1st Edition

Theatre Work: Reimagining the Labor of Theatrical Production

    352 Pages 33 B/W Illustrations
    by Focal Press

    352 Pages 33 B/W Illustrations
    by Focal Press

    Theatre Work: Reimagining the Labor of Theatrical Production investigates both the history and current realities of life and work in professional theatrical production in the United States and explores labor practices that are equitable, accessible, and sustainable.

    In this book, Brídín Clements Cotton and Natalie Robin investigate the question of artmaking, specifically theatrical production, as work. When the art is the work, how do employers navigate the balance between creative freedom and these equitable, accessible, and sustainable personnel processes? Do theatrical production operations value the worker? Through data analyses, worker narratives, and analogues to the evolving gig economy, Theatre Work questions everything about theatrical production work – including our shared history, ways of operating, and assumptions about how theatre is made – and considers what might happen if the American Theatre was reborn in an entirely new form.

    Written for members of the theatrical production workplace, leaders of theatrical institutions and productions, labor organizers, and industry union leaders, Theatre Work: Reimagining the Labor of Theatrical Production speaks to the ways that employers and workers can reimagine how we work.

    Section 1: How We Got Here  1. Scope  2. The Past  3. The Pause  4. Our Research  Section 2: Where We Are  5. Career Access  6. Hiring Practices  7. Pay Equity  8. Production Operations  9. Worker Safety  10. People Operations  Section 3: Where We Go  11. Imaginings


    Brídín Clements Cotton (she/her) is an arts manager, educator, and maker. Currently an arts instructor for stage and project management at NYU Abu Dhabi, she has held a variety of management and teaching roles at arts organizations and educational institutions. Her approach to facilitating collaboration is driven by belief in the potential for theatre as a space for human connection and interest in how gatherings can create collective meaning.

    Natalie Robin (she/her) is a lighting designer, labor organizer, and educator. She is the full-time organizer for United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, IATSE, of which she is a proud and longtime member. Previously she taught at several institutions of higher education. She believes everyone should have the protections of a union and is committed to deconstructing the traditional capitalist, hierarchical, ego-driven collaborative structures in theatremaking.

    "Theatre Work is a fascinating, at times difficult, exploration into some of the deep flaws in the current American Theatre, yet it offers hope and pathways to help remedy those flaws."

    Beowulf Boritt, TONY-Winning Set Designer and author of Transforming Space Over Time

    Theatre Work provokes crucial questions about the future of American theatre and the people who make it. At a moment when the field is at a crossroads, Robin and Cotton provide a valuable set of considerations for moving forward with equity and care for a sustainable future."

    Jessica Brater, Associate Professor of Theatre at Montclair State University and Coordinator of the BA and MA in Theatre Studies and graduate certificate in Theatre of Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Change


    “Natalie and Brídín’s book is an essential primer on the history of theater production. It then goes further to provide thoughtful insights as to how we got where we are, and foster valuable thinking about how we can conceptualize new labor and produce models for the future of the theater industry. I would recommend this book to anyone who cares about how theater sustains itself.”

    Jenny Gersten, Interim Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, VP and Producer of Musical Theater at New York City Center, and commercial producer


    Theatre Work succeeds in both illuminating populations left in the dark, and offering a hand to those looking to join the cause toward equity in the workplace. It’s a sharp criticism of unsustainable business practices failing workers while simultaneously providing avenues for progressive, safe, and essential restructuring in the theater industry.”

    Z Infante, Multidisciplinary artist focused on amplifying the voices of underrepresented and at-risk youth through the arts


    "This book gives a detailed overview of how we have gotten to a place of pay inequity in the arts especially within theatre. The authors take great care and understanding to lay it out clearly and then follow through with actionable ways it could be remedied."

    Katie Irish, Costume Designer and co-chair of Local USA 829's Pay Equity Task Force


    “Natalie and Brídín have taken considerable and incredibly thoughtful, conscious efforts to highlight the conditions and composition of today’s production labor force while contextualizing it in theater industry history, rooting it in decades of systemic inequity, bias, and racism. For those of us trying to influence change in the industry, it both validates how challenging pay equity work can be (AND WHY, given the deep deep normalizing of exclusion and working for passion not payment) yet also how important and necessary and urgent it is to work rigorously to dismantle the inequitable systems and industry assumptions of how things should be because “that’s how it’s always been/that’s show business.” We are so fortunate to have this research and data all in one place! And a forward by artEquity's Carmen Morgan?! Yes, please!”

    Danielle King, Producer & Director of Organizational Culture, Williamstown Theatre Festival


    “This book is a must read for anyone in theater or anyone interested in getting into theater. Natalie and Brídín have done incredible research into everything from the history of the designer’s union to the value or not of university education. You will want to have your highlighters near with this wonderful resource. This book made me think about all behavior including my own.”

    Allen Lee Hughes, Lighting Designer/Educator


    Theatre Work is an accessible and timely intervention that zeroes in on the white-supremacist structures governing the labor and compensation of production workers in contemporary American theatre. Building on the work of activists and advocates including the We See You, White American Theater collective, Cotton and Robin consolidate existing studies with their own industry surveys and interviews to make transparent the practices that limit and prevent equitable labor practices. From the impact of networks on recruitment to accessibility and safety issues, they expertly interrogate the areas of theatre production where inequity is most entrenched. With great hope, Cotton and Robin offer strategies for incremental change as well as grand, disruptive imaginings that might change the conversations and structures of American theatre today.”

    Laura MacDonald, Assistant Professor, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, Michigan State University


    Theatre Work explores the complicated dynamics of production and design work and workers in the United States with a nuanced, deep, and empathic lens. The book centers theatre production and design professionals as workers within the labor movement. The authors offer intriguing provocations and questions that the entire United States theatre community needs to explore further together.”

    Porsche McGovern, author of the series "Who Designs in LORT Theatres by Pronoun" for Howlround Theatre Commons

    “This book is an essential piece of the puzzle that is fixing the professional theater landscape. It is required reading for anyone in a decision-making role in the arts. Although the book examines a specific period of time and group of organizations, the principles are widely applicable to all businesses that seek to balance art and commerce.” 

    Valerie Novakoff Britten, Founder of the Broadway Women’s Fund and Interim Executive Director of Open Stage Project


    “This is a meaningful read for all theatre makers and patrons, and for those of us practitioners who are not production workers, this should be a must read - so we can better understand the experiences, frustrations, hopes, desires, and dreams of our colleagues in production. This galvanizing work by Brídín and Natalie not only illustrates how unsustainable practices have been born and preserved, but also how we can and must strive towards a fairer industry, if we join together. Onwards and upwards!”

    Tatiana Wechsler, NYC-based actor, singer/songwriter, and creative