down, I think that crew did a great job of maintaining their professionalism.

You have GOT to read the comments on these videos, folks!  They range far and wide, between things like “I can’t believe he would do that to the people who make him look and sound good,” to “F*CK those guys!  He owns them!  He can go out there and shit on that sound board if he wants, he’s Marilyn Manson!”  Not much polarization between those two lines, huh?

What do you think of this bit of showmanship?  Appropriate?  Inappropriate?  Post your comments in the comments section!

Now just for reference, there is this…

and this:

aaaaaand this:

Oh, and this.

Here he knocks Ginger Fish right directly out:

Oh, rock and roll!

Paris, at Night, from the International Space Station

So I’m minding my own business looking at news about Bernie endorsing Hillary, and BOOM — a photo comes across my screen of Paris at night, photographed from the International Space Station.  Check this out:


From the ISS page on this photo:

Around local midnight time on April 8, 2015, astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Paris, often referred to as the “City of Light.”

The pattern of the street grid dominates at night, providing a completely different set of visual features from those visible during the day. For instance, the winding Seine River is a main visual cue by day, but here the thin black line of the river is hard to detect until you focus on the strong meanders and the street lights on both banks.

The brightest boulevard in the dense network of streets is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the historical axis of the city, as designed in the 17th century. Every year on Bastille Day (July 14), the largest military parade in Europe processes down the Champs Élysées, reviewed by the President of the Republic. This grand avenue joins the royal Palace of the Tuileries–whose gardens appear as a dark rectangle on the river–to the star-like meeting place of eleven major boulevards at the Arc de Triomphe.

The many forested parks of Paris stand out as black polygons–such as the Bois de Boulogne and Vincennes. Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports are distinguished by their very bright lights next to the dark areas of runways and surrounding open land. Paris’s great ring road, the Boulevard Périphérique, encloses the city center.

Astronaut photograph ISS043-E-93480 was acquired on April 8, 2015, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 400 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center.

If you want to see an enormous 4,000+ pixel photo of this view…  here’s that 4,000+ pixel photo of that ISS view of Paris at night.

Also, from the photo detail page of this shot – NASA:

Near midnight astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this image of Paris. The city is strongly patterned by the street grid because streets are the most consistently lit lines at night, providing a completely different set of features from those seen during the day. A day image shows the winding Seine River is the main visual cue, but here the thin black line of the river is hard to detect, until you focus on the strong meanders that wind across the image from lower left to top right. When you know what to look for you can see street lights on both banks following the course of the river, especially near the city center.

The many forested parks of Paris stand out as black polygons such as the Bois de Boulogne (at image lower center) and Vincennes (at image upper center). Even the lit paths through the Bois de Boulogne can be seen clearly in this image. Airports show a combination of very bright lights and the dark areas of runways and surrounding open country. A small part of the Charles de Gaulle airport appears at image top left, and Orly airport at image top right near the Seine.

Paris’s great ring road, the Boulevard Périphérique, encloses the city center, touching both of the abovementioned parks. The brightest boulevard in the dense network of streets in the center, is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the historical axis of the city designed in the 17th century. Every year on Bastille Day (14 July), the largest military parade in Europe processes down the Champs-Élysées, reviewed by the President of the Republic. The Champs Élysées, joins the royal Palace of the Tuileries, whose gardens appear as a dark rectangle on the river, to the star-like meeting place of eleven major arterial boulevards at the Arc de Triomphe at image center. This famous plaza was long named the Étoile (star).

Space is cool.


Webcam into Security Cam with Motion Detection, DIY


Lots of people have been setting up their own home-based security systems lately, especially with all of the complete lack of human respect that we’ve been seeing on the streets of America, in cities all across our great nation.

When I lived here in Oklahoma City once before, a group of unsupervised neighborhood kids knifed two sets of tires on my car — I ended up taking a webcam and a desktop tower and basically doing a second-by-second snap of the “crime scene” and assembling them into a stop-motion movie each day.  I never did catch the little shits, and they cost me a whole bunch of money.  Having some video that turned on any time someone triggered the motion detection would have been a pretty handy little thing!

Instructables user olivi3r, residing in Mexico City, has created a how-to on turning a regular ol’ webcam into a motion-detecting, email alerting ninja system using some software called iSpy.  The software is open source and free — there is a small monthly fee if you’re looking to get email alerts when it detects some motion.

I absolutely love the DIY way.

Check it out:

iSpy Connect – open source, free software:

Olivi3r’s Instructable on turning your webcam into a motion cam system:

Check out Olivi3r’s other Instructables:

JOL Sunday Flickr #33

It’s always nice to share some of the beautiful work submitted to the JOL Flickr Group — lately it’s been one of my favorite posts to write because it’s not about someone prancing into a night club and gunning several dozen people down, or some truss structure falling, or the like.  The shit has been pretty dark out there lately.

Take a moment and appreciate some random photographic art, all in the name of light.  Enjoy the quiet.

Capvespre des de la Gola del Ter

Say goodbye summer!

Bolshevo railway station after march sundown

SVO Always Near


Carnival Court House

Not a bad view.

Feast of Light Designs in Vegas #1

Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter III

Have a great rest of your Sunday.  Be good to each other out there.