I can’t think of a more codependent relationship than that of an actor and audience.  Did you know that you are, to a degree, influencing art just by being an audience member? Actors hear your every laugh, your every shuffle (or plastic water bottle crinkle) and even the silence left in the places you didn’t laugh where others did the night before. We are jealous lovers. We are judging you. Your vocalizations directly inform our egos, our nuances and delivery and all we ever want is more.

I don’t think that judging audience members is always the best thing to do (I mean, thank you for even coming to the show at all, truly!) but one thing you must keep in mind is, despite the $26 ticket price to see some local plays, actors are not paid. Canyon Moon Theater pays their actors, but they aren’t performing very often at the moment, and Crooked Figure Theater Company pools donations. I am glad for both of these companies and to have them around, but they are the only two I know of that provide any sort of compensation.

I absolutely love acting, which is why I got a degree in it, and why I moved to New York City. Because of life circumstances though, I moved back to Flagstaff six years later. I just finished with a small role in a summer musical. It was a great role with a superb director, accompanist, cast, crew, score and script. And many wonderful packed audiences, but no, contrary to what some people think when purchasing tickets, the actors are not paid. This led me to wonder, if it is possible for writers, musicians, ceramic artists and glass blowers to get paid in Flagstaff, why not actors?

Every actor knows they can’t live off a typical actor’s salary and they need a “day job.” When I interned for the New York Neo Futurists, I learned the company paid the actors $200 every weekend for two shows, each of which required two four-hour long rehearsals, not including the time needed for actors to memorize and rehearse for their role at home. It wasn’t a luxury wage but it was something, just to give an example.

I say, we're ready to pay actors in the artsy mountain town of Flagstaff. I moved here in 1996 and I think it’s been long enough. I guess the question is why not. Flagstaff, are you interested in keeping trained and talented artists in your city? Many artists move to cities of similar sizes and vibe (or even smaller) for better-paying art opportunities.

I attended FALA for high school from 2002-2006. When we would have talent shows the audience would erupt into applause. There was cheering. There was support. The arts were our sports, our pep rallies. Even if the actor was an inexperienced freshmen or even when someone didn’t hit all the right notes, the crowd was bright, loud and supportive. There was an unwritten rule: you support. You uphold your fellow artists and classmates. You cheer your ass off. Why? I don’t know. Because that’s just what you do. I loved being a part of a community like that.

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Last night, my very verbal son rushed through a sentence. I told him he should not rush because he is important. He is worth other people’s time. He doesn’t need to squeeze in his thoughts between other people’s pauses. He should slow down because he is valuable. And that’s what I’m saying about local actors as well (and the crews that make them look good). I spent maybe 60 hours of my summer providing entertainment for Flagstaff audiences. While I didn’t get paid I did get excellent training, a vocal coach, time with friends, an opportunity to meet new people and much more. Of course I’m grateful for my time spent in local productions over the years and it’s not a thankless volunteer job by any means. It’s fun. But I feel it’s a good time to ask this financial question because there are more companies in town providing live theater than ever before. So why am I the only actor speaking up about monetary value?

There’s a lot of back end number crunching and expenses that goes into building a professional theater and several past attempts have been made in Flag in the past. Is this a big donor problem? A speaking up problem? A space issue? A catering to tourists puzzle? There are many moving parts needed to create thriving professional theater companies and no easy answers, so let’s start asking hard questions.

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Katie King lives at high altitudes telling middlebrow jokes, mostly to her son who tells her to get real. She is an actor, writer, songwriter and claims 17 years as a Flagstaff local.


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