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What a Bum Bum

bumbum

I don't really want to talk about it. But I will. I feel like it's necessary. The You Me Bum Bum Train thing. 

Hmmm.

So, a performance for one audience member on a large scale, Bum Bum Train relies on the work of endless volunteers, in all sorts of positions to get their show on the road. They get massive funding but apparently this all goes on practical/technical things. The performance is for one audience member and from what I've heard is an amazing experience. For performance like this, that is challenging like this, it is great that Bum Bum Train has had such success and wide appeal but is it really okay not to pay so many people when their work is essential to the product and they are skilled people who need to be paid in order to survive in the Big City?

Maybe yes if they are getting enough from the thing otherwise but the question is, are they getting enough? What would be enough? What makes it worthwhile to spend time doing something unpaid? What do we value when it isn't money? Love? (ha) and why are those involved in the arts expected to be happy with working for love and not money when people in other professions are just paid, standard? This is a pertinent issue at the moment. One that I'd rather not think about but one that keeps coming up – but you love your work so why should you be paid? As though artists want to avoid work proper and live in some romantic dream-land. 

This is boring.

 

 

17 Responses to “What a Bum Bum”

  1. Aly

    Oh and the last thing – that’s point of view of people who work in the City for you. No I don’t think that everyone doing arts has a right to expect to have food three times a day just because you do arts. If you want guaranteed income, you go and work in the boring office job. Otherwise everyone would be doing fun things like arts (you don’t really think that all City professionals adore their spreadsheets, do you?).
    If you choose to do arts, you have to accept the uncertainty – if you don’t make a breakthrough, life can be tough and money can be tight. And still you have choice what to do with your free time.

    Reply
  2. Ellie

    Everyone should have food three times a day. Even the unemployed.

    Everyone wants a breakthrough.

    Choice is good. 

    Working in the arts can also be boring and involve spreadsheets.

    Spreadsheets can be fun, as can affording a place to live.

    I think YMBBT sounds amazing, although paying 200 people would be even MORE amazing and would be an incredible (historical/groundbreaking) gesture towards recognising exactly how much work gets put into organising that sort of performative experience.

     

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  3. Sebastian

    I think choice is important and good. And I make the choice to talk about things that seem to be important in my life. Like art, salary, food three times a day, friends, economy, etc.
    Whether I made the choice to be an artist I think doesn’t matter. But I make the choice to engage with the world I am living in and that is probably why I became an artist.

    However, what disappoints me most and to me proves again how necessary this conversation is, is the fact that you say and I am sorry but I have to quote you here: (If you want guaranteed income, you go and work in the boring office job.)
    Otherwise everyone would be doing fun things like arts.

    Fun Things? That sentence pretty much nails the problem down. Do you really think being an artist is ‘doing fun things like art’.
    With all due respect but that is a rather ignorant thing to say.
    I hope 2012 will be a year of engaging more thoroughly!
    Best

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  4. Parsifal

    Actually, some of the working conditions at You Me Bum Bum Train were pretty appalling.

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  5. Seke Chimutengwende

    Is it OK if you don’t mind doing work for free and you can afford it?

    Should money go to performers first and practical/technical things later?

    Money going to practical technical /things is actually going to people. Just maybe not performing artists.

    Do people ever feel like they get enough?

    Why is it called you me bum bum train? The title doesn’t make me want to see it. But I’ve heard it’s good.

    Reply
  6. Sebastian

    Hmm.
    There must be a profit somewhere for someone.
    Why would they bring the show back again? Because of demand of audience?
    So much volunteering – I wonder what reasons professional performers volunteer for?
    Also, what will the impact be on the value of our profession, that a show which only uses volunteers is so successful?
    I heard it’s good too – but all that weird ‘money’ business makes me want to boycott it.
    Might better not go, cause if I would like it, it would probably upset me even more.
    Hmm.

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  7. Sebastian

    Is the format of the show really challenging (1 audience member at the time)??
    Too me it seems to be part of the pop-up phenomenon – rather very hip and cool than challenging.

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  8. TD

    It’s clear that you don’t understand the concept: the audience don’t like it because it’s hip and cool, they like it because it’s an amazing, extreme experience, and not like anything they’ve done before or can do again. It IS hip and cool, but only because it’s such a good idea, executed well. It’s not at all like going to the theatre so comparing it to other shows is misleading. I’ve been on one, and I can tell you it’s more like taking drugs or skydiving. The audience becomes the star performer in a series of different scenes that they have no idea about beforehand so they just have to think on their feet and react to the environment around them – I think most people would describe that as ‘CHALLENGING’.

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  9. Hamish

    There was a similar discussion on the IdeasTap website where a comparison was made with more traditional amateur dramatics (or the village hall variety). This makes some sense to me (applied to a hip urban context). Is that right? I guess it rely depends on what the financial model is. They get Arts Council money and commercial support (cash and kind presumably) and seek patrons but I don’t know if they are profit making or not.

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  10. Aly

    It seems to me that you have not been on show, right?

    I have volunteered as cast, and I am actually highly paid professional from the City so it is quite a commitment on my side (although I don’t do every night, of course).
    The answer is: 1) it is absolutely amazing to be part of the show even as performer because you still participate in a brilliant way, it is really enjoyable, 2) it is amazing to give the passengers the experience they get. Extremely rewarding to see how much they love it.
    And more than that, passengers come back as performers because they want to give back the joy they received – make sure that other people experience this too (and this is first hand experience, I spoke to those who came back in the same run – they all say the same thing).

    I think actually the key of this project is not even that it produces this dream-like experience, but that in the end it gives people – passengers and participants alike – this amazing high, the desire to bond, to give back, and be happy working for free. Even in the current money-obsessed world :)

    And by the way, they don’t make a profit.

    Reply
  11. Sebastian

    This is getting interesting here.
    I reckon as a highly paid professional from the city – your profession is not within the performing arts sector, right? And I find it great that you enjoy your experience and also want to give something back to others or maybe just have a laugh and a good time – and I think those are exactly the people who should be in the cast.
    However, the relevance of this conversation lies in regards to those highly underpaid or not at all paid professional performers in the city of london. They try to make a living in the performing arts. And I wonder who the money obsessed people are in this scenario – the dancers and actors (and other performers) who give their very heart to each project they are doing – even the ones that are not paid (like the show above). Or, the people (including those well paid professionals from the city) who pay a ticket to see a fantastic show knowing that all those involved are not paid a penny? And is it really enough if you had a good time but can’t pay the rent at the end of the month?
    I just really hope you don’t believe that life as a professional performer is just that occasional fun to add extra excitement to your spare time.
    And to be very honest – arts council money should be given to people who actually do pay other people – this is probably to blunt and simple, and certainly not thought through well enough, but I can’t help but think that this is ruinous for the value of our profession…
    Let’s keep this debate going!

    Reply
  12. Aly

    With all due respect, the people who paid for a ticket do not have any influence over the price of a ticket and whether performers are paid or not. Do you really want public before going to see any show to check whether everyone was fairly paid? That’s kind of childish.

    As to performers themselves, it is a personal choice – no-one is forced to work there for free, so people are making their own choice whether they want to do it or not. I suppose most people decide that if they don’t have paid work at that moment, they’d rather do something, even for free, as opposed to doing nothing at all.

    Don’t you think that all these people are grown up and can make their own choice as to whether they want to come as volunteers or not? You don’t like the idea, so you are not joining – fine, but why others are not allowed to make another choice? They have several hundreds volunteers (coming from time to time, not every day) – do you really think that all these people would do it if they didn’t want to do it?

    As to arts and arts council – sorry, if we are talking about ART and not commerce (or commercial art), then art does guarantee anything to anyone. If one chooses to become an artist, there is no guarantee that one will be well off financially; more likely one will die in poverty like Gauguin. So this is strange to demand from arts council to support only the kind of artist which do pay other people – this has nothing to do with art itself whatsoever.

    Show business and art are two different things of course, and in show business you are supposed to make money. But YMBBT is definitely more art performance than show business.

    Don’t take it too personally, I really doubt that your profession is in danger because of YMBBT (it can quite well survive without professional performers, by the way). Everyone is struggling financially because there is recession, because there may be too many people and too few jobs, but not because there is one odd show which doesn’t pay. I don’t believe for a second that this model will spread to any other shows and affect payment structure for professional performaners – it is really a one-off exception because of the nature of the show.

    Reply
  13. Aly

    Sorry, I will add a bit more, once I am on this page (or I will lose it again).

    The show appreciates having professionals on board, but it can perfectly done without them (with some training done there and then). Yet it is not am dram kind of show.

    They make a huge loss, but do it because they CAN, since arts council and patrons provide the money (and arts council doesn’t want a profit btw, because of “arts” concept). Maybe eventually they will start making money, but I have no idea at the moment how they can possibly get to that point. Unless they will charge huge fee for tickets.

    It is really challenging enough, but obviously for that you have to take word of those who did it.

    Happy to answer any other questions.

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  14. louise

    Hello Aly,

    In response to some of your points:

    "Do you really want public before going to see any show to check whether everyone was fairly paid? That's kind of childish."

    Hm hmm. Is it okay for Primark to pay their workers 7p per hour? Don't you wonder how the hell they make the clothes that cheap? Alarms should be sounding when you pay just £12 for a 40 minute-ONE ON ONE-'journey through a maze of live scenes featuring over 200 performers'-experience that YMBBT is. 

    "I suppose most people decide that if they don't have paid work at that moment, they'd rather do something, even for free, as opposed to doing nothing at all."

    The thing is: You do nothing at all when there are no jobs at all. When there are jobs, they should be paid!

    "Don't you think that all these people are grown up and can make their own choice as to whether they want to come as volunteers or not?"

    This discussion is not about the performers being grown ups or not. It's about whether or not to carry on abiding by the conditions as they worsen?

    "there is no guarantee that one will be well off financially"

    No but if something is funded shouldn't there be the guarantee that you will make enough to eat at least three times a day and have a bed to sleep in while you doing the project?

    "Don't take it too personally, I really doubt that your profession is in danger because of YMBBT (it can quite well survive without professional performers, by the way)."

    What don't you get about it? Read on please…

    (and: Ouch!)

    "Everyone is struggling financially because there is recession,"

    Sorry, but that's a bad argument. It's not like YMBBT are making the situation any better!

    "because there may be too many people and too few jobs, but not because there is one odd show which doesn't pay"

    You're wrong, we're talking about exploitation and not lack of jobs. The fact that YMBBT don't pay their cast and gets away with it perpetuates really bad working conditions – it's completely unethical. Aly, what is your job in the city and would you work it for free? And if yes, how would you make sure to survive as well?

    "I don't believe for a second that this model will spread to any other shows and affect payment structure for professional performers"

    You don't? Get ready for a shocking surprise! If one company/maker can get away with it, more will and they already are! That's the reality.

    "They make a huge loss, but do it because they CAN, since arts council and patrons provide the money (and arts council doesn't want a profit btw, because of "arts" concept). Maybe eventually they will start making money, but I have no idea at the moment how they can possibly get to that point. Unless they will charge huge fee for tickets."

    Lots of businesses (especially new ones) make huge losses every month and year, but they still pay their employees, because paying your employees is part of running a business. It's an expense and in most sectors it simply can't be avoided, but I don't know why it's 'fine' to leave it out just because your business is in the arts. Why do you have to pay your waiters in your restaurant but not your performers in YMBBT? YMBBT should have applied for more money or changed the scale of the project according to the salaries they should be paying. 

     

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  15. Aly

    All I can say to your remarks, is that people are not treating it as a job and if they want to do it, there is nothing you can do about it, no matter how much that would irritate you. I have asked professional actors there this question, and they’ve told me that although they are aware of this controversy, they are just having fun and really enjoy beeing there as part of the cast (which cannot be said about people in third-world sweatshops).

    Now, i’ve spend enough time here explaining to you why people CHOOSE to do it. But it seems that the word choice is completely ignored and the argument becomes more of venting anger at everybody who disagrees with your views – which is boring.

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  16. louise

    Point taken, sweatshops are inhumane. But that wasn't the parallel I was trying to draw. It's a sensitive subject, but this discussion is important to have!

    Reply

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