Should we have to pay to audition?

By Rebecca Martin with guest co-writer Griffin Doug.

Any dancer who has dragged their suitcase from city to city, country to country and company to company in order to participate in auditions knows all too well the physical, emotional and financial toll such an exercise entails.

Dancers hitting the Euro-trail in January/February can see themselves sleeping on trains that cross country borders in order to attend auditions almost day after day in different places, often forgoing showers and food in order to make it to the next destination. The US audition path finds dancers traversing the country to stand at a barre full of dancers vying for the one available contract, only to be cut before the end of class. It’s a taxing time, fraught with uncertainty, exhaustion and a fair amount of disappointment.

Let’s not forget the years of training and sacrifice that have led a dancer to this point in the hopes they can secure a contract and be able to work in their chosen field while managing to pay the bills.

How then, do companies justify charging dancers audition fees?

In the UK, job seeker fees are illegal, while in Europe it is just unheard of to charge for auditions. Yet elsewhere, companies charge dancers for the apparent privilege of participating in an audition.

Paul Malek, director of Project Y and Collaboration the Project in Melbourne, has this to say: “I do not see how a company/production would justify charging a fee to audition for them. An instant respect between creator and artist is diminished by the exchanging of finances just for the opportunity to begin working with the company. It would be like having to pay to go for a job interview, just to have the opportunity to then be paid by them. Dancers and artists work and train endless hours to reach a standard to work in this industry, forking out plentiful amounts of money with no guarantee of return. To then pay for the right to audition in front of someone or a company I see as a little degrading and lacking of respect.”

Ballet master and choreographer Rob Kelly has worked extensively in Europe and Australia. He believes that if an audition fee is to be implemented then there should be varied rates for students and professionals. But he laments that such a system would be too difficult to put in place and agrees that fees should not be charged. “Auditions are to find appropriate artists for a company/project and are a necessary company expense and should not be used as a means to generate petty-cash. Paid auditions give companies a bad name no matter how they try to justify it. How is it justifiable to eject an applicant during the barre if they have paid a fee?”

Griffin Doug contacted a number of companies and directors to uncover the reasoning behind audition fees. Mystic Ballet in the US stated, “Over the last 10 years there has been a tremendous change in arts funding in America. Finding a company that does not charge for auditions is rare. The question of ethics has been replaced by survival, to the point that it is not even questioned here.” Meanwhile, Lines Ballet believes that unfortunately “in this day and age nothing comes for free” but maintained that they keep the dancers’ best interests at heart.

As Doug points out, charging money for auditions is a double-edged sword. An audition is a display of a skill set. Therefore there is an equal justification for the dancer to charge a company in order to view their skills, as for a company to charge a dancer for an audition. So if that balances out, then what is the justification for audition fees? From a consumer perspective the dancers receive nothing in return for their cash. Most dancers who apply for a position will be turned down whether or not they have paid a fee.

After being accused of narrow-minded arrogance on this matter, Griffin went about asking as many people as possible to give him their opinion of audition fees. “European-based and American-based dancers and directors made the bulk of my enquiries. Surprisingly most directors of EU-based companies had no idea what I was asking them. The concept of dancers paying in order to audition was so alien that some looked as if a very sour pill had met their tongues at the point they understood the question. However, for those who did understand the practice of audition fees I wanted to hear why it was considered necessary. I had thought that there may be some insurance reason in a litigious environment such as the US or perhaps something I hadn’t encountered in over 30 years of theatre. So far I’ve heard nothing  justifiable…”

Griffin believes that company directors are in a position of responsibility. For the dance community to improve it is up to those who are in positions of authority to change.

For any industry the sourcing of labour is an added cost to the daily running. Whether the company needs dancers, teachers, musicians, lighting technicians, etc., I believe that finding suitable employees is all a part of being in business. Reviewing applications and holding interviews do take time and may incur costs, but finding the best dancers possible are in the job description of a company director. Try asking your plumber for a fiver before letting him repair your burst pipes? My guess is you’ll be drowning before any tradesman comes to your door.

Opinion Poll:
Are companies justified in charging audition fees?

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